I am going to start this review off with a bit of information about my own personal life, and I do that to explain there is a bias going into this arc that leads me to like it possibly more than I otherwise would have. I work as a line cook, but I also worked as a more traditional cook (Grilled Salmon, stirfry's, and a variety of deep-fried goods). When I watched the Baratie Arc, the whole concept of the fighting cooks, these cooks who were constantly fighting and shit-talking each other while deep down caring about the others, is so accurate and true to what goes on in a kitchen. Even down to the very end, where one of them ruins the 'I'm going to leave looking cool' image that Sanji was going for, and he did it purely to be a dick, leading to everyone breaking down in tears. This.... this is a real kitchen, and I would be shocked to hear either the writer of One Piece never worked in a kitchen, or at the very least didn't speak with cooks to understand what working in a kitchen is like. On that note alone, I loved this arc.
All that aside, my usual disclaimer of 'I am assuming you have either seen my previous reviews or have already watched One Piece' so I will be skipping over certain aspects I would normally talk about with a new review, as I've already covered it all. That said, on to the review proper.
The Straw Hat Pirates are in search of a cook to help them on their way, and now we see the introduction of the newest main character Sanji, and so far he is my favorite character in this show. Keeping with the theme of the rest of them, his goals are very simple. He wanted to be a great cook and wanted to find 'All Blue', a mythical place where all the seas originate from, and where you can find all the fish of the seas in one location. There may have been a lot to happen to him along the way, but at the core, we have a very simple desire and a strong will to achieve that goal.
Being the longest arc so far, he's had more time to be developed over the arc than any other character so far, and the show does a fantastic job with it. That's not to say the entire arc is just focused on Sanji, there is a lot more the show manages to do with these twelve episodes. It establishes more about the world they all live in, as well as help establish a pecking order in terms of power.
We learn that there are effectively four seas (East Blue, West Blue, North Blue, and South Blue), we get a glimpse at the horrors that exist within the Grand Line as well as the kind of people who go there, and we even get to see the long gap between Zoro and the Greatest Swordsman in the world and just how far he has to go to reach his goals. Even Luffy continues to grow as a character, as for the first time it feels like he is in a fight he has a good chance to lose, the power of the Devil Fruit's is not the end-all of the One Piece universe, despite the powers the grant they are far from invincible.
Back on to Sanji, I love all the little things about the way he acts. When he's helping this traveling restaurant he's got the over the top way he interacts with and yells at the other cooks, the more subdued anger he shows towards people wasting their food, the sudden childlike excitement he get's when he talks about All Blue, I think in this one arc I've seen more sides to him than I have any other character on the ship, and every side feels natural for the character.
The Arc also does a lot better at balancing the humor and action without hampering the impact of what's going on at all. It's something the show struggles with at times, but beginning to end it worked here. Which is great, because this has been the best action of the show. Seeing Sanji fight, taking on the style of the one he worked for, is fascinating. Refusing to attack with his hands, as injuring them would prevent him from cooking, it's a lot of fast and hard kicks. Luffy's fight was great if only because struggling hard is a really good look on him, and because of his personality and how likable he is seeing him overcome a fight where he goes in at a disadvantage is so satisfying. Even the sword fight involving Zoro was fantastic, up until now the animation for his fights have been a bit minimal and you don't see too much, matches ending pretty quickly. Now we get a decent length fight where we get to see a lot more of the moves going on, and even though you kind of know how it's going to end it's exciting to see all the same.
That said, seeing the greatest Sword Fighter show up here is a bit silly. He just happened to be following after the Pirates attacking the Restaurant because he was bored, and it starts to feel more like an excuse to pull Zoro out of the main conflict, as well as set up the battlefield to put Luffy at a disadvantage rather than something that would have happened naturally.
While I liked the show up until now, this is the Arc where I'm feeling myself become a fan of this show. It really is what a Shonen anime should be, and it's seeming to escape some of the traps others of the genre fall into. I definitely recommend this arc and look forward to the following one.