Thursday, 8 September 2011

Shounen Filler: One Piece

Having already looked at both Naruto and Bleach, the next post in my mini-series on shounen filler will be focusing on the final of Jump's "Big Three": One Piece. In stark contrast to it's brethren, One Piece's primary method of padding it's anime out isn't to rely one anime-only arcs - though it does use them, but more on that later - but instead it extends upon the original content. For instance, some final battles can end up being longer than need be, while others that are semi glossed-over in the manga receive more of the spotlight. When you're marathoning it and get caught up in the action, this doesn't prove to be too noticeable, although, week-by-week is a different story.

What is, however, more glaringly obvious is when the anime drags out certain activities that DON'T have that engaging wow factor that keeps you glued to the screen until you completely lose all feeling in your butt cheeks. In particular there are two noticeably painful filler parts that feel far too drawn out for their own good and they occur in the Arabasta and Foxy arcs.

1. Arabasta:

So you have a group of pirates who have set sail to an island with a desert-like climate, which they have to traverse in order to further the plot. What better way to pad out the story than to have seemingly endless episodes of the gang trudging through the sand and meeting with its various inhabitants. Unfortunately, extending the crew's experience in the harsh desert terrain ended up somewhat dull. So, while in truth there were only about six or seven of these episodes, it felt like so much more, and what is simply a means to an end in the manga, becomes a mini saga in the anime. Shame as the Arabasta narrative is otherwise pretty damn good!

Are we there yet? No? Bugger.

I'm 99.9% sure that Foxy used his "Slow Slow" Devil Fruit powers to drag out his arc.

2. Foxy:

I'm not going to lie, the Davy Back Fight is One Piece's weakest arc by quite some margin. With a contemptible antagonist that you just want to punch for being so annoying and a somewhat weak (at least by Oda's standards) contest premise, I generally found myself willing the storyline to end. The entire plot felt like filler before any padding were even added, so imagine my dismay when I discovered that the anime had actually dragged this story out by adding in a whole second game. In the manga there is one single game of the Davy Back Fight consisting of three rounds. In the anime there are TWO three-round matches. Please, just kill me now. Or better yet, do away with Foxy!

On a more positive note, some of this canon material extension actually works to the show's advantage. For instance in the recent episodes, a reasonable amount of airtime has been given to the individual antics of Luffy's crew following their separation. In the manga this material takes the form of title page illustrations and the occasional mention in the main chapters. Fleshing out these little snippets proves rather satisfying as we get to learn more of the other's escapades, and their experiences (which become pivotal in their development) have a more solid grounding that the viewers can relate to.

Outside of any plot-stretching, One Piece does occasionally throw in the odd short filler arc, normally only lasting around five episodes. Like most anime-only fluff, they may not be the greatest tales, but in the case of One Piece these short interludes actually provide a nice change of pace, especially when they follow a particularly long arc. For example, while not a masterclass in storytelling, the escapades on Marine Base G-8 proved a light-hearted and entertaining diversion after the epic battle on Skypeia. Adding to this "cool down" effect, the series often throws in odd standalone episodes such as in the post Enies Lobby episodes where we witness the antics of the crew before they leave Water 7 and head off on their next adventure. Much like in Naruto and Bleach many of these odd episodes are somewhat throwaway and not always to the high standard you're used to. While Zoro babysitting for a bunch of young kids and Sanji having a cook-off with an old drunken chef may be amusing in themselves, they hardly leave much of a lasting impression and to be honest if they weren't there, I really wouldn't miss them.

Of course other anime-only arcs don't fare so well. In particular the short storyline relating to the release of the Strong World  movie didn't exactly bowl me over, especially since the series "did a Bleach" and dumped this fluff slap bang in the middle of the awesome Impel Down arc. Even though it only lasted for four episodes, sombrero-clad pirates are a poor substitute for an engaging and quirky prison break with twists and turns aplenty. Likewise, during the Enies Lobby arc, the series wastes several episodes on semi-pointless and wholle irritating recaps (yes, plural) as well as the inclusion of several "Oyabin Luffy" specials. While the original TV special was entertaining as a one-off these subsequent additions wore thin exceptionally quickly. When it comes to any filler arcs though, no matter how entertaining a diversion they tend to be, by sheer nature of being placed after the climax of an impressive and engaging plotline, they're all going to seem somewhat tame, or even just plain crap by comparison.

You mean I have to do three more episodes of this crap?

Certainly, while by no means perfect in execution, out of the big three shounen fanchises, One Piece deals with filler much more capably than either Bleach or Naruto. Building on existing material, the series lays extra groundwork for its already impressive plots that mostly - but not always - enhance the tale. By doing this they then generally leave any side stories for specials and movies where they belong and let the main narrative speak for itself.

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