The Straw Hat Pirates arrive at Water 7, the Mecca of shipwrights. With the Going Merry on her last legs the crew is torn asunder when a grim decision must be made as to the future. Meanwhile, a plot to frame Captain Luffy and friends is underway, fracturing the crew even further.
“One Piece Season Four Third Voyage” begins the Water 7/Enies Lobby story arc, the first of its kind in One Piece. Whereas the Straw Hats have survived clandestine organizations and wars both civil and holy, this is the first time the crew is taxed from within by unforgiving karma catching up with them. Throwing the caution of spoilers to the wind: The crux of this set of episodes is the building and finally exploding conflict between Luffy and his marksman, Usopp.
With the Going Merry confirmed as no longer seaworthy, Luffy makes the hard decision to scrap the ol’ girl and commission a new ship. This devastates the crew, but none take it as harshly as Usopp, who has done his best to patch the Merry until a shipwright joined the crew. Refusing to let the dead dog (or sheep in this case) lie, Usopp challenges Luffy for ownership of Merry. The brutal, emotional battle between captain and comrade is easily the best battle in the series for its sheer emotion exhibited by the characters. The usually cowardly Usopp’s bountiful tact and arsenal lends to a satisfying technical side of the duel, too.
Toei Animation’s knack for hiring talented actors for lead roles is by far the greatest strength displayed throughout this set. Yamaguchi Kappei’s performance as Usopp cements him as one of the all-time greats of voice acting, as he transitions from ashamed to hysterical on the turn of a dime. Perhaps understated in comparison to Yamaguchi’s zero-to-sixty performance are those of the rest of the cast, but each of the veteran actors capture and bring to life the grief and angst of the crew in their own way without ever taking away from each other. Tanaka Mayumi finally has a chance to stretch beyond Luffy’s usual comedic idiocy or righteous anger, playing a heart-ached and betrayed but resolute captain. It’s hard not to break out the tissues for the entirety of episode #235, which centers around Luffy breaking the news to Usopp about his decision to bid farewell to the Merry. One can only image how difficult a four-hour session the recording of that episode had to be.
The animation side is a little bare-bones in this installment. While there is little noteworthy battle or character animation, Toei brought a sufficient B-game to the backgrounds and layouts. The water park ride-esque Water 7 receives significant attention to detail, providing wide shots that could not have been easy to draw while adding a pleasing dose of detail to the line work on brick walls. Episode Director Tokoro Katsumi’s direction of the pivotal episode #235 is worthy of mention. Contrasting the in-fighting of the Straw Hats with gorgeous establishing shots of the Merry under a falling sun catches the eye most pleasingly and is a credit to the production team.
Tanaka Kouhei’s music score is used efficiently throughout the set. Once again most notable is the lack of music as Audio Director Jinbo Naofumi allows deafening silence to play an important role. Episode #236, which features the explosive confrontation between Luffy and Usopp is all the better for its sparse use of music. In fact, a little less music in one or two places would have made the episode all the better.
The extra content of the discs contain the usual FUNimation fair of English subtitles to go along with the episodes, two English dub audio tracks (one in 5.1 and the other in 2.0), an English cast commentary for episode #232, text-less opening and ending animations, and trailers for their other properties. Each episode is edited to include English language text in place of the original credits and title cards as well as a replaced series logo. The credits translation is only partially done, with animators and other crew positions omitted to make room for FUNimation’s own dub production staff.
“Third Voyage” is very much the rising action of the Water 7 arc. With a new threat from the World Government looming over a splintered Straw Hats, Luffy and friends are more vulnerable than ever. Can the Straw Hats put aside their differences to save one of their own?