Let's set sail for the Baratie Arc and explore Sanji's character with Steve Yurko!
I love One Piece and I love talking to people who love One Piece. And with the series going on 23 years now, there is a whole lot to talk about. As the series is about to publish its 1000th chapter, a true feat in and of itself, we thought we should reflect upon the high-seas adventure and sit down with some notable names in the One Piece fan community and chat about the arcs they found to be especially important, or just ones they really, really liked.
Welcome to the next article in the series "My Favorite One Piece Arc!"
My next guest in this series is Steve Yurko, co-host of The One Piece Podcast, a podcast with a subject you can probably guess. He's also a former storyboard artist for Rick & Morty and is currently working for Netflix Animation. As a ride-or-die Sanji fan, Steve chose the Baratie Arc, where Luffy and the gang run into an East Blue restaurant with a cool chef that loves to cook and kick.
A note on spoilers: If you haven't seen the Baratie arc yet, this interview does contain major plot points. Watch the Arlong Park arc starting RIGHT HERE if you'd like to catch up or rewatch!
Dan Dockery: So a friend tells you, "I'm done with the Syrup Village arc and I'm not sure if I want to watch this next one. I think I might be tapped out on this whole One Piece thing. In one sentence, how do you get them to stay and watch the Baratie arc?
Steve Yurko: The Baratie arc laid down the foundation and created the formula of the One Piece arc as we know it.
That's pretty good!
Yeah, I’d say that, when I first started it, One Piece was my third favorite. I was more of a fan of series like Shaman King and Naruto, but after Baratie, things shifted. It was a turning point for me. I would hope that it would do the same for anyone who’s, say, previously apathetic towards the series.
How old were you when you first read it? Or watched it?
It feels weird to say this, but my introduction to One Piece was Chapter 1. Like Dragon Ball Z, the first episode I can remember watching was, like, Yamcha training on King Kai’s planet, and I’d get Goku and Yamcha confused and stuff, because I had just dived in. So for me to start a story like One Piece from the beginning is kind of rare. I was 15, I think.
So, we're jumping into Baratie, and we first see the guy with the brass knuckles, Fullbody. He's trying to act cool on a date and he's being mean to everyone else. And then we have Sanji being typical Cool Sanji and Fullbody acts up and Sanji just tears through him. How did you react? Did you know immediately that you'd like this waiter?
Well, I don't want to alarm you here, but my first thought was “Sanji’s cool!” I’d seen images of him before, and I saw his black suit and blond hair and I figured, “Oh, another crew member, probably. Looks distinct enough.” So I often have to look back and wonder “Did I like him because of his edgy coolness?” but I think now it’s because there were more layers to him. Like, he definitely stands out from the other Straw Hats, but he also has this distinct fighting style with cool reasoning. He’s a cook and he doesn’t want to bust up his hands trying to punch people in the face, so he uses his feet. So, he does like these cool capoeira kicks, which only gets better as they go along because I feel like so many anime characters, the stronger they get, the more they start to fight the same with fast volleys of punches and laser blasts. So Sanji’s kicks are a great way to differentiate himself from the main cast and other anime heroes.
So, then we have Luffy, he shows up by damaging the Baratie. Enter: Zeff. Full disclosure: In my infinite naivete when I first watched One Piece, I thought Zeff was going to be the new crew member. And then I thought Gin was going to join the Straw Hat crew. And then when Sanji finally joined, I was like, "This guy? Really? Dark horse candidate over here."
You didn’t know yet?
I guess I hadn't watched the first ED yet — when the crew slowly shows up and stands beside one another.
You saw Usopp’s silhouette appear and thought, “Eh, I’ve seen enough.”
"That must be all of them."
So, you meet Zeff, and you learn about Sanji and Zeff's relationship, and we get a big One Piece flashback. What do you think of that? Because it would become a staple of the series to kinda pause, see what happened to an important guy, and then come back.
Such an incredible story and so gruesome and terrifying. Sanji’s original flashback is so underrated because it could happen to anyone! Like, you’d have to go out of your way to get stranded on an island, but going days and weeks without food or any real comfort? I think people underestimate how traumatizing that would be. And then Zeff losing his leg because he hacked it off for food, it’s brutal. Just thinkin’ about that, I feel it in my shins. Because that almost happened to me with a minor injury. I let a minor injury get infected, and I could’ve been close to losing a leg.
Wait, what? Gahd.
I was doing box jumps at a gym, and my shin hit the corner of this wooden crate.
Yeah, those things have no give in them.
Absolutely. And at the time, I thought it was just this dark spot on my shin. And I figured it was, ya know a bruise. So I let it be. And then I picked at the scab and I realized “Wow, that’s a little deeper than I thought. I guess I’ll go to the doctor if it gets worse.” And I kept going to the gym, wearing pants over like this open wound. And my left leg is so swollen. So I went to two different doctors, as the first one did tests and then sent me to another one. And when this doctor saw me, the look on her face said “Oh, this is bad.” So I laughed out loud about how dumb I was and the doctor turned to me and said “This isn’t funny. This IS SERIOUS.” It had gotten infected with bacteria and it was spreading, and she just took a sharpie and drew around the infected area, and gave me antibiotics and was like “You have to keep this elevated, and if the redness goes outside of this line, go to the hospital.” But luckily, I recovered, even though the doctors were like “Honestly, we thought you’d go to the hospital.” So when Zeff severs his foot with a rock, how does anyone not feel that?
Do you think that's one of the reasons Luffy is fascinated by Sanji at first? His mentor, Shanks, lost his arm and was cool about it. Zeff lost his leg and was cool about it. Basically twins.
That’d be an interesting conversation that we never got to see. Just two dudes talking about how weird it is that both their father figures did that, with only Luffy thinking it’s cool.
Don Krieg's ship gets blown in half by an incomprehensibly cool character, Mihawk, the first Warlord to appear in the show. You see Mihawk arrive — what is your reaction to him? Because it's not a case of "The villain of the villain is my friend," but rather "Oh, he did that to the villain? I hope he does not do that to us, as that would suck."
It’s almost like the good guys meeting the bad guys, and then a tornado comes in. But here’s the thing: I missed the issue of Jump where Zoro fought Mihawk. So I assumed that Zoro had just won. The greatest swordsman in the world shows up and Zoro beats him. Boom. The climax of his character arc has been achieved. Nothing left for Zoro.
He just did it.
I didn’t find out until so much later that Zoro lost. I wasn’t quite aware of what made for a captivating story yet. At that time, an obstacle appears, an obstacle gets taken out, ya move on. I almost want to apologize to Mihawk.
I love how One Piece does this though. They do it with Smoker and Aokiji and the like. It reminds me of The Witcher III when you go off the path a little bit, and you're at a Level 4 and then a Level 39 Gryphon swoops down and decapitates you. It keeps the "power levels" interesting.
Luffy starts up Breath of the Wild and goes right for Calamity Ganon. But Mihawk is like the analogy for the Grand Line. He represents it, without revealing too much. Mihawk is like a Pizza Hut demo disc of danger.
I really like that. And no one knows, to this day, exactly how powerful he is. Over 20 years later, and we're still wondering how he matches up against Shanks or Blackbeard or whatever. One Piece has so many characters where Oda hasn't shown his full hand in regards to them, yet we're totally emotionally invested in them. That's good storytelling.
He’s doing something right. And I love that Mihawk has a little character arc here, too, where he shows up nonchalantly slicing up Krieg’s ships, probably doesn’t expect much, and then he’s taken aback by Zoro’s gusto, because he hasn’t seen anyone like that in a while. And he slices Zoro down. But he respects him, when in the beginning, he clearly didn’t respect anyone around. Mihawk wants to see him be better and try to take him down one day. For him to willingly build someone up like that is rare. Like Frieza wouldn’t do that.
So, Don Krieg — what were your opinions of him at the time? Because he's a really bad guy surrounded by more morally grey guys like Mihawk and Gin.
What I like about the East Blue saga is that every main villain is an antithesis of Luffy and what makes Luffy a truly great captain. Buggy is all about treasure. Kuro is about ambition and the fortitude to be a pirate. Krieg is about might and strength, and Krieg thinks he has both of those because of his weapons and armor. But Luffy has willpower and ambition and doesn’t let the world change his views. Luffy is incorruptible whereas Krieg is willing to poison his own crew when stuff starts going south. Krieg isn’t fondly remembered, but he really serves his purpose in the story.
So, after Krieg is defeated, Sanji turns down Luffy's offer to join the Straw Hat crew. Now, he knows this is a bad idea. He's not gonna find the All Blue floating around on the Baratie. Why doesn't he go immediately?
Well, he knows it’s a bad idea but he’s completely misinterpreting Zeff’s sacrifice. He feels that since Zeff sacrificed his leg, he has to repay him by working for him indefinitely. But the reason that Zeff did that was because he wants Sanji to live on and chase his dream. That’s why Zeff took pity on him in the first place. He’s an older, worn-down man now, and he stopped chasing his dream. And now he wants to see Sanji or someone get a win. It lifts his spirit to see Sanji and live kinda vicariously through him.
So, the second time I ever cried over One Piece was during Sanji's goodbye and Zeff's "Don't catch a cold." The first time was when that little dog was trying to protect his dead owner's shop in Orange Town, but that's a different story. But this shot of Sanji on his knees thanking Zeff with all the cooks surrounding them is so iconic, and Sanji's acting like it's a gift that Zeff gave him that Sanji could never repay, while as you said, Zeff just wants Sanji to be happy. What did you get out of that? I assume that you're a human with human emotions.
I cry every time I watch that. When I first saw it, I was like “How? How is a series this good?” And there’s so much to that ending sequence. Because the Baratie is built on this rough, angry masculinity. Just these dudes being mean and fighting each other and customers all the time. There’s never a time or a place for lending a shoulder to someone else. No emotional embraces of any kind. Just everyone berating everyone. No one can open up — just stupid man babies. And then you get to this moment where Sanji is leaving and they’re all trying to be cool while playing it off. Especially Zeff, who can’t give a legitimate goodbye, but rather a “Don’t catch a cold.” But there’s so much to that statement and the facade crumbles. All these grown men start bawling.
I've never thought about it that way. There's all these little hints of kindness, like feeding the bad guys, and it's a masculinity powder keg. And then Sanji, in an ultimate display of putting his heart out there, bows to the man who saved him and the keg explodes. That's really cool.
ONE PIECE LIGHTNING ROUND!
Favorite One Piece character?
Favorite One Piece villain?
Favorite One Piece moment?
March to Arlong Park
Favorite Straw Hat Crew pairing?
Luffy and Zoro
Favorite moment of the new Wano anime arc?
Soba Mask’s debut
If you could eat one Devil Fruit, what would it be?
Whatever Kanjuro’s fruit is
Moment that made you cry the hardest?
Sanji leaving the Baratie
Moment that made you cheer the loudest?
Straw Hats at the Tower of Justice standing across from Robin
One Piece location that you'd like to live in?
Whole Cake Island. Ya eat well, ya know, you can survive Big Mom
Favorite fight scene?
Sanji vs Mr. 2, of course
Stay tuned for the next installment of "My Favorite One Piece Arc" as we speak with Botchamania creator Maffew about his favorite One Piece arc: Alabasta!!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
Do you love writing? Do you love anime? If you have an idea for a features story, pitch it to Crunchyroll Features.