With the news that FUNimation had acquired the rights to One Piece fans rejoiced. VIZ's performance with the franchise had been less than adequate considering they only released it in an edited form as it appealed to 4Kids. Taking a page from VIZ's fantastic job with the Naruto franchise, FUNimation is going to be releasing One Piece in an uncut format with original Japanese dubs. The jury is still out as to whether or not they'll be able to start at the beginning or at episode 144 (which is where VIZ's license ends). Personally, while I love One Piece I think there's little point of releasing the series unless they can get the whole enchilada. But that's neither here nor there because this review isn't for the series; it's for one of the movies.
Serving as FUNimation's entry into the One Piece world, The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta marks the eight feature film from the prominent franchise. Why the eighth movie you may ask? Well, why the 144th episode? It most likely all came down to licensing rights. With that being said you really have to be affirmed in One Piece lore in order to full appreciate what's going on. Very little leeway is given to viewers as far as who the characters are and what the plot is all about and it doesn't help that this is essentially a re-imagined and condensed version of the Alabasta story arc from the series. If you're new to One Piece or are only slightly familiar with the franchise then chances are you're not going to get the most out of this release.
The story in The Desert Princess and the Pirates is fairly straight forward. The Kingdom of Alabasta has been in turmoil and finds itself in the middle of a civil war. Both sides wage battle against the other but behind every action there is someone pulling the strings. The nefarious Crocodile and his Baroque Works Gang are involved somehow and when Vivi comes to Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates for help you just know our heroes are going to be more than eager to do whatever possible.
So far as plot exposition is concerned that summary is essentially all you're going to get for depth with this pieced together version of the Alabasta storyline. Kind of similar to the treatments we saw with Individual Eleven and Laughing Man films from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series, Desert Princess loses some of its charm. The developmental details crucial to storytelling are pushed aside and subtle nuances are presented in a manner that you'll completely miss them unless you have already seen the episodes. This leaves the film feeling incomplete and unbalanced.
With the focus being mostly taken away from the story, Desert Princess finds itself relying on the charm of its characters, sense of humor, and unrelenting action to survive. Fortunately One Piece has each of those three categories covered tenfold. These factors have been paramount for the success of the show and Desert Princess is certainly no slouch in each department. Nearly every moment is taken up by fighting of some kind, a dramatic note, or lightning fast quip to lighten the mood. Because of that this film is entertaining.
I truly hope that FUNimation is able to explore the entire One Piece franchise some day so everyone can give the series a shot. It's a fun show that has proven its popularity and staying power in Japan and though American audiences haven't completely latched on I have no doubt that an uncut treatment will do wonders. Desert Princess may feel short on plot but it makes up for it in personality. As it stands though only fans of One Piece really need apply because most of the details are lost in the process of making this film.
With the higher budget and better paid attention The Desert Princess is a thing of beauty. Presented in anamorphic widescreen FUNimation's first One Piece outing should give fans hope. This release is virtually flawless with very little grain and no compression artifacts to mar the image quality. Colors are vibrant and natural, I didn't spot any aliasing, and the CG effects merge with regular animation very well. Overall this is a fantastic looking release that certainly helps with one's enjoyment of the film.
With 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks along with a 2.0 Japanese track Desert Princess sounds much better than I would have expected. Coming from the VIZ release of the series fans have undoubtedly become accustomed to their English dub. Fortunately FUNimation's team does a great job of capturing the spirit and personalities of the show's characters. The inclusion of the Japanese dub goes the extra mile and both actually turned out to be very good. On the technical side of things this release sounds very good with the 2.0 stereo tracks operating as you'd expect and the 5.1 really kicking in with nice effects during the fight scenes. The sense of immersion could have been better but as it stands this was a great way to watch One Piece
The only bonus materials that you're going to find on this release are some trailers for other FUNimation titles. It's a shame as this stands as FUNimation's first One Piece production. Some discussion by the powers that be regarding the acquisition of the franchise or look at the series would have definitely been appreciated.
One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates came up short on story but turned out to be a lot of fun. The sense of adventure and scope of the One Piece universe certainly carried this picture much farther than I thought they would have. The only problem is that unless you're a fan of the series and already familiar with the Alabasta arc you're going to be lost somewhat. The background details regarding the characters and storyline simply aren't present here though you will understand the gist of what's going on. If you're curious how FUNimation is going to handle the One Piece license then definitely check this film out. It's a decent way to kick things off and as a lover of the franchise I'm pleased to have it in my collection. Recommended
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!