It's always daunting entering into a long running series with no real prior knowledge of it outside of a cursory acknowledgement to its existence.
"Ever watch One Piece?"
"No, but I know what it is. Kid in a straw hat, right? What is he, like a fisherman or something?"
Also, from what I've observed, One Piece is a really popular choice for the majority of cosplayers.
So, coupled with my sweetly innocent naivety and extensive research (note: Wikipedia), I set forth into the world of One Piece for the first time in order to review One Piece: Collection Two.
Collection Two compiles Episodes #27-53 onto this DVD box set that, thankfully, provides viewers with both the English Dub as well as the original Japanese audio with English Subtitles. With this in mind, I quickly changed the settings across so that I soon had extensive amounts of Japanese blasting from my TVs not overly large, but incredibly capable, speakers. Thanks, Samsung.
We begin the set with episode #27, titled: "The Coldhearted Devil-man: Gin, The Pirate Fleet Battle Commander" a title as snappy as it is memorable, huh? I love how every episode name is essentially one or two main story beats summarized into an overlong description.
#27 nonsensically drops us into the tail end of a storyline arc, obviously carrying over from Collection One. This is the first major issue that I have with this Collection. Despite its long standing history, the show starting way back in Japan in 1999 after all, it's taken a while for licenses and rights to obviously fall into place to a point where they could release unedited versions into the market.
That being said, I've never encountered a show that so lazily hacks up its own content. Nothing in terms of editing (cigarettes remain cigarettes and not lollipops, for example), but in regards to the collecting and subsequent pacing of a story across a set of DVD's.
Starting a DVD box set in the final part of a storyline, for example? Are you fucking kidding me?! I had no place to gauge my bearings, or anything to allow me to ease myself into this world. Nope. Straight away I've got some Straw Hat kid and some Pirate douchebag called Don Krieg slugging it out on a floating restaurant for no discernible reason.
This is a major problem, and I'm hoping it's something they might, but probably won't, address with subsequent releases. This may be a common thing with anime DVD releases, I'm not too sure, but starting a box set 3/4's of the way through a story couldn't make any less sense.
Now, you could try to weakly justify it. For example, it's not a "Series" or "Season" per se.
"It's a 'Collection'." the hardcare defenders cry out.
To which I would blankly stare them in the eye until they realize just how stupid an argument that is.
What genius thought this up, and what idiot okayed it?
It takes 4 episodes to wrap up the Baratie Arc before we finally begin with a natural start point, one that would have been more appropriate for a DVD box set. Episode #31 ("The Most Wicked Man of East Blue, Fishman Pirate Arlong" Catchy, no?) summarizes the action that has preceded it, but not in a manner that would ostracize those that haven't actually seen it, as well as establishing a new purpose and trajectory for the Straw Hat Pirates.
With that in mind, so begins the Arlong Park Arc as Luffy and crew attempt to liberate Nami's home of Cocoyashi Village from the dictatorial grasp of the cruel Merman Pirate, Arlong.
The Collection mainly consists of the Arlong Park story, bookended by both the Baratie and Loguetown (get it?) Arcs, with some unfortunate filler in the form of the Buggy Side Story Arc. I hate filler episodes, and it's something that Anime is far too guilty of. There should be some sort of petition to stop this sort of thing. Think about it, every filler episode is killing 20+ minutes of your life, kids. You'll never get that back. Ever. And for what? Filler. Fuck that noise.
The character designs in One Piece are pretty out there and Arlong's saw nosed clothing sense is straight up 90s. Just look at that loud Hawaiian-esque shirt of his! Though, to be honest, I'm not too sure if that's actually a negative or a positive observation.
This story sees a lot of backstory for Nami and her step sister, Nojiko, demonstrating where they came from, how they became a family unit and, most importantly, how and why Nami decided to leave her small island home behind and take up becoming a pirate! The strongest episodes from this collection are within this arc; #35 and #36 being particular stand outs for me. They both did a great job of demonstrating how anime can be used for wonderful dramatic effect, really hitting home the emotional reasons behind these characters motivations. These revelations are made all the more poignant thanks to the uncut nature of these episodes.
All of this emotional drive of course leads to another staple of most anime: the fighting. The majority of the last few episodes of this arc comprise of a combination of characters beating the holy hell out of each other in some form or another, and it does it all in an awesomely stylistic manner. There's a nice pacing of intensity, as well as a sense of increasing danger and overwhelming odds as the fights ramp up over the course of multiple (thousands?) of episodes. This is another foible that I have with endless anime series: the overlong lengthy, drawn out interactions that occur during fighting. I don't mind adding dramatic flair to events, but using 3-5 episodes just to fill time should be considered a criminal offense.
#43 sees the end of the struggle between the Straw Hat Pirates and Arlong, with #44 providing the full conclusion to the Arc as the town begins to party for days in celebration of their new found freedom.
I would have been perfectly content had the DVD decided to end here, but we're given a few more arcs that are, crucially, seen through to their natural conclusion points. The side arc (read: bullshit filler) of the Buggy Side Story is pointless on almost all accounts, existing only to show that Buggy is still around and plotting his revenge against Luffy and co. One episode would have sufficed, stretching it to two is just cruel to my life.
Thankfully, the Loguetown Arc pulls it back with an interesting story showcasing Luffy and the Straw Hats visiting the famous pirating town of Loguetown, the island closest to the Grand Line and also the infamous birth, and death, place of Gold Roger himself. This arc allows for some interesting character exploration as Luffy finds himself wandering through the streets, enamored by his hero worship of the Pirate King, Gold Roger. This leads him to the execution platform where, 22 years prior, Gold Roger was executed sparking the current Golden Age of pirates.
Their time in Loguetown leads them to a showdown with Buggy, as well as introducing an interesting new threat in the Marine; Captain Smoke. Episode #53 sees the end of this Collection and, thankfully, sees us out at a natural ending point with The Straw Hat crew having explored and escaped from Loguetown after an exciting showdown, now having to contend with the Marines, led by Captain Smoke, in tow as they continue their journey, hurtling towards The Grand Line.
A shaky start that brings it back with the enjoyable Arlong Park and Loguetown Arcs, this Collection will naturally be flying its way into One Piece fans shelves regardless. For those new to the series, such as myself, be aware that although it won't make any real sense at first, the pay off is worth seeing the Collection through to the end.
Some Commentary tracks on only two episodes (#30 and #44) round out an incredibly slim Extras selection.
Has watching One Piece: Collection Two convinced me to continue watching? Not really. But I must stress: this isn't due to an issue of quality. Filler episodes aside.
I enjoyed One Piece once the story kicked in properly, and thought there were some great moments throughout; both comical and dramatic. But with over 600+ episodes in the bag and multiple movies to boot, it's just way too much of a commitment to start. A series like this tends to over run to a point that quality becomes lacking. Is this the case with One Piece? I don't know. I haven't been watching it for years and years, and I haven't seen the 600+ episodes. But I do now know that One Piece has a real hardcore audience, one that has seen it survive for 14 years and counting, and no show would have that kind of following without being of a certain quality.
I also know that this show is about Pirates now. Not fisherman. It was the straw hat that threw me.
Until next time, anime girls and manga guys, this is The Other Guy signing out.
Steve Russell @stevetendo
★★★☆☆ (for new comers) / ★★★★☆ (for established fans)
One Piece: Collection Two is released on July 1st 2013 at £34.99, courtesy of Manga Entertainment
PS: For those who may be curious: Usopp was definitely my favourite character from what I've seen, Jughead nose and all.