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One Piece: Collection Four
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, 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.
New Character: Tony Tony Chopper! The Doctor has arrived.
Joining the cast of main characters on One Piece is a wacky, well-spirited, and adventurous doctor named Tony Tony Chopper. 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.
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.
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. Viewers will also begin to be familiar with the main 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 4, Episodes 079-103):
By this point in the series run it's pretty much a requirement that you experience the set preceding this one. The storyline is a continuation of Collection 4, in the Alabasta storyline occurring previously on One Piece. The Straw Hat pirates continue to work together towards an incredibly disjointed and individualistic notion of accomplishing each individual member's goals but when working together some wonderful things seem to always happen and the crew remains better off for having their unique and spirited missions.
The set contains a plethora of side-story episodes and doesn't necessarily seem as intent upon any movement towards genuinely concluding the current storyline. Granted, this is somewhat unsurprising as the set doesn't even contain the remainder of episodes for the second season. Viewers will have to watch half of Collection 5 to reach the ending of this ongoing arc.
The collection focuses on a storyline in the first half that involves saving Nami's life (um, yikes!) who is quite sick at the tail-end of the past set and in even worst shape now. It's during these moments of the story that one recognizes exactly how well the writers have crafted these characters and their interactions with one another to be heartfelt, genuine, and with enough gravitas to make it an experience worthy of the time and devotion that seems required for such a large ongoing series. One Piece continues to prove itself as a series with a lot more ambition on its plate rather than as a simply entertaining show in need of an audience. It's made with care so that it can enhance and enrich how viewers appreciate the intricacies of the writing, direction, and unique animation.
The biggest highlight of the set is the introduction of a new character named Chopper. There is little doubt that this particular character has a sad backstory, but it's great to actually see Chopper overcome the obstacles and achieve success with the group. He's unlike other reindeers because of his human qualities received after eating rare Human Human Fruit. Chopper's introductory storyline is the main draw of the first two discs of episodes, and the second half of the set mainly focuses on a Princess Vivi getting closer towards reaching her kingdom and people. The Straw Hat Pirates have to port their ship somewhere and traverse across a massive desert in order to work towards getting there.
Along the way, Luffy has a few encounters with a character that surprises on multiple levels. Who could that character be? None other than a previously unspoken brother who had some past history with his kid-bro. There was certainly worthwhile character development for Luffy on this set given the somewhat-enlightening unknown connection he had with his brother. It's the highlight of the second half of the set and the series manages to be an unbelievable notch above it's "normal" high quality whenever Luffy's brother plays his interesting role in the story.
Fans of the previous sets can rest assured in knowing that the fourth collection has turned out to be just as satisfying as the other quality DVD releases. While the set was perhaps a notch behind the quality on display previously (mostly due to the massive nature of seeing One Piece follow such a gigantic storyline that still hasn't reached its ultimate conclusion) it does deliver what most fans should want or expect: truly, deeply, wonderfully great stories.
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 softer than more recent productions but it does have colors that pop out and shine beautifully and the image is free from annoying compression because the discs contain 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 are actively used to create an enveloping experience of sound 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, but 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 commentaries, text-less songs, and trailers promoting other anime series released by the studio.
Commentaries with staff members are included on the following episodes of Collection 4:
Episode 90: Hiriluk's Cherry Blossoms! Miracle in the Drum Rockies!
Episode 103: Spiders Café at 8 O'clock! The Enemy Leaders Gather!
There is a definite reason for One Piece's massive and sweeping worldwide success. There are very few anime series in production at this moment that come even remotely close to capturing the rare scope and accomplishment of this series. It has almost every genre or style imaginable rolled into one and yet it continues to surprise audiences, delight them, and remain compelling despite having been around since the 1990's with no end date in motion. If you are even the slightest bit interested in anime as an art form (and as pure entertainment to boot) then you have to see this series. It's basically required viewing. There really isn't a higher compliment I could give this show.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.