One Piece Collection 16 (Episodes 373-396) (Cert 12)

4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 566 minutes approx.    

This latest instalment of the continuing adventures of the Straw Hats is a mixed bag that sees the unfinished business from the last release reach its resolve, the brief diversion of a swiftly concluded filler arc and the beginning of an exciting new story arc.

Making up all the episodes on the first disc is the conclusion of the Thriller Bark situation. With Luffy having defeated warlord Gecko Moria and his ultimate Special Zombie, the 500 year-old giant Oars, the celebrations are short lived with the arrival of another warlord, the bible bashing behemoth that is Bartholomew Kuma, sent to kill the Straw Hats and everyone on Thriller Bark.

This adventure had some nice ideas but was beginning to drag somewhat in the later stages. The addendum of Kuma to the plot, while teased earlier in the story, is arguably the most complicit factor in this protraction, the character unnecessarily after the main antagonist had been defeated at a huge physical cost to the our heroes.

Bookmarked by episodes devoted to the past life of newest crew member Brook prior to becoming a living skeleton, is a two-part filler adventure which begins with plenty of energy and promise but collapses fairly quickly. The Straw Hats are taking a break on a luxury ship called Spa Island, where they meet two young sisters Lina and Sayo. Their late father had created a special gem but the key ingredient was somewhere on the ship.

Naturally, the Straw Hats offer to help, providing the muscle for when the owner of Spa Island kidnaps Sayo and holds her to ransom in return for the creation of the special gem. Unfortunately, just as this story starts to warm up, we get a “three days later” graphic and a very abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion to what was shaping up to be a fun little side story.  

Discs three and four provide redemption for this egregious let down with the beginning of a new canon adventure, which sees creator Eiichiro Oda reveal a hitherto unseen socially conscious side to him, tackling two thorny and prevalent issues of the class divide between the wealthy and the poor, and the much darker practice of human trafficking.

The Thousand Sunny finally enters the Grand Line and is en route to Fish-Man Island, rescuing clumsy mermaid Clamie and her pet starfish Pappagu from the insides of a Sea-Rabbit. Clamie reveals that her best friend, an Octopus man named Hatchan, has been captured by Iron Mask Duval and the Flying Fish Riders. As it transpires, Duval has a beef with a certain member of the Straw Hats and welcome their rescue attempt.

It has to be said the pay off for this particular plot thread is rather amusing and one of the more unique ideas seen in a long while in this series. It is silly for sure but that is One Piece through and through. However things get serious once the group arrive at the Sabaody Archipelago, a plutocracy in which the nobility, known as Celestial Dragons, treat the lower class humans anyway they see fit with no remorse or recourse.

Hatchan warns the Straw Hats that they must ignore any improprieties perpetrated by the Dragons and any acts of confrontation, aggression or violence. Since they are descendants of the original founders of the World Government, any challenge of their actions is seen as an act of war. When Clamie is kidnapped and sold at an auction for the Dragons, this rule is wilfully ignored by Luffy, as one might expect.

Usually Oda keeps his themes simple, mostly propagating the importance of friendship, loyalty and second chances, but this time he sets his sights a little higher with this arc. The Dragons are hideously haughty and self-absorbed, and in a nice touch which we hope isn’t prescient (at least in the foreseeable future), they walk around in special glass helmets that prevent them from breathing the same air as the common people.

This is the height of arrogance yet even this is eclipsed by their utterly detached and deplorable treatment of the poor and fish people. When not buying and selling them as slaves, complete with Battle Royale-esque necklaces primed to explode on command, the Dragons treat commoners with utter contempt, killing anyone on a whim simply because they can.

Ironically, whilst fish people are discriminated against by the Dragons, mermaids are considered a prize catch plaything, putting Clamie front and centre at the auction as the top item up for grabs. Her gender doesn’t appear to be much of an issue which relieves us of any uncomfortable sexual perversion as part of her plight, instead the sympathy is engendered through the way she is passed around between bounty hunters and the nobility for money.

Oda doesn’t sugar coat this, despite the fantasy aspect of his creation, painting a pretty desperate and uncomfortable picture of human trafficking and the suffering incurred by the victims. This extends to the anger felt by Luffy and co, whose emotional investment goes beyond rescuing Clamie having witnessed firsthand the egregiously disrespectful and wanton behaviour of the Dragons.

And if that wasn’t enough, Oda has laid the foundation for the next tussle for the Straw Hats once they have dealt with their current foes, in the form of the Eleven Supernovas, pirates with a bounty of over 100 million berries. Luffy and Zoro are among this elite group, Luffy having the second highest bounty. The other Supernovas now introduced, we have to wait and see what happens when they collide with the Straw Hats.

The One Piece juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down just yet, and this volume demonstrates this after a shaky start. The Thriller Bark arc needed a swifter ending while the filler story had potential which wasn’t realised, but the new adventure is a thrilling return to form with its bold social themes.

Ending on a cruelly timed cliffhanger, volume 17 can’t come quick enough!

 

Extras:

English Language 5.1 Surround

Japanese Language Stereo

English Subtitles

 

Disc 1:

Episode 377 Commentary

 

Disc 2:

In The Galley With The Straw Hats

Episode 384 Commentary

Textless Opening – “We Are!” – One Piece 10 Year Anniversary version

 

Disc 3:

Episode 387 Commentary

 

Disc 4:

Villains And Fishmen: A Peek Behind The Curtain

Episode 393 Commentary

Textless Opening – “We Are!” – One Piece 10 Year Anniversary version

Textless Opening – “Share The World”

 

Rating – ****

Man In Black

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