I have to admit that half way through FUNimation's latest One Piece Collection, Season Four, Voyage Four, I decided that the show had run its course. It's not that I wasn't enjoying the show, it was still good, but the show no longer grabbed my interest and held it in a vise-like grip. Then I popped in the second disc and the show became incredibly engaging once again. So much so that when the final episode ended, on a cliff-hanger, naturally, I let out a little scream. I can't wait for the next volume.
As we left our merry band of pirates, they had reached Water Seven, an island that is famed throughout the Grand Line for its ship repairmen. They were hoping to get the Going Merry repaired, but after having their loot stolen by a local thug, Franky, and his crew they get some even worse news: the shipwrights say that they can't fix the Merry as her keel is too heavily damaged and she's liable to sink at any time. On top of that Robin disappears and appears to have joined up with the government forces to frame the Straw Hats in an assassination attempt on the local mayor. Oh, and Usopp quit the crew once he heard that they were going to give up on their ship.
As this set opens, things look pretty desperate. The mayor is under heavy guard, but since he has something that Robin and the rest of the mysterious government group known as CP9 want, Luffy figures that they should break in and wait for Robin to show up. They want to know just what the heck is going on. With Sanji off somewhere and Usopp gone, they're not at the crew isn't at their fighting peak... and they'll need to be if they hope to take on CP9.
If that isn't bad enough, there's a very violent storm that's about to hit and everyone in Water Seven is ordered indoors. Usopp is busy attempting to fix the Going Merry when he's kidnapped by Franky, who wants revenge on Luffy, and the city still thinks that the Straw Hats tried to kill their beloved mayor.
The first half was good but seemed a little worn. The Straw Hats are facing impossible odds, and will have to pull together to make it through. Yeah, we've seen that before. The plot was fine, but the fun energy that's the series hallmark seemed to have gone down a couple of notched.
Then, against all odds, the show gets back in the grove with some nice twists and the background story on Franky, something that I didn't think they'd bother to explore. That tale fleshes him out and makes him more than just another thug and the problem that Robin has, which is revealed eventually, while not a total surprise is unfolded in such a way as to make it very engaging too. The show picks up speed as the second disc progresses culminating in a solid cliffhanger that will have fans marking off the days until the next set is released.
This set contains the next 11 episodes (242-252) on two DVDs, each in its own thinpak case. The two cases are held in a nice slipcase.
This set offers the original Japanese track in stereo as well as an English dub in either stereo or 5.1. While the 5.1 dub was nice during the battle scenes, I preferred the original language track. The voices just seemed to fit characters better and made for a more enjoyable viewing experience. The English voice actors did do a good job however and people who like watching in English shouldn't be disappointed.
The full frame video looked pretty good overall. The colors were bright and solid and the blacks were nice and inky. The image was generally sharp too. The only real problem was a more than average amount of aliasing. Diagonal lines are often jagged and when the camera pans across a scene, fine lines tend to shimmer a bit. There's also a bit of cross colorization, but it wasn't distracting.
As with the other volumes, there's a "Marathon Play" option, which lets you watch the show without the opening and closing credits. That's really cool and something that all shows should offer. There are commentary tracks to two episodes, but they don't really excite me. There is, however, a pair of extras that I did enjoy: interviews with the voice actors. These segments, going under the title On the Boat, had some solid information about the actors and how they see their roles, and they were interesting. This time around we're treated to talks with Brina Palencia (Chopper) and Eric Vale (Sanji). They're hosted by ADR Director Mike McFarland and he asks them about the auditioning process, their favorite moments, and how they think their character has changed over the course of the show. They're worth watching. There are also clean animations and a series of trailers.
I thought the program had jumped the shark for a minute, but that wasn't the case. After an average first half, the show comes roaring back with a vengeance. Just as fun, exciting, and enjoyable as ever, fans of the show will want to pick this set up. Highly Recommended.