One Piece – Impel Down Arc (Episodes 422 – 456) Review

One Piece Impel Down

It’s time for another One Piece review, continuing my first run through of the never-ending series. We have reached the Impel Down Arc, a story arc that is ostensibly a long prologue to the major event coming up next. Does it hold up in its own right, and is it worth watching? Let’s find out!

Synopsis:

Luffy puts finding his crew on hold in favor of rescuing his brother Ace from the underwater prison Impel Down. With some assistance from Boa Hancock, he manages to infiltrate the facility. However, fulfilling his objective and escaping the hellish prison might be easier said than done…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

One Piece Impel Down 4

An escape method you’d only ever really find in One Piece…

While I had some major problems with parts of this story, the key idea of Luffy not only breaking into a prison for the sake of his brother, but meeting past villains on different floors, forming a weird faction of morally dubious allies as he tries to accomplish his goal, was a good one. While a lot of the characters were literally just for laughs (Buggy The Clown, cowardly Wax-man Mr. 3 and crazy spinning cross-dressing ballerina man Mr. 2, otherwise known as Bon Clay are his first three allies…) there was at least a great scene where Luffy reunites and has to team up with Crocodile, the first true antagonist (or at least the first who actually gave him trouble) that he faced back in the Alabasta arc. Crocodile is smooth talking and undoubtedly evil in his intentions (and willingness to kill as many navy guards as needed during the escape…), which makes him a fun villain you love to hate. The fact Luffy doesn’t scold him for killing or anything shows how dedicated he is to his cause.

There are two new major allies that make their debut here: Jimbei, a large Fishman who is a master of Fishman karate who was once a Warlord of the Sea (one of the very highest ranks of pirates there is, though with the cost of being under the government’s thumb), and Ivankov, a disproportionate cross-dresser who takes great pleasure in using his hormone powers to turn men into women, and generally lives in a gay paradise in the middle of the prison. While Jimbei’s straight-laced loyalty to Ace and the Whitebeard crew was fair enough (and he was good in his fight scenes), Ivankov took a while for me to warm too, that’s for sure. More of Eiichiro Oda’s outdated idea of gays all being people in fishnet stockings acting like sex-crazed weirdos, but eventually Iva being revealed as a member of the Revolutionary Army and generally acting like a good leader and fighter made me enjoy the character, not to mention some of his really weird powers made me laugh. It wasn’t as bad as Bon Clay, let’s put it that way…

One Piece Impel Down 2

Blackbeard stamps on Hannyabel’s face. Both characters are mentioned below this picture, but I wanted to fit it into the good anyway…

While I’ll get the our lead antagonist down below, I’ll mention his direct subordinate Hannyabal made me laugh, his simple quirk of accidentally blurting out his desire to supersede his boss and become the head warden of the prison in really direct ways was the right kind of stupid humour to make me smirk.

As if to throw the whole breakout into even more confusion, Blackbeard and his crew break into the prison as Luffy and co. are breaking out, leading to the Straw Hat leader confronting the man who put his brother behind bars in the first place. There is a really good, brief fight between them before Ivankov reminds Luffy that he doesn’t have time for this prolonged fight if he wants to get out and save his brother (who at this point had been put on a ship on the way to his execution). It turns out that Blackbeard was on the lookout for some strong allies, and so figured the prison that holds the most dangerous criminals of all would be a good place to go scouting. He ends up with former Warden Shiryu as a new ally and possibly more off-camera. It was unexpected and fun, anyway!

In general there were some good fight scenes, Ace’s despair that his brother came to this, often literal, hell to save him, and Luffy’s general determination to stop his brother’s execution no matter what were all great, and the last few episodes, with the big prison escape alongside allies and foes old and new, was an exciting event to watch. Sadly the arc was bogged down by quite a bit though…

The Bad:

One Piece Impel Down 3

Looks cool and imposing, right? It’s lessened by the fact that using this much poison probably gave him a serious case of the shits.

Toilet humour. Sometimes it can be funny, if timed right in the right circumstances, but other times unless your age is in the single digits it just makes you feel slightly awkward and annoyed that they went to the lowest, simplest form of “jokes” you can think of instead of trying to be clever, which is actually something One Piece often did! The show normally has good comedic timing and genuinely funny moments, so imagine my horror when I find out that the big bad antagonist of this hell-like prison has constant diarrhoea due to his poison powers. Scenes of his special chair that also acts as a toilet, complete with fart sounds, really took literally all the edge off the character. It didn’t matter if he was nearly poisoning Luffy to death, it didn’t matter if he turned into a large red demonic beast full of deadly-to-the-touch poison, he was the funny fart man, and that was all. Magellan was his name, for the record… Doubt he’ll be appearing again, though.

So alongside fart gags we have yet more “homosexuals / cross-dressers are all weirdos who dance around the place or wear weird clothing and have hairy legs” jokes as well. Bon Clay, who constantly says stuff like “we queers don’t fear death” and the like, all while doing ballerina-like attacks, often prefaced with the phrase “Oh Come My Way”, was… so bizarre that it sometimes made me laugh, but only in a shaking my head, “what the hell am I watching” kind of way. It’s still outdated and rather embarrassing, not to mention after hearing him as Franky for so long, I kept hearing Franky in Kazuki Yao’s Bon Clay performance all the time… Ivankov’s secret gay club was cringey as well, though at least he eventually overcame his looks to become an interesting character. Once again Bon Clay sacrificed himself to save Luffy, causing everyone to get teary eyed about his being left behind, as if playing him up as a hero is going to cause people NOT to think that Oda has some sort of outdated idea of homosexuality (along with a good portion of Japan, to be fair!)…

One Piece Impel Down 1

Hmm… Subtle.

On top of all this there were quite a few scenes of characters comedically running away towards camera with a giant creature behind them, which gets old after a while. The fact that all of this humour is happening in a prison that has floors based off of ways to torture people, like a floor of needles, or a floor so hot the prisoners often die from the heat, creates a real contradiction in tone. It’s like Oda knew the next arc would be really heavy, so tried to fill this up with as many gags as he could to better prepare people. That’s if the original manga was this heavy on the jokes, for all I know a good chunk of this could have just been filler…

Speaking of filler, there was a four episode filler arc setting up the antagonist of the then-upcoming film One Piece: Gold, which was fine. They also had more “Friends Whereabouts” episodes at the end, though with the exception of some funny Franky scenes and Nico Robin’s continued struggles against generic evil dystopian overlords, they weren’t very good, and included more “lustful cross-dressing homosexuals chase after Sanji on an island” scenes, which were even more annoying after a whole arc full of similar gags…

Overall Thoughts:

The Impel Down arc had some great moments, especially the big breakout with past antagonists and new allies setting up the big showdown at Marineford. Sadly the arc is also filled with lots of juvenile comedy that not only did I not find funny, but that took away from any of the serious threat that I was supposed to believe in. While it wasn’t as bad as the Thirller Bark Arc (and thankfully miles better than the previous story, not that its hard!) it has a similar feeling of missed opportunity. I won’t be watching again…

3 Star Watch

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