It’s been a few months now since my initial review and impressions of One Piece came online after I reviewed Collection Two (feel free to re-familiarize yourself here). Somewhat impressed by, but not obsessed with, the previous outing I was asked to tackle Collection Three, which is now available everywhere in the UK. Now somewhat familiar with the subject and cast of ragamuffin characters that comprise the Straw Hat Pirates, I took it on board hoping to be further impressed.
And, yes, I did just drop in the word ragamuffin!
It’s been no secret that I do not have a particular love of long running series; I tend to find them to meander meaninglessly across vapid story lines, desperately filling as much time as possible without every truly tackling the, supposedly, important issues at hand, namely: the actual objective of the protagonists. This is not solely an opinion I have for anime, it is just as true for the amount of Western shows I watch, video games I play and even the wrestling I am so fond of. So, with this in mind, how does Collection Three fare?
Thankfully, with how Collection Two ended, we begin Collection Three from a completely logical narrative point; specifically, the beginning of an actual arc! This makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and viewing process for any viewer, be they hardcore or casual, and was also a major point of contention I had with the previous outing. Allowing us an entry point into these characters story at the beginning of an arc gives us the benefit of growing with them as they experience their journey, as opposed to nonsensically dropping us in 3/4’s of the way through.
Yeah, I guess I’m still not over that. I just hope that subsequent sets (or, “collections”, if you’re pedantic) follow suit.
The set once again offers the option of English Dub or, as is my preference, Japanese Dub with English Sub. My trusty Samsung speakers begin to blast out the Japanese, and I settle into my couch for a mammoth monster session.
Beginning with Episode #54: “Foreboding of a New Adventure! The Puzzling Girl, Apis” we kick start the Collection with a side quest for the Straw Hat crew of JRPG level proportions. This filler arc does takes us across quite a number of episodes (7 in total) as we meet a spunky young girl named Apis, and are introduced to her dilemma: she’s trying to hide, and help, a dragon. Yupp. Who she calls Grandad, by the way.
Although this story is an obvious tangent from their primary objective (cross the Grand Line, acquire the One Piece) and despite the fact it’s a frustration even the characters themselves vaguely address, I found myself enjoying their fun time adventure of “help the dragon”. It allowed for some nice moments between characters, as well as exploring thematic ideas of ‘home’ and ‘family’. That being said however, when the story comes around full circle (in more ways than one) and features your own characters being frustrated at such a turn about, surely as a Studio you would be aware that, yes, your viewers may feel the same frustrations! Without spoiling anything, it becomes a completely needless, if not slightly entertaining, arc and, I feel I need to stress this: the fact the characters themselves claim disbelief not once, but twice, at the same things an audience member might completely boggles the mind as to why they did it in the first place. True side quest-esque shenanigans.
Having completed the Warship Island Arc, the crew journey onwards to the Grand Line, and so begins the Alabasta Saga. Considering how big a deal they made about the Grand Line throughout the series up until this point, I’m amazed at how quickly they gloss over their approach, and eventual crossing, of said Line.
It’s here that we encounter the crew being swallowed whole by a whale and meeting the strange inhabitant who calls the whales stomach home. So far, so Jonas, right? This story thread thankfully only lasts a few episodes and doesn’t really introduce too much in the way of narrative progression. What it does do however is introduce a number of key characters and concepts that will propel our pirate friends onwards with their journey. Miss Wednesday, especially, quickly becomes central to the plot as it develops across into the Whiskey Peak Arc. The Whiskey Peak Arc itself is a fun break away from the mundane break away from their central journey. (wow). It also features a revelation in regards to one of the characters and, importantly, the introduction of a shady corporation: Baroque Works. This arc features some amazing action throughout and even a throw down between Luffy and Zoro, thanks to a misunderstanding between the two of them and 100 downed bounty hunters.
Integrally, this arc not only also throws in this season’s new Big Bad in the form of Baroque Works and their numbered/event named villains (Mr. 5, Mr. 3/Ms. Wednesday, Ms Valentines, etc) it’s clear that they will be the driving antagonism that the heroes need, but it also features the introduction of a new crew mate in the ‘needing rescue’ Princess Vivi.
It’s during these episodes that Nami discovers that traditional compasses and navigator-y common senses are useless within the Grand Line ocean, due to the magnetic pull of the islands and constantly shifting wind patterns, etc. Who knew JJ Abrahams was such a huge One Piece fan? With that in mind we are now introduced to a wonderfully obvious MacGuffin that allows the story to chug along within this area for a while, drawing the story, and your patience, thin. Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you the Log Pose and it’s eventual progression, the Eternal Pose.
Unfortunately the Whiskey Peak arc is over all too quickly, especially in relation to all that dragon nest hunting/side questy nonsense, and we’re treated to two back to back filler episodes. Unlike the earlier Apis stuff, we are shown what is happening in the world of Coby and Helmeppo. The less said about these two episodes the better.
So now we have the crew, with new addition Princess Vivi in tow, what better way to continue this grand adventure than by needlessly extending the story thanks to the godawful MacGuffin, the Log/Eternal Pose. You can’t just get to your destination thanks to the magnetism between islands, so these special do-hickey’s are required in order to memorize the information a regular compass is no longer capable of telling you. Right. Okay. Sure. In this extension we are treated to a story about two warring giants on an island still inhabited with dinosaurs. I don’t really understand anime’s seemingly long running love of having their characters worlds be inhabited by dinosaurs at some point (see also: Dragonball Z), but at least One Piece tries to explain it. Granted, it’s a far fetched and paper thin reasoning, but props for trying.
The warrior spirit is embodied by these warring giants, and is one of the better thematic ideas explored by the series to date. I enjoyed what they embodied, if not the execution of the narrative itself. The strongest elements of this last arc within the Collection exists between the dangerous, psychotic, Wax man: Mr. 3, his subordinates and their struggles against the Straw Hat Pirates. It makes for some awesome action sequences between the feuding sides, and allows the show to develop its characters vicariously through the characters around them. The heavy handed juxtaposition between Sanji/Zoro’s prideful feud and that of the Giants however is exactly that: heavy handed and obvious. Subtlety isn’t exactly One Pieces’ strongest asset.
The best characterization within this Collection is clearly present within the non filler episodes. Sure, there are moments of comedy or aggression that help to further develop or define a character within the filler, but never more so than within the episodes that truly matter to the central arc. This is just as true for Luffy as it is for Usopp, for example. In filler episodes they tend to become one dimensional pastiches of themselves: Usopp is constant comedy relief, for example, and that is all he is. A moment may crack through, as already mentioned, by certainly pales in contrast to the far superior canon arcs.
Therein lies this Collections biggest problem: the majority of it is entertaining filler, existing it seems to further future stories and collections. It causes our heroes journey to progress at a snails pace, with incremental advances throughout, as opposed to well paced and structured development. This is clearly a creative decision on the studios part, if only to truly draw this out as long as possible, and the Collection suffers for it. Inconsistent pacing coupled with drip fed elements of character progression don’t make a totally satisfying viewing experience.
Additionally, in regards to the animation style I would be remiss if I did not mention the odd moments of hideous art work. It is very rare, but there are moments during this Collection where the art work looks truly horrendous; staid, cut out and lifeless images that move disjointedly or unnaturally, instantly pulling you out of the world they’ve worked so hard to create from the ground up. Now, to reiterate: it’s rare. But it is there. At one point it looked as though someone had made a very crude flash cartoon, at another as though someone had pulled an image from Google Images and done a hack job in editing it before simply dropping it into the frame. I don’t know if it was due to budgetary concerns, or if it is simply due to age (having been done in 2001), but for such a lucrative franchise, I certainly didn’t expect to be making an observation like this at all.
For hardcore fans this will regardless be in your collection, just like the previous Collections and, I’m sure, the subsequent releases. For those who are curious by One Piece, but not ready to commit to the 600+ adventure that that comprises, I would recommend only a few of the arcs that are present across this sets 4 discs. For those hardcore fans, special features are slim, consisting of a few commentary tracks and a textless version of the opening/closing sequences.
Annoyingly, it also ends one episode into a new Arc, providing a nonsensical ending point and, for those picking up Collection Four as their first foray into One Piece, a confusing starting point.
One Piece is pretty good, don’t get me wrong. It obviously has staying power to still be providing new content to this day. But One Piece Collection Three is severely lacking in numerous areas, all these components accumulating into a Collection that seemingly exists to allow minor context for further collections and future releases.
By no means bad, but in the same vein, in no means exceptional, Collection Three is entertaining mediocrity throughout its lengthy 650 minute run time.
Until next time anime girls and manga guys, or vice versa, this is The Other Guy signing out.
Steve Russell // @stevetendo
One Piece: Collection Three is available now at £34.99, courtesy of Manga Entertainment