When it comes to reviewing any product, it is good to know that the review is impartial, honest, and objective; looking at the product with fresh, critical eyes and, in turn, guiding the reader through a fair appraisal of that said product.
I think any reviewer worth his bag of chips would stand by that, though being somewhat of a shady reviewer type, I’m going the other route. I’ll say this: One Piece is probably one of the best bits of television you’ll ever have the good fortune to see. If you’ve seen it and you’re reading this review I suspect you’ll just looking for a fellow comrade to gush over this magnificent show. If you are new to One Piece, seriously: stop now, go buy the DVDs, don’t waste any more of your time – and my time – meandering through what’s going to be an utter slather-fest on its behalf. Of course this may leave a small fraction of readers, the stalwart and uncompromising DVD buyers who look beyond the show and to its quality as a DVD before a purchase. Hello, you bastions of technical supremacy, sit right down and we’ll begin.
I won’t pretend that Toonzone hasn’t suffered much of my adulation to One Piece when I was subjected to the screeners for Region 1. Here we are again with Region 2’s One Piece Uncut Collection from Manga Home Entertainment, so all you European types, with your baguettes, cups of teas, and notions that life should be more than a rat race, I’m here to spread the good word. The fact One Piece has managed to arrive on our shores at a good price is a very good thing.
So what is One Piece and why is it such a good thing? One Piece is a very strong bold fusion of what I see as Eastern and Western ideas. The notion of pirates has been a keen genre of the West for a long time now, though in recent times rarely done well. For every Pirates of the Caribbean, you have a Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, a bad TV remake of Treasure Island (usually involving a space ship somehow) and of course, Cutthroat Island. One Piece takes that free sailing, open range story approach of the Pirate culture and blends it with an Eastern approach to storytelling that binds drama, violence and comedy into a vibrant and addictive blend. The characters are strong, endearing, and potent, while the stories are fantastically paste: moral yet often very unpredictable.
The story itself tells of wannabe King of the Pirates Monkey D. Luffy and his quest to find the fabled One Piece treasure. He is joined in his quest by a crew who each journey for a different goal, but their camaraderie and friendship bind them in a way that makes them an unstoppable force. It’s a beautifully simple idea, made richer for its very strong and flexible characterizations. Monkey D. Luffy in particular is one of those rare character gems you’ll find no where else. He is a captain with the mentality and innocent awe of a child, with no inhibitions and no fear of life on the high seas (despite having rubber powers that prevent him from being able to swim). However, when it comes down to an ideal he believes in – be it honor or friendship – he is unstoppable. He will carry injured crew on his back up the steepest mountain-face with just his bare hands if he believes there’s a doctor at the top – or he’ll punch his way through a barbed shield if he feels you, some smug antagonist of the seas, are seriously due an arse kicking. One Piece‘s power comes from knowing where to deploy drama for drama’s sake and when not to. The characters will fight till they’re on deaths door for a moral ideal in a battle that can span twenty episodes, and then be fit after a downtime of one episode, bones healed, scars mended. Realism doesn’t ever getting the way of cathartic, dramatic encounter, and that simple rule makes One Piece a great slice of escapism.
DVD wise One Piece has been a bit of a headache. In Region 1, the FUNimation dub boxsets contained around 13 episodes each and were replaced after a good 200-odd episodes into collection compendiums which doubled the amount of episodes per set. The initial run halted until the new collections caught up. Region 2’s One Piece Uncut collections has thankfully just kicked off with the latter approach to compiling episodes. The original releases were fairly good value, but these are great value given the sheer quantity of episodes on each collection. The four collections released so far will take you from the start to midway through the Alabasta arc, which is a good one hundred and three episodes. Divide that by four and you can see the collections carry a better quantity. The fourth collection takes you midway through the Alabasta arc, which is a bit of a pain as it means to really enjoy these four collections, you need a fifth, but you’ll find after Alabasta concludes, you’ll be after the sixth, then the seventh. One Piece’s biggest weakness is that there is no end to your desire for just one more episode.
Having re-watched all one hundred and three episodes, I’d have to conclude that I think starting at the beginning is best for One Piece. This may sound like common sense, but many will suggest you start later – perhaps because this particular One Piece dub cast started at a later episode for the US release and then went back to re-dub the earlier episodes, so some are used to the lack of order. That being said, there is a strong argument for starting later as the tension and chemistry is at its height when you have a full crew. Personally I think watching the crew start from a single pirate and evolve into the Straw-hat Pirates is a great ride, and a gradual introduction into the scale and depth One Piece has to offer – and four collections offers a lot. You get quite an epic story out of Luffy’s first meeting with Zoro, the righteous stand of the Baratie sea cooks, the horrific battle at Arlong Park, the introduction of Smoker at Logue Town, the Whiskey Peak arc, the Little Island and Drum Kingdom adventures – all before you arrive at the Alabasta arc. I noticed on this reviewing how the animation changes as well. The initial run carries a lot more washed out backgrounds tapering to white around the edges, which disappears in later stories. Doesn’t say anything about the show, but something to look out for if your artistically inclined.
So how about the DVDs themselves? First and foremost, as the title suggests, they are uncut. No edits for violence. Hurrah. If you’ve sampled the original FUNimation collections, you’ll not be too surprised here. There’s a commentary per disk which involves production and cast members relating to a specific episode – these are very enjoyable, casual chats from the dub production and US FUNimation voice talent. Each is well worth a listen. You’ll also get clean textless versions of the opening and closing credits, and given both do change from time to time, particularly the closing credits, this isn’t a bad feature. By and large though, you’ll be buying these for the quantity of high quality episodes rather than special features.
I’d like to suggest a particularly volume to purchase but I really can’t. None of the collections are weak, the stories are always entertaining and sometimes highly emotive. I will recommend you start from the beginning, as I did, and enjoy the story unfold. Maybe if I was pushed, I’d recommend collection four because you get the beautiful tale of the Drum Kingdom, though you also only get half of the following Albasta arc. Collection Three has the fun Little Garden escapades with No 3, the Wax-Wax man, but also the search for the Warship Island arc, which is arguably the weakest (but still enjoyable) tale in the first four collections. Collection Two does have half the Baratie sea cooks adventure and the excellent battle with the Arlong Pirates, but you need Collection One to get the set up for Baratie – see there’s no good answer other than to get them all.
One Piece has had an absence from Region 2 that has now been thankfully corrected. For long time fans and new fans alike, these are great region specific boxsets for Europe that I heartily recommend. I’d go so far, and I rarely do with anime reviews, to suggest One Piece is viewing for anyone. You don’t have to love manga/anime to love One Piece – this is family entertainment for young and old. After all, I’ve managed to hook three generations on One Piece, from people in their twenties to eighties, so if you’re looking for an animation you can share with your family – perhaps even prove to them what the whole fuss over anime is about, One Piece is the perfect purchase.
One Piece Uncut Collection One, Collection Two, Collection Three and Collection 4 are available on DVD from Amazon.co.uk