The first box-set of One Piece left viewers halfway through the Baratie arc, with Luffy aboard the floating restaurant and under attack from the villainous and self-styled indestructible pirate Don Krieg. Luffy wants a cook for his crew – and the ideal candidate is chain-smoking, good-looking ladies’man and gifted chef, Sanji. But it’s going to take a miracle to persuade Sanji to leave the Baratie and his mentor, the legendary one-legged Chef Zeff. Luffy, however, has a remarkable knack for making things happen – and if anyone can get Sanji on board, he’s the one to do it. Of course, that can’t possibly happen until Don Krieg and his pirates have been defeated…but Luffy is not one to walk away from a fight!
Meanwhile, Nami has reached her goal: Arlong Park. It seems that the red-haired navigator is a member of the crew of brutish fishmen pirates led by Arlong: these fishmen hail from the Grand Line and are far stronger than mere humans, being able to breathe both in and out of water. They’re not a pretty bunch to look at and it’s a mystery to Nami’s fellow crew members as to how or why she’s gotten involved with them. It’s only when Usopp and Zoro meet up with Nami’s adopted sister Nojiko that they learn about the girls’ tragic past – and the true reason behind Nami’s thieving. By the time Luffy and Sanji reach Nami’s home island, the stage is set for an epic confrontation against seemingly impossible odds. Arlong can chew through gun barrels and cannon balls with his teeth – and he also knows Luffy’s one vulnerable point: he can’t swim.
By the time it reaches the Baratie Arc, One Piece really begins to get into its stride, delivering its unique blend of eye-popping action, heart-wrenching drama, and well-paced storytelling. With a rubber-bodied boy as its central character, the fights involving Luffy were always going to be surreal but the way the creative team manage to balance slapstick comedy and edge-of-the-seat tension is one of the main reasons One Piece has proved such an enduringly successful show. Occasionally (usually with Usopp) the script goes too far with the frantic over-reacting but nothing is ever small-scale in Eiichiro Oda’s epic tale; emotions are vivid and heart-felt.
It’s a fun challenge trying to analyze exactly what magical ingredients and influences have gone into One Piece. There’s more than a dash of Tex Avery and Looney Toons in the extraordinarily elastic contortions that Luffy is able to twist his body into, not to mention the goggling expressions of surprise often exhibited by Usopp and other bystanders: bloodshot eyes out on stalks, jaws dropping towards their chests. As for the weird and wonderful villains (and friends) that Luffy and his crew encounter on their epic journey to the Grand Line, there’s something so exuberantly imaginative and grotesque about Oda’s creations (after a circus crew of pirates, then the fishmen, with eight-armed octopus-man Hatchan) that you’re constantly wondering what he’s going to invent next.
There’s an inevitable falling-off in tension as the crew leaves Nami’s island behind and a few fillerish episodes ensue but even filler in One Piece is far from dull. With Luffy’s face on ‘wanted’ posters and a sum of three million beris on his head, perhaps Loguetown where King of the Pirates Gold Roger was executed is not the most logical place to head for – but when was logic ever one of Luffy’s strong points?
Animation-wise, there are still many still shots but they’re expertly woven into the flow of the narrative (more seamlessly done, perhaps, than in recent shows like Fairy Tail.) These episodes first aired, after all, in 2000-2001.
All credit has to go both to the original Japanese writers and actors, and to the US dub script writers. The US voice actors have settled into their roles by now and give some cracking performances. Especially worthy of note here are Colleen Clinkenbeard who really captures Luffy’s off-the-wall attitude and infectious joie-de-vivre; Eric Vale veering between the epitome of cool as Sanji the fighting chef and Sanji the hopelessly starstruck Lothario, and Luci Christian, giving an affecting performance as the deeply conflicted Nami.
Extras include commentaries on Episodes 30 and 44, as well as Textless Opening ‘We are’, new textless Opening ‘Believe’ and Textless Ending ‘Run run run.’
Everything that was cut from the ludicrously sanitized children’s TV version is restored in this excellent FUNimation version: the blood, the sweat, the tears, the smoking – and, of course, the great soundtrack score. We’ve waited a long time for this release on R2 in the UK – but it’s been well worth the wait.