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Return Voyage: "One Piece Second Voyage" Sails Untroubled Waters!

Once again, land lubbers, I must ask you to unsheathe your pirate puns and jolly your bottles of rum as we return to the ocean and the ever-popular One Piece.

Sailing back to the show’s beginning, FUNimation has just released the series’ second disk set, One Piece: Season One, Second Voyage.

So, are we jumping ship or hoisting the flag?

Story-wise, it is unfortunate that the new set’s opening slice, episode 14 (“Luffy Back In Action!/Miss Kaya’s Desperate Resistance!”), lacks the usual One Piece reprise, given that episode 13 (“The Terrifying Duo! Meowban Brothers Vs. Zoro!”) left the first box-set hanging with a fairly complicated state of affairs. It will make it a little harder for any impulse buyer to slip into the universe on the back of this particular box-set.

Matters begin midway through Ussops’ introductory arc, with Pirate Kuro looking to assassinate Kaya, the heir to a wealthy inheritance. It’s an extraordinary story-arc and demonstrates one of One Piece’s amazing strengths: its ability to successfully draw out a featured battle over a wide sequence of episodes with virtually no change of location or dilemma. The first four episodes are more or less set within the time frame of the same battle, with the dramatic diversity coming from the change in opponents and the occasional flashback. For three episodes or so, Kuro’s evil pirates do little more than stand on the edge of the battlefield listening to bizarre monologues and watching even weirder battle sequences. (When it comes to encounters, One Piece plays out like some bastard child of a wrestling championship and a game of chess.) It’s crazy but somehow charming, and so far it never gets boring. This approach to encounters plays out similarly on disk two when Luffy meets his future pirate cook for the first time.

The flashbacks are another standout element in this second box set, with the two best episodes being the back-stories for Sanji and Zoro. Both are very evocative slices of drama for an animated action series, filled with tenacious spirit and unbridled loyalty. Heart-stirring stuff.

Visually, One Piece remains consistently close to its manga origin. The animation carries much of Eiichiro Oda’s stylistic art right down to the line-work itself. The show relies minimally on CG, with sea rendering being the only noticeable usage.

Overall, this is a solid set of episodes that builds on the characters’ relationships and manages to pull in a new array of villains you can’t imagine being topped … until the next episode tops them. It’s hardly deep stuff, but it’s immensely enjoyable, featuring as it does good stories, fun characters and fine production work. My only question is in regard to the season’s structure. The arcs follow a consistent pattern: light-hearted story set-up followed by long multi-episodic battle set on a fixed backdrop mixed in with the occasional flash-back, finished with single filler episode … then rinse and repeat. I must confess as a neophyte that I don’t know whether this changes as the show progresses. (Many, many readers will know the answer.) Maybe this routine is a staple part of the show’s charisma. At this early stage, it’s really my only concern.

So far as the DVD package goes, this second box-set has the same format as the first. Packaging and disk contents are all near identical. We have a dignified pair of slim cases in a compact box, all aesthetically pleasant and very tightly functional: two vital attributes for the One Piece collector looking to maximize his shelf space. All episodes are uncut and have both original Japanese and English dub with the usual option of English subtitles. Once again we have the marathon feature, enabling an epic box-set viewing minus the pesky titles and credits, plus one bonus commentary.

The commentary on this set is for episode 17 (“Anger Explosion!/Kuro Vs Luffy! How it Ends”), a Ussop-focused episode. Once again, ADR director Mike McFarland takes his place in the recording booth, this time joined by Luci Christian (Nami) and Sonny Strait (Ussop). It’s a fun affair, a light and playful chat that carries some laughs, a little actor background and a spat of topical converse—the issues of recording a foreign dub, and lip flaps in particular. It’s a contentious issue in fan circles, and the discussion here will interest many anime viewers.

Again, FUNimation have gotten the balance about right. The commentary adds a personal touch, but overall this One Piece box-set will sell for the quality of the production itself. Buy it, but be warned: Once again there’s one heck of a cliff-hanger at the end!

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