One Piece Collection 2 (episodes 27-53) (Cert 12)
4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 617 minutes approx
After the success of Dragonball Z last year Manga Entertainment have dug deep to bring another globally well known but hugely overlooked anime to these fair shores of ours, and like DBZ this one also has reached a level of mythical proportions among the anime community.
Whacky pirate yarn One Piece is the creation of Eiichiro Oda and made its manga debut in 1997 and is still going strong today as is this anime adaptation which debuted in 1999, which recently passed the six-hundred episode mark and has twelve theatrical films to its credit!! Even after all this time the manga and the anime continue to top polls, sales charts and TV ratings while its star Monkey D. Luffy is one of the most popular and iconic figures in otaku-dom and is regular fixture at cosplay conventions.
Preceding Jack Sparrow by some eight years, the story revolves around the quest by Luffy and his small crew aboard the Going Merry known as the Straw Hats (after Luffy’s favoured headgear) – comprising of petty thief and chief navigator Nami, skilled swordsman Roronoa Zoro, slingshot ace and inveterate liar Usopp and womanising chef with a superkick Sanji – to find the One Piece, the treasure hidden somewhere in the Grand Line by the King of the Pirates, Gold D. Roger, a mantle Luffy wants for himself.
Naturally with such a rich prize at stake Luffy is not alone and most contend with all manner of sea faring treasure hunters keen to claim the One Piece as their own, kicking off the Great Pirate Era. All I can say is that after six hundred episodes that treasure must be very well hidden!
Of course, this being anime not everything is quite so straight forward. Our nominal hero Luffy may look like a goofy, skinny, straw hat sporting deck boy but looks are very much deceiving in this instance. As a child Luffy accidentally ate a (un)healthy portion of Gum Gum Fruit – known as the Devil Fruit for good reason as it leaves the eater with an unusual side effect – which gave Luffy the power of elasticity in his body, not too dissimilar to Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four or Plastic Man, which he puts to good use to confound his opponents during battles in both offence and defence.
However there is a handicap to having this power – the Gum Fruit robs anyone of their ability to swim, a fundamental skill for a pirate. Luffy is not alone in possessing unusual abilities – in fact it seems to de rigueur for many of the travellers on the seas of the Grand Line, from the normal to the grotesque, making mortal humans appear to be something of a minority.
This second volume concludes the battle with Don Krieg and sees Sanji join Luffy and the crew of the Going Merry. However at this juncture Nami has stolen the ship and headed off to a destination unknown, with Usopp and Zoro is hot pursuit. Thus begins one of the most famous and beloved arcs in One Piece history, the Arlong Arc.
For anyone who has found the show to be underwhelming and unworthy of its legend up until this point and has yet to be convinced to stick with it, here is where the show reaches a monumental turning point and delivers one of the most emotionally rich and affecting back stories to be found in anime.
The action takes place in Cocoyashi Village, Nami’s hometown on a small island which has fallen under the tyrannical rule of the despotic Arlong Pirates, powerful Fishmen headed by the sword nosed shark man Arlong. Upon his arrival he Arlong demanded a substantial cash payment from the locals to ensure their lives would be spared but in true villainous fashion, they lived in fear.
How Nami fits into this is revealed during this arc, taking a detailed look back at her childhood encounter with Arlong and the terrible personal tragedy which turned her into a roaming thief. Naturally Luffy and co. arrive and feel the need to intervene for their friend Nami, and soon it’s an all out war between the Straw Hats and the Fishmen, taking in brutal, high stakes battles of Dragonball Z proportions.
I cannot not praise these particular fourteen episodes enough – an absolute masterclass in writing, voice acting and evocative emotional resonance with the viewer. It beggars belief in many ways that what is essentially a frivolous shonen fantasy show can produce something of such depth, poignancy and quality that engages the viewer right to the end, even through the comic relief segments with the same impact of a high drama, but here it is. Not only is it one of the most comprehensive and illuminating expository pieces ever seen but it marks the start of a noticeable turnaround in the quality of the story telling from hereon in.
The next arc, after some comedy filler, sees Luffy’s actions incur a bounty of thirty million berries (the currency in this series) on his head, making him and the crew popular targets when they arrive at Loguetown, the last major stop before the Grand Line, which was also where Gold Roger was born and executed. Suffice to say, there are scuffles aplenty as Luffy’s presence becomes widespread among bounty hunters and authorities alike.
Time has not been kind to the comparatively lacklustre animation, although influence of the character designs – the females in particular – can be seen in modern shows such as Fairy Tail, as well as the various plot aspects and character traits. To say the Luffy is a forerunner of Naruto is an understatement although the latter is a little more canny.
For modern audiences who found the first volume of One Piece unsatisfactory for a show of such high regard, this follow up is the one that appears to define not just the series itself but its legacy. A remarkable turnaround indeed.
English Language 5.1 Surround
Japanese Language Stereo
Episode 30 commentary
Textless Opening – “We Are!”
Textless Closing – “Run! Run! Run!”
Episode 44 commentary
Textless Opening – “Believe!”
Textless Closing – “Run! Run! Run!”
Rating – ****
Man In Black