After the emotional end to the Enies Lobby arc, the Straw Hat pirates needed a new threat to test the mettle of their newly christened ship and crewmate – the dandy cyborg Franky. Luffy’s management skills amount to little more than stubbornly following his dream of becoming “king of the pirates” so it’s a matter of point the ship and sail. Doubtless, there was going to be some horrific adversary or trial by fire along the way. With the Thriller Bark arc the crew get more than they bargain for, and have to pool their collective talents to overcome almost impossible odds. But then, isn’t that what makes One Piece so gosh darn entertaining?
The show embodies the adage of adding a character when things get stale, but with a character as fleshed out (insert skeleton joke) as Brook, it’s hard to stay cynical. Though we don’t see him join the crew proper, everyone’s favourite wise-cracking, afro sporting, musical sword-swinging pirate comes into his own following the initial meeting in the previous collection. Here he clashes with the zombie swordsman who stole his soul, as well as aiding the Straw Hats in their own struggle.
Thriller Bark itself is a floating island, a kind of gargantuan ship anchored in the mists. Best described as ‘kawaii gothic’, the backdrop is all purple-greys and blacks, thick ashen smog and dilapidated architecture. Following the bright pallet of the preceding arcs, it makes a welcome change of tone. And it was really only a matter of time before zombies were thrown into the mix. Far from playing things by the book, Eiichiro Oda’s zombies are corpses imbued with someone else’s shadow, somewhere between life force and soul.
In the previous collection, Sanji and Zoro both had their souls stolen by Gecko Moria – master of Thriller Bark and one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea – and stuffed into hilarious hodgepodge undead bodies. This instalment opens with Luffy having his own soul snipped off with Moria’s devil fruit power. Nami, Usopp and Chopper are stowed away in one of the zombies, while Franky, Nico Robin and Brook butt heads with an undead spider monkey (not that kind).
Like a perverse take on Peter Pan trying to catch his shadow, the Straw Hats have to find their counterparts and race the rising sun. Beating a bog-standard zombie is one thing, but Moriah puts Luffy’s soul into the frozen corpse of Oars, another of the Seven Warlords. Imagine one of the world’s best and biggest warriors, and now picture it with Luffy’s personality, and you’re not even close to the gullible stupidity of the end result. But with Moriah pulling the strings, the resulting showdown between the Straw Hats is a quality, if protracted, battle and a satisfying end to the collection.
One Piece remains one of the gems of English anime dubs, and while far from the original, the care and attention (and involvement of the original production team) is evident at every turn. Chris Guerrero as Gecko Moriah is an utter delight, and his cheeky laugh never fails to make me crack up. As Brook, Ian Sinclair does a decent job of making the character his own, and really sells the manic tragedy of the character. The quality of the actors helps mask the poor foley and sound design, which has always dogged the series.
With great character beats, development and the series as funny as it’s ever been, it’s little wonder why the Thriller Bark arc remains an enduring fan favourite. For newcomers, it’s as good a jumping in point as any. Come on in, the water is fine.
English dub; episode commentaries; In the Booth interviews; clean opening/closing animation.