Ahoy there, my hearties! I have just returned from the most epic sea journeys, and I’m ready to regale you all with my experiences over a bottle of grog!
Yes we’re back with One Piece, the long running tale of Monkey D Luffy and his crew’s journey to find the fabled One Piece. In particular, we’re looking at Season Two’s Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Voyage DVD box-sets. These three box sets cover the entire story of Princess Vivi’s return to Alabasta. I’m talking thirty-nine episodes, an epic adventure that takes Monkey D Luffy and his Straw-hat crew across the desert to stop the wicked Crocodile from inciting a civil war in the fragile, arid nation of Alabasta. It’s a mighty tale indeed.
For yours truly, this epic journey through the Kingdom of Alabasta holds particular meaning, as my introduction to One Piece came with The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Albasta, which is this thirty-nine-episode story chopped down to movie length. Upon reflection, the title amuses me greatly: “Adventures in Alabasta” seems an inappropriate title for a film that is forced to cut out all the Alabasta adventures up to the Straw-Hat crew’s arrival in the capital city. Not that the film cut was bad; in fact, having now seen the footage they worked from I’d say the film did quite an incredible job of cutting the original down while remaining coherent and largely seamless. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was a composite of episodes when I first watched it, I would never have guessed.
But after watching the three box-sets, I now see the full splendour of the tale in its entirety. I’m glad I got to review them this way round, as it feels like I’ve watched a “special edition extended version” of the movie edit.
So what actually happens? Well, the three box sets work neatly as a “beginning, middle and end” to the Alabasta arc. The first box-set opens with the Straw-Hats’ approach to Alabasta; the second box-set works very much as a middle act, culminating with the first battle between Luffy and Crocodile; and the third box is very much the epic battle for the country, ending neatly with an Alabasta epilogue and an additional crew member on the team. You could say these three box-sets are an animated novel in their own rights and very much the epitome of any epic narrative: the few making changes to the lives of millions. On their journey we meet the young and old, good and bad, the rich and poor, and all the oddities that lie between. It’s rare in fiction, let alone animation, to see such a world explored so deeply. And despite the grandeur of the tale, it never loses focus on the show’s core values: self-belief, self-determination and above all, the bond of friendship.
The bond of friendship is, to me, what makes One Piece one of the most compelling shows on television today. Few shows made for the younger market focus on it with such emphasis, and adult television prefers to stalk the rather boring concept of romance. One Piece pretty much ignores romance in favour of friendship. The devotion between the crew mates carries a power that the fickle romance can never match. The Straw Hats will live and die by each others’ side. Luffy tells Vivi midway through the Alabasta arc that the crew are willing to die for each other and to die for the cause of helping a friend, and that altruistic friendship demands to be cherished, not avoided. Friendship is an incredibly deep and profound force within One Piece, and the Alabasta arc very much pivots upon this notion—our heroes are fighting to release the people of Alabasta from the callous grip of Crocodile, yet at the same time, they are simply fighting to see their friend Vivi, burdened by the prospect of civil war, smile again. The two motivations, moral and personal, dovetail naturally as one, both a reflection of the other. This motivation becomes the very underpinning of the battle between Luffy and Crocodile; selflessness verses selfishness. For a show aimed at a younger audience, there is far more in One Piece that adults can dig into than most adult shows.
Of course, friendship isn’t the only ingredient to One Piece. There are also the fights, and there are many of them. The battle between Luffy and Crocodile alone is beyond anything that has happened before in the show, just as the battle between Zoro and Mister One, a blade spar that is a wonderful mix of frenzied action and calm focus. We must not forget the comedy either, which is there throughout in the script and in the animation. Despite the story’s dark tone (civil wars tend not to be comedy material), the inane and laugh-out-loud humour never diminishes the show’s dramatic undertones. Such a balance keeps the story from becoming too horrific or too farcical. It’s a difficult line to tread, but One Piece has always excelled at combining dramatic styles.
But overall what makes this story stand out from all that’s gone before is the complexity of the plot, the rich layers and sub-stories that make you believe in Alabasta, despite all the usual unreal One Piece craziness. It’s a superb piece of writing painstakingly translated from its comic origin.
As usual, there has to be a quick hat doff to the US team at FUNimation, who again do a great job with translation for the Western market. One Piece is one of the few shows where I think the US voice team beat their Japanese counterparts.
But what of the disks? They are simple and effective, just like the rest of the range. One commentary per box-set: the Christopher Sabat (Zoro)/Brett Weaver (Mister One) commentary on the sixth box-set is a very enjoyable listen. There is also the highly useful marathon feature, which is an excellent feature for an addictive show where you want to dispense with the intros and credits. Perfect for the One Piece junkie.
Overall, this is a near-perfect trio of box-sets. There is one episode that fails for me (episode 101) which has a father-cum-bounty hunter called Scorpion seeking out Luffy’s brother, Ace. That story just feels like a lazy pastiche of One Piece ideas, rushed and ineffective. Beyond that you have thirty-eight perfect slices of what must be one of the best arcs in animation. If you only look for one One Piece story, hunt out these three box-sets. Yes, technically the Alabasta arc begins earlier with the unearthing of Crocodile’s secret organization, Baroque Works, but that really works as a prequel to the real tale, and the fourth, fifth and sixth box sets of season two are the best One Piece has so far churned out onto DVD.
I’m afraid all I can do is say what I’ve said before: One Piece continues to go from strength to strength. It is addictive, it is hilarious, and on occasions, it’s thought-provoking; and the Alabasta arc is the best exemplar of all these ingredients. Don’t try and be unique: conform, be part of the crowd, and love One Piece—go buy it today.
Correction: An earlier draft of this review transposed elements of Monkey D Luffy’s name in one spot and misnamed “Mister One”.