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One Piece: Collection Seven
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 first 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, Nico Robin 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 an interesting addition to the series. 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 mysterious and ever-so quiet Nico Robin is also a crew member. She is perhaps the most peculiar of all of the additions to the Straw Hat Pirates crew, because in previous episodes she had seemed to be more of an opposing force to some degree. Her actions were often very confusing because it is hard to tell if she is with the group primarily for her own (and not entirely disclosed) reasons or if she is turning a new leaf and wants to be a part of the positive proceedings accordingly. This makes her character one that is hard to grasp sometimes but it also makes her a fascinating addition to the One Piece group. As we get to know the character a bit better, however, she does seem to serve as an invaluable asset to the crew and spirit. Nico is a archaeologist and she has a wide range of knowledge about historical events and this gives her a more extensive understanding of some of the potential pitfalls looming before the Straw Hat Pirates that can help them during their adventures. Nico also has some strange powers, indeed, and fans are surely going to continue to see plenty of her abilities in later episodes. Think of some of the skills a certain captain named Luffy has but multiple all of that by a few times at least. You might get an idea (or at least a hint) of what one of her own skills is. Absolutely Impressive!
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 even altered my concept of the filler episode by bringing enjoyment to those types of 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 7, Episodes 157-182):
One Piece has turned itself into such a sprawling series over the past several collections. The storytelling is so expansive as the characters begin and continue on journeys which actually take everyone on bizarre quests and adventure: this set is no exception to the expectation of finding new adventurous stories with the Straw Hat pirates.
After the last saga (the seemingly never-ending Alabasta one), I thought the series was in need of a decent break from the ongoing and complicated material that seemed to be in a constant wave of endless expansion. The series received a bit of a breather with its parade of one-off type episodes and short story arcs during the first half of the previous set release. Yet it was clear that another new story-line was underway.
Collection 7 removes the feeling of slight randomness to the plotting that existed on about half of the previous collection. Instead, the entire set consists of building another massive story arc about the sky island and the strange war that has been a part of its history. The characters find themselves in predicaments that are almost as intense as anything else to happen on the show.
This time around, Luffy and the rest of the group head into a rather ominous forest ruled by Eneru, and they become faced with fighting for their survival. There are rulers of the forest facing them in complicated ways. They become engulfed in the middle of a war between the "gods" of the forest (who instead are just power-hungry men with powers as akin to Luffy's Gum Gum ability) and the Shandorians. The Shandorian are warriors who used to be ruled by the Sky Warrior - an elder man with great capabilities. He used to lead the Shandorian group before leaving them and leading a life of aiding others in different ways - as a nice example: by leaving the One Piece crew a whistle that leads him to Chopper's aid and to survival in a time of crisis.
If there is one thing One Piece constantly manages to do throughout its run it's find new ways to keep things interesting even as the episode count becomes enormously high. It never fails to be a new kind of adventure on this show and that helps to make the entire experience all the more enjoyable. The straw hat pirates become faced with the intensity found in facing off against sky sharks. These sharks roam the sky and are up to twice the size of their boat. Then there's a giant snake faced in the forest - at only, I don't know, a gazillion times the size? These elements keep the series surprising and they help with how things are established in the story during these different sagas.
If I found any aspect of this set underwhelming it was that some of the characters began to feel as though they were taking a minor backseat in certain episodes to the overall story. It is a minor disappointment. One Piece is consistently great and doesn't disappoint when one considers the entertainment value, but I thought the characters had even less to do than in some of the previous sets. It seemed to me that there weren't as many moments built into the episodes to give the characters huge chances to shine. Instead, each character became involved in the exploratory aspect of the surroundings that there wasn't anything anywhere near as interesting in the character moments. Instead, sometimes they seemed to be on an auto-pilot mode. It wasn't a huge detriment to my enjoyment because of how much I enjoy the comedic side of One Piece inherent in all of the characters. Although, Sanji seemed sort of strange in the writing on this set -- amped up in humor and without all of the sweetness. He even acted as a larger aggressor than in the previous sets. I was disappointed with that.
I thought this set seemed to be a minor step-back for myself when comparing it to the DVD collection released last time around. This is mainly because I wasn't entirely set for another massive storyline to begin and I was still enjoying the side-stories that were shorter. But it happens to be one of the main aspects of One Piece: there are many lengthy and involved storylines. This aspect comes with this series own territory. I am just glad that the show's always trying to keep things exciting for longtime viewers in one shape or another. It has moments that are weak and clearly "filler" but it also has some of the best episodes that any anime series has ever produced. You win some, you lose some... this show isn't the most flawless anime series around but it's one of the most ambitious, epic, and thrilling. One Piece remains a grand adventure worth seeking out.
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 episodes from One Piece are in pretty good shape and the release should please fans looking for decent picture quality. The sets are essentially impressive in the picture-quality department on equal levels. Funimation has released One Piece in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 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 huge step up over what 4Kids attempted poorly many years ago. Anyone who watches One Piece through Funimation's releases should appreciate 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 7:
There aren't many anime series I would describe as having "something for everyone" and the reason why is altogether obvious for this particular question. Most anime series don't contain something that is going to appeal to "everyone" -- a broad and vague statement, indeed. However, One Piece is a rare gem of a series that should have something worth enjoying for any serious anime fan. If you have liked or loved any anime series this is a definitive series to experience. Nothing else comes close to its level of ambition and success. One Piece continues to explore its unique storytelling in surprising ways and it actually manages to keep things interesting.
One Piece fans who aren't already collecting the Voyage sets should strongly consider these Collection releases as worthy purchases. These re-releases offer an amazing value to new fans.
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.