The serial sea-faring adventures of Captain Luffy and friends continue in One Piece Collection No. 8. Picking up from where Collection No. 7 left off, Luffy continues his heated battle with the God of Skypiea, Eneru. Eneru, having deemed the people of Skypiea unworthy, has set out to use his ‘Ark Maxim’ to amplify his lightning powers send the floating island tumbling to the Earth from its place amongst the clouds. Can Luffy defeat Eneru before the people of Skypiea fall prey to his massive god-complex?
Collection No. 8 closes out a major story arc in the One Piece series while transitioning into the next. The Skypiea arc, for all its ups and downs, is a personal favorite of mine. What drives this home for me is less the main story of Luffy and friends fighting Eneru and more the underlying story that brought the Straw Hats to the island in the sky in the first place: Norland’s story. As explained previously, Norland was an explorer who claimed to have found a city of gold on an island. When he returned to the island with a king and his men he was shocked to find the city missing. Branded a liar and a troublemaker, Norland nonetheless sticks to his word and is executed for it. Four hundred years later, Norland’s descendent Cricket is killing himself by diving below Jaya Island, hoping to find the sunken city of gold to prove he is not descended from a liar. Ultimately, it is Luffy who proves that he has fulfilled his promise of visiting the sky island by ringing the fabled giant golden bell of the city of gold that sets Cricket free as the bell’s thundering chime reaches even the blue sea.
For a series that tirelessly reuses the same formula of introducing a character with a problem and a sob story and then having Luffy alleviate that problem, the Norland/Cricket arc is one of the most epic in scale. It is also one of the few in the series to deal with grizzled manly-man types having a problem rather than a woman. It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially for those caught up with the episodes currently airing in Japan looking to delve into an older story arc.
For their adaption, Toei Animation certainly knows how to tug on the heart strings with their audio. Tanaka Kouhei’s musical score is brilliant and atmospheric, placed just as brilliantly by Music Selector Jinbo Naofumi. Jinbo and episode #193 director Kakudou Hiroyuki shine most brilliantly during the ringing of the bells. Rather than overload the scene with music, the two simply allow the bellowing and far-reaching sound of the bells carry a significant portion of the episode’s opening moments
This set of episodes isn’t entirely without its faults, however. One Piece falls victim to the curse of being overly reliant on a still-running weekly comic for material. As such, the Skypiea arc tends to move rather slowly at an almost 1:1 ratio with the comic, adapting about one chapter an episode. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if a few episodes were simply directed and animated interestingly, but these episodes were before the time when the production staff began to experiment with their techniques or receive a budget that allowed for higher quality and lengthier battle scenes.
To help alleviate the pacing issue for future episodes, Toei employs a story arc completely original to their cartoon adaption on the final two discs of the set. The G8 arc (literally!) drops the Going Merry and her crew right dab in the middle of a navy base. Fun and shenanigans ensue as the Straw Hat Pirates attempt to avoid capture by the marines and free their ship. The G8 arc is very much a beast of its own, feeling decidedly—and thankfully—different from the sort of story original creator Oda Ei’ichirou would devise while making use of the varied personalities of the crew. Watch out for episode #199 specifically, directed by famed director Hosoda Mamoru. In an arc that utilizes some of Toei’s best direction and use of limited animation, Episode #199 is the earliest example of a director—or animation supervisor—using their episode to break away from the norm visually. While Tate Naoki and Inoue Eisaku would begin to employ this in their episodes more often later down the line, Hosoda’s framing and the performances he elicits from key animators Izumi Kyouko, Saitou Mieko, Maniwa Hide’aki, and Miura Haruki will bring one or two quick grins to any animation enthusiasts.
A bit of an oddity that should be noted is the lack of episode #206, the final episode of the G8 arc and the final episode produced in 4:3 standard definition. FUNimation only just acquired episode #206 as part of their ‘Season Four’ contract, so it’s no wonder that a set that simply repackages old discs fails to have the episode included. Nevertheless, it is a shame FUNimation didn’t add the final episode of the arc for Collection No. 8. Fans following the Collection line of four-disc sets rather than the Voyage line of two-disc sets will likely have to wait a few years before being able to finish the G8 arc on home video unless they buy the recently release One Piece Season Four First Voyage.
Collection No. 8 continues the packaging design of the previous seven sets. Collected in a regular sized DVD case capable of holding four discs, the set is a wonderful space saver. FUNimation’s contract runs well over three hundred episodes, so having the Collection line so tightly packaged is a real treat. The extra content of the discs contain the usual FUNimation fair of English subtitles to go along with the episodes, two English dub audio tracks (one in 5.1 and the other in 2.0), an English cast commentary, text-less opening and ending animations, and trailers for their other properties. Each episode is edited to include English language text in place of the original credits and title cards as well as a replaced series logo.
One Piece continues to sail along as usual in Collection No. 8. Having reached the end of the easy days for the Straw Hats and the end of standard definition production, One Piece is about to set sail into uncharted territory: high-definition. Fans who have collected the first seven Collections should pick up this set, if only to finish the Skypiea arc.