Look, I do so many of these write-ups, I can’t be really sure if I haven’t made this point already, but whatever… bear with me if I’ve said this before. See, being a connoisseur of what I think is a fairly broad selection of entertainment, I am repeatedly amused by how, more often than not, it’s really only arbitrary details that separate stories into different genres and age ratings.
Tone down some of the more colorful silliness here, throw in some more risqué jokes, then film that slightly-modified script, and how different is this from a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie? Amp up the gore, pepper in some nudity, turn the tone dial a few shades soberer, and then you’ve probably got the next ASSASSIN’S CREED game. And so on, and so on…
That’s my “pop culture diplomacy” way of saying that the storytelling really kicks up to an impressive dramatic level in this episode. This isn’t just Luffy skipping to and fro, bunching bad guys (though there is still plenty of that). Nami makes clever, duplicitous moves that quickly land her into complicated moral conundrums, and she then has to make some actual sacrifices to get out of those conundrums with her integrity intact. Zoro likewise finds himself on both ends of some really tight dramatic reversals during his duel with Buggy’s crew. And, while Buggy by not be as sinister a clown as the Joker (even though the voice actor is doing his damnedst Mark Hamill impression), he’s still a villain who demonstrates an ability for and interest in blowing up a whole dock full of innocent people.
Those are all the ingredients of gripping drama -- even if the show’s animation style still makes it look like belong on Nick Jr. times. The details don’t matter.
(Though, speaking of the animation - - this actually pretty high quality work. Did Toei contract the show out to a different studio somewhere in the middle episodes? Why was the animation quality in that era not up to the standards of the show’s earliest and latest episodes?).