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One Piece: The Princess and the Pirates - Adventures in Alabasta Movie #8

FUNimation // Unrated // January 27, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 15, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
Two steps forward and one step back.
Over the last year or so FUNimation has become my favorite anime producer in the US.  They have a wide variety of titles, they're releasing anime in season and half season sets at a reasonable price, and they're still offering the choice of subtitles or dubs.  A little over a year ago they started releasing the One Piece TV show, one of the most popular anime and manga (which the show is based on) titles in Japan.  Released uncut in two disc, 13-episode sets I've reviewed the first two (read my reviews of set one and set two) and loved them.  I was excited to see that FUNimation was releasing one of the One Piece movies on Blu-ray too, how cool is that?  Well, not too cool actually.  I'll admit I'm not a big fan of movies based on anime series, but this one is worse than usual.  One Piece Movie 8:  The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta ends up being a confusing mess, and looses a lot of the fun and charm that makes the show so enjoyable.

The movie starts at a spot long after the current release of One Piece on DVD, so there are new characters and settings that will have fans scratching their heads.  Apparently Luffy and his expanded crew are now on the Grand Line, and after rescuing a cross-dressing man who has the ability to shape change and putting him back on his ship, they set off on a new adventure.  This starts when Princess Vivi (who?) recognizes the rubber-faced man's name just after he leaves and realizes that he has framed her father!  He was in cahoots with Sir Crocodile!  If this synopsis makes no sense that is because the movie doesn't either.  It assumes that the viewer has seen the first three season of the show and is familiar with the characters and situations, something that isn't possible if you've been buying the official DVD releases.
In any case, the Luffy and his pirate gang decide to leave the sea for a while and travel to Vivi's desert kingdom.  There they uncover Crocodile's sinister plan.  He has tricked the army into committing atrocities in the King's name so that the populace starts to rebel.  He wants the army and the rebel forces to fight, weakening both sides, so that after the battle he can swoop in and take control of the country.  Of course Vivi isn't going to stand by and let that happen, and with friends like Luffy, Zorro, and Usopp she practically has an army of her own.
This story was condensed from a story arc that basically ran for all of season four of the TV series, lasting nearly 40 episodes.  Needless to say the pace is fast and there's no time for character development, background stories, or much more than spotting the enemy and fighting.  I'm sure if you were familiar with the original story from the comic (which has not been released in English in the US to the best of my knowledge) or TV show (this section isn't available on DVD but it was broadcast on cable heavily edited) this would have made a lot more sense.  As I wasn't familiar with the story or even the main character, the film was a jumble.  Some things that I thought would be important story lines were totally dropped (what about the Pluton that Crocodile was looking for?) and at other times the narrative grinds to a halt for no reason, like when Luffy lectures Vivi about friendship.
Added to that is some questionable stylistic choices that were made.  Periodically the action will freeze and the frame will turn into a nicely rendered oil painting.  It looks really nice, but serves no purpose except to remind the viewer that they're watching a movie, just in case they were able to loose themselves in the story, which is pretty doubtful. 
This is a recent film, it was released in Japan in March of 2007, and more than a few backgrounds and objects created with computer animation.  This doesn't blend nearly as well as it should have, often sticking out like a sore thumb.  The scenes where the battle raged in the distance were particularly disappointing.  The same small characters fighting were repeated over and over, and while their movements weren't in phase, it always looked like there was a pattern to the action.
The Blu-ray Disc:

The MPEG-4 AVC/1080p 1.78:1 image looks very good, as one would expect of a recent theatrical animated feature.  The lines are tight and the colors are bright and solid.  If anything, this disc does too good of a job.  The static backgrounds don't mesh with the active foregrounds as well as with a SD DVD.  The scene at the beginning with Luffy is fishing is a good example.  As the sky and sea roll past, Luffy's character looks like it's sitting on top of the background instead of being part of it.  I'll admit this is a minor flaw and though I noticed it early on it didn't bother me as I watched the movie.
On the digital side of things the disc looks great.  There is no aliasing, something that plagues animation, and banding is restricted to only a couple of scenes (like the sky when they are walking through the desert) and even then it is very minor.
This Blu-ray disc upgrades the audio options from the SD DVD too.  While the DVD only had a stereo Japanese track, this disc contains Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in Japanese and English as well as DD stereo mixes in both languages too.  I screened the movie with the 5.1 Japanese track and spot checked the multichannel English mix and both sounded fine.  The action scenes made full use of the soundstage with some nice battle noises emerging from that rear.  The dialog was clean and easy to hear and the sound effects were at an appropriate level.
Nothing save some trailers for other FUNimation shows.
Final Thoughts:
One Piece is a fun series, but none of its charm translates over to this film.  I wonder why FUNimation chose this particular movie to release since US viewers won't be familiar with many of the characters and some of the situations.  It feels as if you're coming in on the middle reel of the story, which for most practical purposes you are.  If you've never seen the TV show, avoid this as you'll have no idea what's going on.  If you're a fan, as I am, rent this first.  The image and sound are good, but the story leaves something to be desired.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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