Ah One Piece. I started my virgin voyage on your quirky seas with The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta, the enhanced DVD release of the truncated Alabasta arc. Then I began watching it from the beginning, and now, having finally completed the “Second Season Third Voyage” DVD set, I am nearly back to where I began, with Alabasta. What a topsy-turvy way to review a series. But then, One Piece is a topsy-turvy world.
One Piece is a manga comic brought richly to life as a long-running animation serial, and is the tale of one teenager’s quest to become King of the Pirates and voyage into the sea known as the Grand Line in search of the fabled One Piece treasure. So here we are, with the grand total of three boxsets to look at, the Season Two: First, Second and Third voyage boxsets. I finished One Piece’s first season on a high note; so how does season two fare?
The Second Season First Voyage box set is, technically, mostly, still part of season one. The story takes us to the Grand Line itself, but before they cross into the dangerous ocean there is a dragon adventure. Our pirate captain, the mildly insane Luffy, and his Straw Hat Pirates chance upon a young—and vaguely irritating—kid called Apis who is protecting a dragon. They must also contend with a fleet of marines who are after the fabled creatures.
I found this perhaps the weakest storyline I’ve seen in One Piece so far. Apis is the typical plucky kid that the crew come to love. They may have fallen for her squeaky, cheeky charm, but I was left cold. The conclusion of the story holds promise as the search leads to a dramatic and rather emotional stand off, but this story arc left me feeling less than engaged.
Things pick up however when the team enter the Grand Line and the absurdity truly begins. I had earlier observed that the show seemed to fall into a formula: epic island adventures that end with a drawn-out battle, followed by some filler episodes; repeat. It was a criticism many more-knowing fans rightly rejected, and by the end of season one and into season two, the flow of adventures becomes far less predictable.
The series’ structure isn’t the only thing that evolves: the new ocean brings a new set of rules. Again, this keeps the overall concept of One Piece (pirates searching for hidden treasure) fresh and vibrant. The rules are decidedly more abstract than before, as are the weather, places, people, creatures and … oddities they meet. Indeed, Season Two is were the adventure truly starts.
After a bizarre encounter with a whale called Laboon, we enter the long and very enjoyable Baroque Works arc that takes the show up to the Alabasta arc. This is the biggest epic story to date, an arc that gives our crew a political errand via a few tangents and pit-stops while at the same time being chased by the deadly secret league intent on causing a civil war. It is at this point in One Piece we meet Vivi, a surprise addition to the crew who thankfully manages to be far less annoying than Apis. That’s not to say her character is any more original. While Apis was the typical plucky child who wows everything through their strength and tenacity, Vivi is the Princess Leia of One Piece: the plucky royal working for the people and wowing everyone through her strength and tenacity. But as with many stories, it’s not always how original a character is that makes him or her successful, but their implementation. Vivi’s association with the Straw Hats is an interesting one: she is a Straw Hat and yet an outsider also. She shares their adventures and love, yet the greater cause of her people often prompts her to observe them as an outside agent, looking to understand the people she calls her friends.
By the third disk in the second season we encounter a second new addition to the crew, a half-human half-reindeer called Chopper and possibly the most unusual of the recent Staw Hats additions. This character’s début and back-story takes up a great chunk of the third boxset, and an enjoyable fairy tale it is. As with all good Straw Hats, Chopper is both a great comedy piece as much as a driven personality.
But what about the antagonists? Primarily the antagonists in this set of season two boxsets are Baroque Work agents, all of whom have their unique abilities. For instance, Agent Number 3’s wax powers make for an epic and crazy-long battle, trapping our heroes in a melted wax cake! But what makes One Piece a smart piece of writing is that the enemies don’t necessarily get stronger as the heroes progress. In the Drum Island saga the arch enemy Wapol, gifted with the powers of the Munch Munch fruit, isn’t ten times tougher than the Shark Men in the first season. To create the tension in battle, other devices are employed. Some, for instance, are environmental: Luffy finds it hard to fight in the snow, for example. Injuries play a part too, so that Sanji’s damaged back takes him out of the fight. It’s good to see that each enemy has its own advantages and disadvantages. It would be easy for One Piece to fall into the video game trap of having each end-boss being mightier than the last. It’s smarter than that.
As for the box sets themselves, they are like all the others. One commentary per box with a US voice artist (I have to say, Brittney Karbowski makes for a far more pleasant listen than her character, Apis) and each is an enjoyable, friendly and very listenable affair. Slight variation on the packaging are also a nice touch for the second season.
As usual the English dub cast have done a great job—and the dubs are worth listening to if you want to get the most out of the commentaries. And, personally, I prefer listening to the English dub now over the original voice recording.
We also have the usual marathon play feature for those long sessions. Simple yet effective special features which complement the box sets—after all, you bought these box sets for the brilliant show, not the bonus stuff, right?
So One Piece, as everyone who has watched it will probably agree, goes from strength to strength, one weak storyline about dragons amongst a sheer load of great tales about giants, snow bunnies, munching despots and wax-excreting assassins. This is One Piece. Why haven’t you bought it yet?