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One Piece: Collection Eight
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 8, Episodes 183-205):
One Piece found itself arriving at a bit of a rut at the end of the last volume and this aspect was still front-and-center at the start of this eighth collection. This generally fantastic anime series seemed almost to be running on auto-pilot for several episodes and with no gas in the engine. One Piece became repetitive, almost entirely action-based, and it was going into a lackluster storytelling path that was frustrating for me as a fan of this adventurous, comedic, and smart series. What happened to the series and why were the writers stalling so much?
The answer is that it is probably due to the manga publication dates because the anime script writers have always wanted to emphasize the original storyline as best as possible, without alienating it and the fans that cherish reading the manga. I can appreciate that game-plan.
Nonetheless, I wish the anime could sometimes be stalled itself by going on hiatus. Yet everything One Piece is so popular that it's doubtful this will ever happen to the anime. Unfortunately, fans can pretty much resign themselves to expecting some overlong and occasionally dull moments. It's become an aspect of this series that I expect now.
The great news regarding Collection 8? The story stalling doesn't last forever. In fact, storytelling on the series picks up much faster than it took for the show to slow-down and become aggravating in the first place. The Skypiea story arc is finally concluded. The arc manages to end on an incredible note that has plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments which beautifully wrap up this story arc in a way that is undeniably satisfying.
The big moments between Luffy and Eneru finally arrive, and with one major element in play: Luffy cannot become damaged by Eneru's lightning attacks because, well, he's a rubber man. Rubber is immune to the effects. This element makes the final battle for Skypiea unfold even more intensely. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the story takes a strange turn away from the battle and takes us back 400 years to when the great explorer Noland found the city of gold. I don't know how else to put this, so here goes my comment: these episodes were incredible to behold. I'm not sure what my expectations were for this storyline prior to it happening. I was actually surprised to see the anime even tell this side of the story. Yet it manages to make the entire Skypiea arc so much more involving and meaningful. Learning this backstory was one reason why the prior episodes also seemed to drag on: there was a lack of genuine purpose in them. This aspect of the storytelling becomes rectified, and it makes the final showdown that everyone in the audience has been waiting for seem even more ambitious.
So what does the final conclusion to the Skypiea arc look like? Imagine Luffy as someone who becomes determined at all costs to ring the legendary golden bell to prove to Noland's son the existence of the city in the sky, to set the record straight on the legend of Noland, and to save everyone in Skypiea from the wicked wrath of the self-called "God" Eneru. Imagine Nami, Zorro, Usopp, and the rest fighting the good fight with all of their skills to save everyone in Skypiea. Truly, the conclusion to the Skypiea arc turned out to be one of my favorites and it managed to do so even despite the annoying filler episodes that preceded it being concluded. Fans are likely to rejoice the last batch of Skypiea episodes as these are stellar additions to a series that was beginning to enter a period of too-many filler episodes: a worthwhile ending indeed.
The rest of the collection 8 set features the Straw Hat pirates in an adventurous side-story with the G-8 arc. These episodes are largely meant a detour from the long arcs One Piece enjoys to take us on, and it's good as a change of pace to follow an arc as lengthy and involved as what was found on the Skypiea arc with someone that is more focused on these characters as a side story that doesn't make us go on as long of a journey.
One Piece rebounds beautifully with Collection 8 and continues to be one of the few ongoing, long-running series that manages to be a classic anime even despite the occasionally overlong arcs and filler episodes. The Skypiea arc has a stellar conclusion and the short story arc which almost concludes on this set offers a change-of-pace that was needed. Fans will and should be prepared to enjoy.
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 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. The 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 of 4:3 full frame.
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 element of suspense, fun, and intrigue. The voice cast for the Funimation dub is superb and a huge step up over what 4Kids attempted many years ago. Anyone who watches One Piece through these Funimation releases should be able to appreciate the company's English dubbed version.
In preserving the original Japanese stereo track the series can also be appreciated with the original 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 but 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 episodes of Collection 8:
196: A State of Emergency Is Issued! A Notorious Pirate Ship Has Infiltrated!
One Piece is one of the grandest anime adventures. This series manages to stay around as a fun ride with great characters and it does so with epic story-arcs and amusing side-stories. This set contains a sampling of both elements with the conclusion of the Skypiea arc and the beginning (and most of) the G-8 side storyline. I loved these episodes, and consider myself to be a huge fan.
The only downside to this release is that the set represents the last collection from Funimation for the time being. We are likely over a year away from seeing any more collection sets because the Voyage sets are still being released and it takes time for the series to be dubbed in English. Still, the wait will be worth it if you have been collecting One Piece Collection sets. These collection releases represent some of the best value for your money in the entire anime on DVD market.
Newcomers should start at the beginning, but for those of you who are already collecting these One Piece sets, you can now enjoy another must-have DVD release of one of the best anime series around.
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.