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One Piece of Advice: "First Voyage" Rocks

by on June 12, 2008

A few months ago I had the pleasure of being forced out from under my rock to experience the One Piece, the animated adaptation of the world-wide best-selling manga comic. I was given the opportunity to plunge into the One Piece universe cold through the DVD release of the uncut, yet slightly compressed Alabasta story arc, The Princess and the Pirates. The DVD was an enjoyable—if initially baffling—affair.

So here I am my hearties, with One Piece Season 1: First Voyage resting upon my lap, ready to sample the episodes that kicked off the long-running successful show.

For everyone who has been living under the same rock I was a few months earlier, let me explain a little of the back story.

One Piece is the tale of a world saturated with pirates—all searching for the ultimate treasure known as the One Piece. The One Piece is said to be hidden somewhere in the place known as the Grand Line by the deceased pirate Gold Roger.

Monkey D. Luffy is a young aspiring pirate gifted with the power of elasticity and an insatiable desire to find this ultimate treasure. With it, he plans to become King of the Pirates—but first he needs a crew. The tale of One Piece begins with Luffy traveling the seas enlisting a pirate crew before he sets sails in search of the fabled treasure of Gold Roger.

In all likelihood, most of the readers of this article will have seen and formed an opinion of One Piece already, so I’ll keep personal opinion unusually short. The Princess and the Pirates wasn’t quite as indicative of the series as I had expected. This isn’t too surprising, as it was forced to cherry-pick episodic events and compress them into movie format. As is the way with such stringent editing, the less plot-oriented character scenes are the first to go. So, retrospectively, the charm of Luffy was never quite captured in The Princess and the Pirates, and now having seen a taster of the first season, I can see what people enjoy in the little fellow. Given that these early DVDs carry only a skeleton pirate crew, it is very much a Luffy-saturated experience. The character is—as many have already discovered—a fascinating blend of brute honesty, uncompromising honor and a rich dab of mild psychosis. All in all, this makes him a great character to watch and adds to the pleasure of this particular box set.

This opening collection unfolds at a leisurely pace giving the tale room to blend its diverse cocktail of eclectic characters, humorous visuals and action packed violence in simple yet effective story lines.

The English dub is a pleasure, with voice casting befitting the wide array of personalities. The only English element that doesn’t sit quite so well is the title theme, which loses a certain charm when sung Americana style.

On a side note: I knew I’d be probably be reviewing this screener, so I exchanged a crumpled seven-year-old book token for the Romance Dawn graphic novel, the opening tale to the One Piece manga series. I held back reading it until I had watched this set, so as to compare how the opening chapters of the cartoon differ from the comic. While the animated version swaps some of the plot events to suit the new medium, the show still manages to capture the visual and narrative aspects of the manga with an incredible degree of fidelity.

As for the DVD, One Piece Season 1: First Voyage contains the first 13 of the 47-episode first season, all unedited and uncut from their Japanese source. The 13 episodes are carried over two disks—a bonus for the lazy DVD viewer who does not enjoy the hassle of too many disk-swaps.

The box set itself is a mixed affair. On one hand, the presentation of the packaging is spot on. The box, cases and disks all come together in a simple yet dignified design that avoids the gaudy approach of so many anime box sets. Its trim build fits neatly on the shelf—an important element if you’re thinking of purchasing the entire future collection. (If so, you might think about purchasing a second shelf.)

On the other hand, the set’s special features are Spartan, to say the least—particularly for such a major release from FUNimation. That’s not to say the special features that are here aren’t exciting. Certainly, the bog-standard FUNimation addition of textless songs and trailers are about as tasty as a moldy apple, but the marathon feature is a real boon—it enables the viewer to watch the series as a whole, minus the recaps and title sequences. I only wish I had looked into the marathon feature before I watched the entire show!

Furthermore, while there is only one commentary in the set—for episode one—it is the most enjoyable anime commentary I’ve heard in a long time, and I think fans and fellow newbies will get a lot of pleasure from it. Starring ADR director Mike McFarland, the voice of Luffy, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and Zoro’s sonorous provider, Christopher Sabat, this commentary has a pleasant informal dynamic that remains informative as well as fun. They speak about the benefits of being able to voice their characters retrospectively, having had their English dub debut later in the show’s episode history, the advantages and disadvantages of their chosen voice styles for the characters, and the differences in approaching One Piece compared to other English dubs. It really is a great little commentary and I can’t recommend it enough.

For veterans of One Piece, I can only say this uncut an unedited box set is a simple yet effective affair, with the marathon feature and commentary proving an attractive incentive for any fan. Obviously, it’s the untampered format that will seduce the fanbase, though it is surprising that such a major release would really get so little else in regards to special features.

For One Piece newbies or casual viewers, I thoroughly recommend a purchase. The opening episodes are very strong—full of action, great characters and cheeky humor. The art direction and visuals create a unique and well-crafted experience that is consistent with the comics that inspired it. My only warning to new fans is that this show is very much fast-food entertainment—you’ll find yourself munching your way through the tales at a rate of knots, hungry for more—and with over 350 episodes in this show, this could be the start of a wonderful if wallet-draining relationship. Keep some pieces of eight spare—as you’ll likely be buying the second set if you purchase the first.

One Piece is a fast-paced, colorful, and rather cocky action adventure: a sparkling jewel for any professional or amateur pirate’s treasure chest. Oo-ar indeed.

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