Free of Skypiea and all the insanity there, the Straw Hats land smack dab in the middle of the marines.
What They Say
When their descent from the sky doesn't go as planned, the Straw Hats find themselves trapped in the Marine stronghold of Navarone. This impenetrable island is surrounded by scraggy stone walls and governed by a military mastermind known as Commander Jonathan. Pirates imprisoned within Navarone's walls seldom live to see the other side, but not even the great Commander Jonathan has ever faced foes as formidable as Luffy and his crew.
Eager to escape the island and get back in the water, the Straw Hats hatch a plan to spring Zoro from the clink, reclaim their confiscated gold, and rendezvous at the Going Merry for a life-or-death, do-or-die, daring dash into the freedom of the deep blue sea! The sailing certainly won't be smooth, and it'll take all hands on deck to survive this scrape!
Contains episodes 196-205.
While I had enjoyed several parts of the Skypiea arc as it played out, it left me feeling a bit disappointed overall as it was a bit more drawn out than I cared for and lacked a compelling villain for it. With set of episodes, we get a drop in episodes down to ten but it's a lot of fun as it plays in the normal world, generally keeps the gang together and lets the fun with the marines dominate. The story is pretty basic but what sells it is the same as always, the characters themselves. Whether they are alone, or in pairs and back together as a group, they get into a lot of weird situations and a good deal of fun that's all grounded in familiar settings.
Because of the events at the end of the Skypiea arc, the Straw Hats and the Going Merry has finished its long and treacherous fall from the skies and has hit the water. Unfortunately for the gang, they've landed smack dab in the middle of a marine base called Navarone. It's a curious little island base with an inner lake that has its own island within that which has a good sized little mountain in it. The marine base there is one of the better ones with over a thousand soldiers there, a solid amount of discipline and nothing weird. No devil fruit marine captains or ships of strange crews. Just a normal marine base but one that has some real structure to it that feels like it sets them apart.
Luckily, when the Straw Hats arrive, its at night and they're able to sneak away separately as the waves roll out from their landing and they go to all corners of the island base. The first half of these ten episodes focuses on them going along either singly or in pairs as they deal with the varied situations. Nami makes it out on her own and she does her best to figure out where they are and how they can find the ship again so they can get out. Chopper is in the same situation but he gets caught up in a medical subplot after he gets chased by some marines and ends up trying to look like a doctor enough so he can help out some very wounded marines that get brought in. The two end up coming across each other at some point which is definitely a fun pairing and one that leads to one of Chopper's best scenes when he gets really angry and Zoro sees it. His little hand clapping and smile at that point is priceless.
Zoro for his part has a minor role here as he wanders through the base trying to find out where he's supposed to be and just lucks out by not coming across others for a bit until he's caught and thrown in a cell. Robin has a minor role throughout this arc as well as she strolls around and gathers information. The main fun for me was watching Sanji and Luffy together as they end up pretending to be a pair of top flight cooks that have just arrived on the island. Sanji really takes to the kitchen and shows the talented cooks a few tricks, including the head chef of Jessica. Being a woman, you know Sanji's doing it all to impress her, but the fun is in watching him show off and how he handles all the cooking itself, showing them tricks that he's picked up over the years.
The bulk of this batch of episodes is all about the cat and mouse games with a fair bit of variety to it. The commanding officers aren't all that memorable here but they do give it some direction without all the brashness and obnoxiousness that others have been like. The back and forth that happens as each of the minor subplots are explored with the pairings that occurs are fun and then when it shifts to them actually escaping, they find the reason to make it worth while to come back again. There's some very good attention paid to the fact that the Going Merry has been pretty heavily abused since Luffy acquired it and it leads to some good decisive moments on his part about what to do with it. There's a lot of fun here on both sides of the escape, but largely it's just great to have everyone back together again going through simple yet fun adventures.
One Piece has a relatively mild arc during this batch of episodes, though it doesn't draw to a close since this is where FUNimation's license, as of this writing, ends. If this is the end, it's definitely a sad moment, but it's one that I have to admit works fairly well in a way because it's mellow and fun. And if you're not interested in it since it's not complete, stopping with the previous set of episodes gives you the complete Skypiea arc and that's not a bad place to end either. One Piece provides a lot of what I like about the show when it comes to the Straw Hats overall as they have a really great series of combinations and styles when they pair up, working by themselves or as a group. You never know how it's going to go and they're always growing and changing and learning more about each other. While some are less used than others, the gang as a whole shines here and left me smiling throughout.