The Background of One Piece:
One Piece first began as a serialized manga series in 1997. It debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in August 1997. The Japanese pop-culture phenomenon was created by the author and illustrator Eiichiro Oda. The manga has sold more copies than any other manga series ever with over 250 million copies having been sold since initial publication. The manga has yet to end and has received over 60 published volumes. It has continued to receive critical acclaim and enthusiastic recognition from its always-expanding fan-base.
The (also) massively popular anime series is still ongoing and has aired over 500 produced episodes. It is amongst the longest running series of all time -- in anime form or otherwise. The show premiered in Japan in October 1999. In North America the series was released by 4Kids Entertainment originally and was heavily criticized for having a poor dub and for edits considered as significant cuts (sometimes entire episodes went missing). Funimation saved the show for North America, produced an excellent dub, and has continued to present One Piece in its uncut, original form as it is presented here and on all One Piece Collection DVD box-sets.
The Series and Characters:
One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of pirates. He is joined by Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Chopper and Sanji. The beginning of the series takes some time to build as the characters are introduced over a nicely paced span of episodes and stories. There are some other characters that join the crew over the course of the show, which will be noted in this section of future One Piece Collection reviews when the characters are later introduced.
The main character is Luffy. As the series begins he is a 17 year old kooky-wacky kid with a heart of gold and a head of emotions. He looks at almost every scenario with total optimism and is unwavering in his belief that things can work out in the end. As a young boy he ate a Gum Gum "Devil" Fruit by accident that gave him special powers. The main power he gained was a rubber body. He can bend, stretch, and seem rubber-like (he is rubber!) in a way that no one else can. Essentially, Luffy is the most flexible person in the entire world (at least in terms of the characters introduced on the show so far). Luffy was once saved by the pirate Shanks, who Luffy seemed to view as a hero and father figure. Luffy decided then that he is to become the "King of the Pirates!" as the legendary Gold Rogers pirate was once called. It has less to do with stealing treasure or amassing wealth as it does with sailing the seas and experiencing the world with friends. Unlike most of the pirates depicted on One Piece, there is little doubt that Luffy has a pure heart and is not attempting to hurt anyone or gain from the loss of others. Luffy is a character that is unafraid of fighting for what's right and this is an endearing quality that has no doubt played a significant part in his long-term popularity. He usually thinks with his emotions more than his brain-power though, and when he does use his brain (i.e. "I have an IDEA!") catastrophe can sometimes ensue. Some viewers of the series might consider him an idiot (other characters on the show have expressed this sentiment as well) but he has things in the right place where they count the most: heart, spirit, and soul. Luffy is easily one of the most endearing, comical, and fun characters in anime history.
Trivia Note: He is also dubbed the "Straw Hat" pirate as he always fondly wears an old straw hat throughout the series. He might also have the largest appetite in any anime, which is certainly saying something.
Roronoa Zoro is one of the most physically strong additions to Luffy's crew. He used to work as a bounty hunter before he met Luffy. Zoro has magnificent skills with swords and he has a dream of becoming the greatest swordsman in the entire world. He somewhat reluctantly joined the crew at first but he quickly becomes a huge asset and friend. One of his sword techniques requires the use of three blades: one in each hand and another held using his mouth. While those who don't know him seem to fear Zoro, he is actually a kind of funny guy who takes more naps than anyone else in the crew (even when compared to Luffy). Zoro is probably the most "kick-ass" type of character within the entire One Piece anime.
Usopp is many things to different people. He gained a reputation as being a "liar", which is true but not exactly telling of his character. Usopp is a storyteller more than anything else. He seems to encourage laughter and happiness in others. It is fascinating to me how he is such a brave and courageous man at times and also a definite coward when something has too much scare-factor for him to face. Most of the time, he pulls through in the end anyway. While some viewers might be inclined to refer to him as a primarily "comic relief" character, there is a lot of sides to Usopp that make him stand out. His dream seems to be to become a strong, confident, and talented sea-adventurer.
Nami is the Navigator. She helps to make sure that the crew heads in the right direction at all times. She also has a dream (clearly a recurring theme of the series with each character) to map out the entire world. Nami is also known as a thief because unlike some of the other pirates of the crew she actually enjoys finding and taking treasures. Ironically, Nami claims to despise all pirates in the early episodes of One Piece until she officially joins Team Luffy. Nami is undoubtedly the smartest member of the entire crew and she is able to use her wit and intelligence to help everyone out of some of the strangest and most dire situations on the show.
Sanji might be the most compassionate of the central characters. He is the cook for Luffy's crew and he never hesitates to serve food to those in need of a meal. Early in his life, Sanji experienced what it was like to suffer from hunger firsthand and this dramatically impacted his attitude towards others experiencing hunger. He can seem to be the most level-headed of the team at times but then also the most over-tempered as well. If someone rubs Sanji the wrong way he never takes the matter too lightly. Besides having the occasional anger-management issue there is no question that he's a genuinely nice character who receives enjoyment from cooking, flirting with women, and helping others out in a pickle (the pun was absolutely intended). Sanji's goal is to find the All Blue, which connects each area of the ocean.
A wacky, well-spirited, and adventurous doctor named Tony Tony Chopper joins the group during the previous One Piece Collection. Chopper is a reindeer with a blue nose. He ate a Human Human Fruit that gave him the ability to speak and act in a human manner. Chopper hasn't been entirely the same ever since. He can walk, talk, and act as goofy as all the rest of the merry pirates on this show. There are multiple forms that this character can take: the form of a normal reindeer, a reindeer with the qualities of a young human boy, and a monstrous gigantic reindeer with the power of a body-builder man. This makes the character the most interesting addition to the series in a while, and it was nice to see his relevance to the crew become a part of the ongoing plot. Team Luffy needed a doctor and he was a perfect match.
Technically, there is a new character that seems to join Luffy's crew by the end of the fifth One Piece Collection (herein reviewed) but it would equally seem to be a major spoiler to try and elaborate to readers for now. Let's put it this way: It's a character many viewers will not expect to join the crew. It's a character that will have some people questioning their motives (based on previous moments of the series). Viewers should see these concluding episodes of the Alabasta storyline first because of how the character fits into the overarching storyline included on this set, and I'll introduce a character as joining the crew next time... a character that you may or may not be wondering about. Capiche?
For anyone who has experienced the joys of watching One Piece there is no question as to why the series has been such a massively huge hit in Japan and around the world. It starts with the characters as the most essential element but it extends far beyond that. There are many high quality production and storytelling aspects to this series, all of which helps it to stand out distinctively from a crowded anime scene. The art stands apart all on its own as one of the best production elements. The character designs are distinctive and memorable: not only for the central leading characters but for the majority of the supporting players as well. The unique art style crafted by One Piece manga artist Eiichiro Oda has been faithfully translated as the main animation style of the series. This will no doubt please both longtime fans and newcomers who should be able to easily see the wondrous qualities in abundance. There is a silly and comical tone to the art that ultimately helps to make it easier to absorb the many varying aspects of the ongoing story.
The central direction for the entire series is done by Kônosuke Uda. Uda doesn't have that huge of a list of directorial credits to his name prior to his work on One Piece (perhaps his most significant previous directing job was for Sailor Moon S - the third and best season). Yet there can be no mistaking the massive undertaking and leadership taken on with the One Piece craftsmanship at his helm. The series has a near perfect blend of story, action, comedy, drama, adventure, and more. Oda contributed significantly to this success story through having crafted the characters, artwork styles, and overall genre styling's with his manga creation but anime general Uda uses that magic to craft even more unique magic with this increasingly well-made series.
The pacing is surprisingly consistent and enjoyable. The story rarely seems to have what usually becomes known as a high episode count of "filler" episodes typically found in any series that runs as long as this show has by this point. While the story occasionally veers towards telling side-plotlines that might seem designed as filler to some members of the audience there is also an undercurrent of smart and finely-tuned scripting that makes it almost impossible to not find some new and entertaining aspect during these moments. Ultimately, the storytelling is so vibrant, full of life, and exciting most of the time that it seems illogical to complain about an aspect that isn't disappointing at all. One Piece has altered my concept of the filler episode by bringing enjoyment to those episodes as well.
There is a trifecta of One Piece elements that seem worth discussing together. The music used on the show is excellent and definitely adds another layer to the energy and thrill of each episode. The comedy is jubilant and silly so that the primary goal of the storytellers was most likely to bring genuine smiles to the audience. Lastly, the themes and message behind the series prove to be meaningful. This trifecta exists because of the occasionally repetitive nature of these reoccurring aspects. This comment is not meant as a negative criticism, but is instead primarily an observation. The humor often relies upon a re-used joke that proved successful in an earlier episode, and while the show is smart to continue adding original elements on a frequent basis it seems to understand how certain elements can be reused in different circumstances to some degree. The music draws heavily upon a core group of musical themes that seem to emphasis different emotions that are the focus of a given scene. This offers viewers a welcoming blend of familiarity while also establishing some consistency at the core.
The essential message of One Piece: To follow your dreams. It's the best message a show or film can give towards audiences and it is something that is handled with a level of grace that is uncommon. When audiences are also given a thematic backdrop which suggests it is important to bring some kindness to others and to remember to keep friends close to the heart it becomes vibrantly clear that One Piece is far more than one of the best series on television: it is a show which wears its beautiful heart directly on its sleeve. One Piece deserves to be seen by anyone in the world who considers themselves an anime fan on any level. It is not to be overlooked!
The Collection (Set 5, Episodes 104-130):
If you've been following the One Piece Collection's Funimation has been consistent in releasing then you might have a certain expectation for this collection: more awesome goodness with the Straw Hat pirates. You'd be absolutely correct. The series is every bit as entertaining as always and it remains one of the few long-term anime series to be worth the huge time investment. Some may be inclined to shy away from giving this series a fair chance because of how lengthy it is, but that would equate to missing out on one of the best and most potent anime series around. Collection 5 contains some of the best episodes in the series to date and concludes the Alabasta storyline that began in Collection 3.
Luffy and co. had to help Princess Vivi save her kingdom and its people from the diabolical Crocodile: a mastermind leader in control of a group of assassins named by their numbered rank. Crocodile was the top dog and all he seemed to ever want was total chaos, destruction, and despair. It goes without saying (but I'll do so anyway) that Luffy wouldn't stand for this and brought it upon himself that the Straw Hat Pirates would stop at nothing to make sure Crocodile is defeated, that Vivi is kept safe, and that the people of her kingdom would be able to find peace. The path to that peace is consumed by an all-out war between kingdoms and the many lost lives of ordinary citizens. Even with attempts made by the crew to prevent this from happening it seems Crocodile is on his way to victory.
The storyline takes on many turns along the way and finally reaches the destination point we were all waiting for: the final confrontation between Luffy and Crocodile. It does take some time to reach this point but the journey taken is well worth the wait. The epic showdown conclusion to the arc is visually impressive and emotionally resonant. The payoff is exquisite and it's hard to imagine any of One Piece's fans walking away with their heads held low in disappointment.
There were a few elements that seemed out of line with the general high quality of the series during this set though. It was irritating that almost every "bad-guy" faced within this run of episodes seemed to have Devil Fruit Powers and with little or no attempts being made to offer viewers some sense of how this contributes anything to the storytelling. There's nothing wrong with having a character be given some kind of special ability but did it seriously have to always be a Devil Fruit Power? Earlier in the series run it was suggested that these fruits were rare and few had them.
I wasn't surprised to see some of the character's Luffy faced have Devil Fruit Powers but having almost every new enemy have some of them seemed to be an easy way to explain abilities that appeared during the show without having to offer any sensible explanations that didn't involve this apparent McGuffin routine. I had originally hoped to find out more information on these mystic, incredibly rare and highly sought after powers, but now I expect to see every new opponent Luffy faces have some kind of power attained in a similar way. It did detract mildly from my overall enjoyment.
One Piece uses flashbacks from previous episodes to highlight important scenes and moments and these are generally presented through a unique character perspective that makes them easier to digest and appreciate. The episodes on One Piece: Collection 5 are sometimes flashback/clip-show heavy, sometimes so much so that it became annoyingly repetitious. It became increasingly apparent that the episodes were using more clips than usual to help space out the course of showing us new animation and story development during the middle-end portions occurring during the lengthy Alabasta storyline run. Before the conclusion can satisfy fans viewers have to sit through clip-show-esque moments almost randomly inserted into episodes. It became incredibly annoying when clips were inserted into the episodes that had been new material only earlier... in the same episode! I noticed this on a couple of occasions and it definitely bugged me.
The Collection 5 set's entire focus is on wrapping up the current story arc and there isn't time for side-stories this go around. If you were anticipating some side-moments to balance out the intensity found in the Alabasta episodes it's not exactly easy to find such moments this time (especially in comparison to earlier releases with higher goofiness quotients, not that this aspect is entirely missing from these episodes). There is more action found in the near-final episodes of the Alabasta arc than in any other One Piece saga to this point in the series run. Sometimes the action seemed to be repetitive in nature but the moments where it worked exceedingly well balanced things out (such as the dueling style conclusions to individual fights between some of Crocodile's assassins and Nami, Zorro, and Usopp/Chopper). I must admit to not being as huge of a fan of multi-episode battle arcs being highlighted on One Piece (the humor and character development draws me in more) but it seems worth noting that those hoping to experience some well-done fight sequences are going to find plenty of them within Collection 5 - even if it takes slogging through a few that are overlong.
Generally speaking, I found that the Alabasta storyline was too lengthy for my own anime taste but it is also epic in scope and style. Fans will be pleased with the resolution and overall high-quality journey taken. One Piece continues to be one of the best shows ever made - a surefire anime hit with good reason - and few relatively minor quibbles won't alienate the fans from what are pure cotton-candy textured confections of televised joy. Each episode is a treat to experience. That sense of excitement is rare, indeed. One Piece remains the best long-term commitment to an anime series and the journey is one that is absolutely worth taking. Don't hesitate to start at the beginning, purchase each and every one of the Funimation Collection releases, and dig in for a great time.
One Piece arrives on DVD from Funimation in a Collection box-set format that combines two of the previously released "Voyage" sets into one. The PQ and AQ are no different from the earlier releases. Funimation hasn't even altered the menu design for these DVD collections.
The picture quality is pretty decent looking for a series that was started in the late 1990's. Funimation has done a solid job of representing the series on DVD. There is some aliasing and the image is a tad softer than more recent productions on occasion but the series also comes equipped with colors that pop and shine beautifully and the image is free from annoying compression because each disc contains no more than seven episodes each. These early episodes from One Piece are in pretty good shape and the release should please fans looking for decent picture quality. Funimation has released One Piece in the original broadcast aspect ratio 4:3 full frame.
The good news is that the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound option for the English language dub is an excellent choice for fans. The surrounds have been actively used to create an enveloping experience with good use of sound effects and enough room for the score to add an extra element of suspense, fun, and intrigue. The voice cast for the Funimation dub is superb and a definite step up over what 4Kids attempted poorly many years ago. Anyone who has seen One Piece through Funimation should be familiar with their dub version! In preserving the original Japanese stereo track the series can also be appreciated with the original language audio. English subtitles are provided for the Japanese dub. Either option is worthwhile. I had a slight preference for the more robust sounding surround sound choice accompanying the English dub. Both options feature clean and easy to understand dialogue.
The selection of bonus materials is limited on each Funimation One Piece Collection DVD release. Funimation included select staff commentary, text-less songs, and trailers promoting other anime series released by the studio.
Commentary with staff members is included on the following episode of Collection 5:
Episode 119: Secret of Powerful Swordplay! Ability to Cut Steel and the Rhythm Things Have!
Alabasta storyline has finally been
resolved! One Piece has been on a
huge journey with the Alabasta story arc. It was almost beginning to
though this story would never reach a destination point. While the
final run of
episodes included on Collection 5 are
uniformly excellent there is a certain sense of the series extending
bit too much this time around. Every
time it seemed to be a bit closer to ending on a high note the series
seemed determined to try and up the proverbial ante a bit more and keep
This was frustrating because the story never seemed to need unnecessary extension. This particular saga lasted a bit too long. The overall effect of the story was still exceedingly stellar with a conclusion that was appreciated and satisfactory. Fans will want to make sure to catch the conclusion to the epic Alabasta storyline. Even when it occasionally stumbles, One Piece remains one of the most entertaining anime series around; it seems capable of always delivering to fans memorable characters, delightful goofiness, solid action-sequences, and emotionally-involving storylines. It's the one ongoing anime series to top.