The Straw Hat Pirates finally out of Wano, it looks like they have some time left before they reach their next destination. Toei Animation could take advantage of this time to tell some unconventional stories. However, it is difficult to imagine the precise content of these stories. After Wano, there is the final saga of One Piece. Filling was one thing when the series was near its midpoint, but things are different now. The Straw Hats should get closer to laugh tale, and the only real challenges left to them are the great forces of the world. If Toei wants to bridge the time between major arcs in the future, they’re going to have to get creative.
The power of the Straw Hats will make it difficult to craft a post-Wano storyline. In the past, it was pretty easy to pit them against a nameless pirate crew because they weren’t that big themselves. Now that they’re definitely one of the strongest crews around, there aren’t many people left who can reasonably challenge them.
Filler antagonists must be able to fulfill a few basic criteria. They don’t have to pose the same threat as the antagonists in the canon. They must, however, be fearsome enough to give the Straw Hats cold sweats, especially the members. the toughest like Luffy and Zoro. A good antagonist should also have a good reason to stay in the shadows despite being strong enough to challenge an Emperor level crew. On top of that, he’ll likely need to be surrounded by equally powerful allies who can keep the rest of the Straw Hats busy. Also, it is not necessary, but strong motivations and emotions are highly recommended; a background story might also help.
One option for the Straw Hats is to battle veteran pirates. These would be pirates who have been sailing since the days of Gol D Roger, but are no longer relevant in the modern era; a good example would be Shiki the Golden Lion. There should be plenty of such pirates who still have a lot of strength. The interesting thing about this kind of filler pirates is that there have been plenty of them in the past. However, despite being from Roger’s time, Luffy and company were strong enough to take them on. Leaving Wano, it was the Straw Hats that eventually became a logical and reasonable challenge for these legendary pirates.
Old pirates can come from a lot of places. Some of them could be former candidates for the title of Grand Corsairs. The meaning of a Corsair has had a funny way of keeping up with Luffy’s rapid growth in the series. Now that the title involves pirates who are worth billions of berriesa candidate for this position would certainly give the Straw Hats a hard time.
Other veteran pirates could be found among the many Impel Down level 6 escapees. Truth be told, this plot point could probably generate enough filler for the rest of the series. The idea that so many of history’s most evil pirates roam free is far scarier than most people care to believe. Besides half of the Blackbeard crew, it also produced formidable enemies like Byrnndi World and Douglas Bullet. There’s no way of knowing who else was being kept there.
Some older pirates might just chill out on their own little patch of land like Crocus. If they need an excuse to fight the Straw Hats, it could be something as basic as invading their territory. Wherever the old enemies come from, they could be people who were biding their time and the right moment to make a comeback.
Of course, the Straw Hats don’t necessarily have to be challenged by older pirates. With their newfound notoriety, they might be challenged by newer hackers looking to make a name for themselves, especially Supernovas. If the fight between the Emperors and the Worst Generation has proven anything, it’s that the new era of pirates will eventually surpass the old.
The Marines will never be short of vice admirals either. The Straw Hats could find themselves up against candidate admirals or experimental pacifist role models. Moreover, taking on Marines in open waters has always been more than just bare-knuckle combat; it’s a tricky business where the planning and expertise of the entire crew can potentially come in handy.
Speaking of tricky business, this is another way to challenge the Straw Hats. There are all kinds of Devil Fruit users with dark powers that make them difficult to master in direct combat; Uta is a fairly recent example. Rather than leaning on their muscles, Luffy and his team may have to make do with such opponents.
Alternatively, Luffy could use the Gear Five to access cartoon physics and defeat his opponents that way. While this form can technically overcome most problems through brute force, the ability to literally bend reality allows for far more unique solutions. This versatility is what makes the form, despite its useless overwhelming power, more likely to be used even in relatively low-stakes filler fights.
It’s important to remember that not every filler needs to have a big fight at their center. Some may just be Straw Hats on an island, having fun interacting with the locals and maybe even joining in the festivities. If a fight breaks out in the middle of all this to spice things up, that’s fine too. That way, though, it won’t matter if the Straw Hats outplay the bad guys, because that won’t be the point of the story.
Besides the Straw Hats’ adventures, there could be episodes dedicated to other aspects of One Piece’s world and history. A cheap and easy fix for Toei would be to revisit past Straw Hat events. They could show off some of their greatest moments reanimated in the new style.
Speaking of One Piece’s new style, it’s going to be amazing on filler content. You could see all the dynamic camera angles, fluid movements, punchy shocks and cinematic showmanship that have become staples of anime since the start of the Wano arc. The idea of non-canon episodes getting this quality treatment is almost unimaginable, but it could happen.
The anime could also use the time between Wano and the Straw Hats’ next destination to tell side stories. There are plenty of side stories that Oda has cooked up that could easily be expanded into episodes or mini-arcs. For example, Germa 66 is currently trying to escape from Whole Cake Island; this story could easily be expanded into one or two episodes. None of this is filler, per se, but considering what Toei should bring to the story on his side, it might as well be.
With all of that in mind, One Piece has plenty of ways to take its time getting back to the canonical story. Hopefully, however, the anime will be well-paced enough that it won’t have to resort to non-canon elements to fill in the time between arcs; such items should be used sparingly. At a minimum, viewers should expect an average level of quality from these side stories while patiently waiting for the main story to pick up.