Nami, despite her desperate dash, arrives at the station too late to stop the Sea Train, but she's relieved to learn that Sanji has stowed away on board the vessel and will stop at nothing to rescue Robin! With the storm of all storms bearing down upon them, Nami and Chopper risk their lives to save Luffy and Zoro from the rapidly rising waters. Back aboard the train, Sanji is aided in his battle against the CP9 goons by the arrival of the mysterious Soge King, a wandering warrior from the Island of Snipers! As the scattered Straw Hats fight to reunite, fate draws them ever nearer the foreboding fortress of Enies Lobby. Will our heroes live to face the hour of reckoning?!
Working on the notion that if I enjoyed a single One Piece film and didn't suffer any ill effects, I should surely love an entire season of it, right? Well, I did enjoy myself with Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat crew but as we'll see, the problem with promising an epic fight too early leads to problems in the run up to the fight.
After Nico Robin hands herself over the World Government assassin squad CP9 rather than let her friends be killed by them, Nami, Zoro, Sanji and Luffy pick themselves up on Water 7 after being beaten senseless by CP9. In the middle of a superstorm named Aqua Laguna, they decide to head out with the help of some of the people on Water 7, on a super powered water train, to Enies Lobby which is the World Government's stronghold for processing prisoners of the Navy. Forming an alliance with the shipbuilders of Water 7 and the Franky family (whose leader was also captured along with Robin), the Straw Hats decide to assault Enies Lobby. Despite the fact that nobody's ever done this before. Because this is Luffy we're talking about and he couldn't be talked out of anything.
This arc has some fantastic things going for it. The writing itself lets the cast tackle the various members of CP9 while still pining for their lost crew member. Luffy is still my favourite of the crew but here, I find myself rooting for Usopp, who can't bring himself to help the team because of the events of the previous arc. Instead, he crafts the persona of Sniper King, FROM SNIPER ISLAND!!! (It's all in the delivery). Despite that only Chopper fails to recognise him, the rest of the gang play along. Usopp isn't my favourite character, mostly because he only gets flashes of brilliance. Most of the time, he's a coward or an idiot so there's only so much you can derive from him. Here, however, he braves enemies and dangers that the normal Usopp would be terrified to tackle. There are some really strong moments between he and Robin on the water train as she prepares to arrive at Enies Lobby. At first, Usopp, like the rest, doesn't understand why Robin won't accept their help against CP9 even he, Franky and Sanji arrive to help her. But as the battle on the train wears on, CP9 gain the upper hand and Robin and Franky are recaptured. Before they part, Usopp tells Robin it's ok and that the person who will make the decision as to Robin's membership in the Straw Hats will be Luffy.
Meanwhile, Sanji receives the most time outside of Luffy and Usopp having to deal with the fallout from Robin's loss. He tackles a cook who uses Ramen made from his nose (yeah, TMI) and despite being told the truth of some of Robin's backstory, he plunges on anyway, sending the cook to the floor after a kinetic and rapid fire round of kicks and sword slashes. For him, it isn't important about who Robin was, only who she is. On top of that, I loved the histrionics of CP9 boss Spandam who, in either Japanese or English, spends most of his time shrieking at his employees or his opponents.
On the other side, however, is the fact that the arc itself is not resolved at the end of 22 episodes. The arc starts with the gang piling into the train to Enies Lobby and despite having arrived on the island and starting the mother of all fights (which is very impressive to behold), the story has not been resolved. In fact, from the way the preview on the last episode of the disc phrases it, the fights so far have been distractions from the main fight with CP9. After some of CP9 receive Devil Fruits (those evil edibles that allow Luffy's body rubber abilities) and eat them, we are teased that they have become super powered. Queue almighty fist fight with the Straw Hats. Just not in this volume. For now, this volume's greatest strengths lie in the actual attack on Enies Lobby and not on the leadup to the island. Which is a shame since we get things like Zoro chopping a train car in half at high speed, Luffy launching himself across huge lengths of rooftops and the sight of the gang, plus Franky's gang and the Galley-La crew riding sea monsters with tank treads on their flippers as part of the run up to the final fight. As for the fight itself, the gang split into three with Luffy on his own, the Franky gang and Galley-La together and the Straw Hats coming up behind in a rocket train. Along with the aforementioned sea monsters (who are inexplicably named Sodom and Gomorrah), the fight itself is wonderful, running at a manic pace jumping between the teams at multiple points to keep us in the loop. I enjoyed this section the most out of all the episodes in the set.
Switching between the Japanese and English, the cast get through the mountains of dialogue they are required to scream, shout or say and give enough gusto that any off moments that come up are quickly forgotten. Manga UK's disc ports the Funimation extras with commentary tracks from the English cast and crew and interviews with the English cast. While the animation is good, I can never tell if it's got problems with it since Oda's designs always look like they're trying to be ugly, if they can help it. For what goes on, it's great but it's not the same as a One Piece film with a higher budget, obviously.
This is not the finest hour for Eiichiro Oda's wonderful concoction of pirates, treasure and adventure. Even I, a relative newcomer to One Piece, could tell there is and was better to be had from the series. But at worst, the arc is a great primer for a fantastic set to between CP9 and the Straw Hat gang. Even when One Piece is bad, it's good enough to entertain.