One Piece Collection 18 (Episodes 422-445) (Cert 12)

4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 565 minutes approx 

Welcome back to the further adventures of everybody’s favourite pirates the Straw Hats as One Piece continues to roll on. In truth, this is a bit of a white lie as this collection features Straw Hats rubbery leader Monkey D. Luffy almost exclusively, save for a four-episode filler arc, which we shall get to later.

If you recall in the last volume, the Straw Hats were all separated at the hands of one of the Seven Warlords of the sea Bartholomew Kuma, whose devastating ability sent each crewmember to a different location across the map. Luffy ends up on the island Amazon Lily, populated entirely by the all female Kuja tribe, ruled by the vain and dangerous Snake Princess Warlord Boa Hancock.

Through the usual serendipity and happenstance that occurs in these adventures, Boa falls in love with Luffy and uses her warlord status to secure an official visit to Impel Down, the impenetrable prison where Luffy’s brother “Fire Fist” Portgas D. Ace is currently incarcerated ahead of his public execution. Using her beauty, petrifying powers and flowing wardrobe Boa sneaks Luffy onboard a Navy ship and then into the prison.

Picking up the story ahead of their imminent arrival, we are given a tour of this imposing and brutal facility, a partly submerged multi-level structure, each floor considerably more unforgiving and punishing than the last according to the severity of the crimes. Designed to inter the most dangerous criminals and pirates with the highest bounties, Impel Down is a riff of sorts on the concept of hell in Dante’s Inferno, with five levels of extreme and inhumane torture awaiting the inmates.

Ace is in level five at the bottom and his execution is merely hours away. Boa smuggles Luffy into the prison inside her dress, again using her petrifying powers to freeze the guards during a mandatory strip-search to avoid Luffy being caught. Luffy successfully slips out unnoticed and begins his quest to find his brother, navigating his way down each level whilst Boa goes on ahead with an official escort to inform Ace that Luffy is coming to rescue him.

What One Piece mastermind Eiichiro Oda has down with this arc is essentially bring an old school platform video game to life, pitting Luffy against a series of challenges on five different levels of toughness with a “boss” on each one. I use the quotation marks here because quite often the “boss” is a fearsome guardian and not an actual figure of total authority, although these do exist and, in true One Piece fashion, they are outlandish figures in their own right.

On his literal descent into hell, Luffy not only encounters a number of dangerous and extraordinary creatures sent to impede his progress, but is reunited with faces from his past, and not necessarily of the friendly variety either. That is to be expected in a prison, but since these chaps are keen to escape, they have no choice but to side with Luffy to facilitate this.

If you have a good memory regarding the One Piece saga so far you will recall Luffy’s encounters with Buggy the Clown pirate or the Baroque agents, Mr. 2, Mr. 3, and the notorious Crocodile; if not, the brief reminders provided may not suffice but this is only relevant to the plot in that it teases their possible betrayal against Luffy once they get free anyway.

The story continues to twist and turn unabated, new characters are introduced alongside the returning old faces, and Luffy finds his trust in the others both rewarded and abused in equal measure. However, this comes at a price and that is courtesy of the monstrous warden Magellan, whose power turns his entire body into poison, and as Luffy discovers, the results can be fatal.

Delivering its heady mix of bombastic action, overt comedy, and poignant drama, this is another slice of prime One Piece entertainment but there is one area that might prove a little unpalatable for some audiences. The character Mr. 3, is a flamboyant male sporting a heavily made up face, his effete manner being completely unsubtle, who sues his escape as a chance to locate another prisoner Emporio Ivankov, Queen of Kamabakka Kingdom.

Ivankov is an ebullient cross-dressing behemoth looking like a Rocky Horror tribute act, who has created a world for reborn people called New Kama on level 5.5 of Impel Down. This hidden world of burlesque decadence is where Ivankov helps people be their “true selves”, tuning men into women via his Hom Hom powers.

Now, Ivankov and the Kama are all referred to as Queers – even by themselves – and I don’t know if this will sit well with the LBGT community. Japan doesn’t have a healthy track record of sensitivity in this area so this either will cause offensive through stereotyping and possible pejorative use of “queer”, or be seen as a progressive gesture towards representation of the LGBT community in anime.  

For fans of the other Straw Hats, they are featured in the aforementioned filler arc, slyly introduced during the Impel Down saga, the set-up being only one prisoner has ever escaped Impel Down – Golden Lion Shiki, cutting his own legs off to do so. Shiki was the antagonist of the spin-off film Strong World, released whilst this arc ran on TV in Japan, hence this mini prologue adjunct to promote it.

Running just four episodes, it reminds us of how much of the show’s success is down to eclectic personalities working within the group dynamic and is fun while it lasts, although only Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, Usopp, and Nami are the main players here. However, their absence in the Impel Down story allows them to be supplanted by people with a different set of powers to compliment Luffy’s, spicing things for the fight sequences.

This volume might be too much Luffy in one sitting for some but it wouldn’t be One Piece without him.

 

Extras:

English Language 5.1 Surround

Japanese Language Stereo

English Subtitles

Marathon Play Feature

 

Disc 1:

Episode 425 Commentary

 

Disc 2:

Chopper Plays Doctor

Episode 432 Commentary

Textless Opening Song – “Share The World”

Textless Closing Song – “Kaze wo Sagashite”

Trailers

 

Disc 3:

Episode 434 Commentary

 

Disc 4:

Cooking With Sanji

Episode 442 Commentary

Textless Closing Song – “Kaze wo Sagashite”

Trailers

 

Rating – ****

Man In Black