What They Say:
Nami, Zoro, Chopper, and Robin are trapped aboard the Going Merry when it’s commandeered by a monstrous lobster! To rescue his crew, Luffy must venture onto the sacred grounds of Upper Yard!
Contains episodes 157-182.
The audio presentation for One Piece is a solid work though the favoring goes to the English language track. The series comes with its original Japanese mix in stereo which is good and has a solid feeling throughout it, though it never really extends itself all that much as it uses the forward soundstage. The English mix gets the 5.1 bump to it and that adds with the volume being louder in general and some occasional bigger moments thrown to the rear channels. It’s a decent mix to be sure, but it’s working with simple source material so it can only go so far. It makes up for it by being a bit brasher and outgoing. Both mixes work well and are free of problems like dropouts and distortions, leaving us with a pair of clean and clear mixes.
Originally airing throughout 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The collection brings the two previous sets together into one so there are no differences in the authoring. We get four discs that gives us episodes in a seven/six/seven/six format that covers a range of material. The transfer has the same problems as before in that it has a fair amount of detail and a certain sketchy nature to it that lets it look raw and unpolished, as the show should, but it also comes across with a bit of cross coloration, though certainly less than we had on previous sets. That and the general line noise you get in various panning sequences gives the show a look that isn’t that great, but is fairly reflective of the material itself and the time in which it was released.
The packaging for this release puts the four discs inside a standard sized clear keepcase with all the discs on the hinges inside rather than on the interior of the case itself. The front cover is given over to another member of the Straw Hats with Robin takes the main piece here as she’s in her usual outfit with numerous of her arms and hands behind her, giving it a kind of surreal feeling that lets us see her abilities. With the pirate flag logo behind her, there’s a lot of black space that works very well in drawing the eyes to the character. It’s not a hugely detailed piece but it feels just right for him. The back cover is well laid out as well with the left side done all in black with it being about the text and logo, showing the summary for the volume and a neat logo for the episode count. The right side of it gives us a really good standing pose of with a cool and relaxed smile. The reverse side of the cover is kept simple and classy with the four discs getting the episode numbers and titles broken down so you can find everything easily.
The menu design for this release is simple but good with what it does as it uses the pirate style old wood ship kind of background as its main piece in which we get the menu selections along the right while the left side rotates various characters into it depending on the disc. The menus have never been flashy but they set the mood right, often with characters that are key to that particular disc, and have been quick and easy to utilize while also offering a marathon play feature. The menus are straightforward though they don’t use any of the players’ language presets and default to English language with sign/song subtitles.
The extras are pretty meager here unless you’re a dub fan and want to listen to the cast, in which case you have to hunt through the episode selection menus to find the commentaries that were made at the time. Beyond that, we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the start of the Skypiea season in the previous collection, we had the fun of finding out about the reality of world in the clouds and the kinds of ways there were to get there, which led to a fantastical trip upwards in the ship. That took Luffy and his crew to the mystical floating islands where clouds are the sea and thicker clouds make up the lands where people reside. The people there generally seem decent, as most common folk do, with the only real oddity being the wings that they have on their backs, not that the small stubby things allow them to fly. In these first episodes of adventure, we got to see how Skypiea operates and some of the really neat ideas that Oda created come to life with the Dials and other gadgets that populate this world above the Blue Sea.
As wondrous as the journey has been, it can’t go on that long for Luffy and the others. Because of how they got through the toll, they found themselves being labeled as criminals by the White Berets. Though they were unable to actually do anything to them, the whole issue has Luffy ready to move on so they don’t cause any further trouble for those that helped them. With the whole of Skypiea ahead of them, there’s a lot of potential. But before they can get started, the group is split as Conis manipulates things so that half of them are on the ship and are captured by a giant sea creature that will take them to an altar on the Upper Yard where they’ll be sacrificed to God Eneru. Robin, Zoro, Nami and Chopper are stuck on this high speed haul while Luffy, Sanji and Usopp now have to find a ship to take them deep into the Upper Yard where there are four Priests to contend with who will create hurdles for them to overcome.
The interesting thing is that the group is even worse off than being labeled as criminals as they’re being ushered to this destination in the Upper Yard because they’re all fearful of Eneru. Luffy is pretty oblivious in general about danger so he sees it all as an adventure as the Upper Yard is unlike other Sky Islands and there’s a lot of mystery to be had there. With the two groups moving forward, you get the usual bonding time that happens. At the altar, once deposited there, Robin, Zoro and Nami go off to see what they can find out about the place. They start to get more of an idea about what makes up the island. For Luffy, Sanji and Usopp, they have a run in with the first Priest and he has an amusing hurdle setup with various sized cloud balls that explode with dangerous weapons or creatures. It’s a good mix of comedy and danger as it plays out and you get a sense that Luffy really is enjoying it.
In the midst of this, as the two groups do eventually come back together and compare notes about all they know, there is a larger storyline at play as well. As it turns out, the God Eneru only took over as the God here six years ago after pushing out the previous one who is now playing the role of the Sky Knight. While the Skypieans are pretty reverential and fearful of Eneru, there are people on the Upper Yard who are intent on eliminating him as they see them and the sky people as taking their island from them. The Shandians have a very guerrilla like feeling to them with a touch of a Maori design as they utilize sky people technolgy and the like to try and go against the Priests and Eneru. There’s a deeper history that’s revealed here towards the middle of this set, and it does come together well, but the earlier parts with the Shandians don’t really gel all that well. Their motivations aren’t exactly clear and the time spent with them feels like it isn’t going to go anywhere, but it does eventually fit together as Eneru watches all these sides come together in a battle that should have over eighty players to it.
Once it gets past this part of it, the second half what fills this set is that Eneru has really gotten his game on and is working down the eighty plus people that are in the upper realm that he intends to eliminate. A great many of them have and there are under thirty left, including all our favorites and several of the Shandian’s we’ve gotten to know. There’s a strong continuing battle going on here between them as Eneru shows them up easily and regularly using his lightning based abilities and nature. He’s obviously faster than anyone else and being an energy being at this stage, hence calling himself a god, he’s able to regenerate with no problem. He’s a cruel god though as he strikes down his opponents in a way that chars them. And as the trap closes in on everyone, he even takes down Laiki in front of Wyper, which just sets him all the more on the path to eliminating this god.
Watching the Straw Hats getting caught up in all of this is fun at times, there’s no doubt about that. Robin in particular lets her archaeological side shine through as she gets hints of what she thought was long lost and spends her journey trying to discover more of it. She even has a really interesting chat with Eneru about the past and what he knows, which leads her a bit closer to her own goals. After finding her life pointless after the Alabasta arc and hooking up with the Straw Hats, it’s good to see that she still has that thirst for knowledge and her ultimate goals here rather than just going along for kicks because she has nothing better to do.
A lot of what this part of the arc does is to bring everyone back together after some time apart. Amusingly, Luffy spends a lot of his time stuck inside a giant snake without realizing and thinks he’s just traveling down a really strange cave with lots of ruins. His actions in upsetting the snake makes for a lot of fun as it acts out its intestinal issues against everyone else, which includes a moment where Nami and Aisa get sucked in along with Gan Fall. And all of this happens as they meet up with Wyper and Zoro along with a number of other Shandians that are still stuck in this massive game/trap that Eneru has designed simply because he thinks it’ll be enjoyable. There are a few subplots that get mixed in as well as they all come together, such as Laiki and Wyper and the way Aisa thinks she can take out Gan Fall, and that helps to flesh it out a bit. But it still takes some time to really get where it wants to go.
As seems to happen with One Piece, whatever momentum it has going in the present seems to get slowed down when it starts to do the back story reveal. That happens again here as we see Eneru’s arrival and the way he threw things into such chaos with Gan Fall. What I keep finding with the Skypiea arc is that while I like the land and some of the people, I have not cared for the factions themselves and all the issues that surround the Shandians tne loss of their land nor the way Eneru rose to power. While he’s given plenty of godlike abilities and attributes by the locals, the more it plays out the more obvious it is that he’s using a Devil Fruit for it. It’s not exactly a surprise when that comes out but it just paints him as yet another bully getting his way because he can. His story doesn’t do all that much beyond set the Straw Hats against him all the more in some obvious ways, including Eneru taking Robin down hard which seriously sets off Zoro since he can’t allow that to be done to a woman.
Naturally, there are bigger stakes going on here and as it turns, Luffy gets clued in at the right time and has to be the one to take on Eneru in order to save all of Skypiea. It’s not a surprise to see him thrust into this position since he just did it in Alabasta and world saving is becoming a part of his resume, but it just feels a bit too soon for another arc like that. Eneru himself has been relatively fun to watch since he’s hands on in taking care of his various enemies and he definitely goes big in his efforts to change the nature of everything. Yet something about all of it just doesn’t feel right. Much of that comes down to the way the religious side has not gelled well with God this and God that and the kind of wacky nature of many who reside in Skypiea. The fun and strangeness of the whole place was lost rather quickly unfortunately and it turned into something a bit more predictable.
One Piece deals with a lot of back story but it also balances it across all the episodes with a lot of things going on in the present. While there’s a lot of exploration and silliness in the first half, it also slowly introduces us to a lot of the characters and begins to show us how they’re all connected. When it ties into the past, and pieces from the previous set with the mystery city of gold and Noland, it all comes together pretty well. One Piece is decent in this collection but it does comes across as a bit lacking. The way the Straw Hats are spread apart, drawn together and then spread apart again is no surprise but it’d be nice to see them stick together for awhile. What’s struck me from the start of the Skypiea arc is that while the basis for this land is interesting, it’s populated with less than interesting characters outside of Wyper and Eneru and even then it’s only just barely. The entire Shandian aspect, heritage and past angers haven’t connected well which leaves it all feeling a bit forced. One Piece can definitely do better this and has even done so earlier in this particular season.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commentary Tracks
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 14th, 2012
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.