What They Say:
The latest One Piece adventure kicks off with a battle between Fire Fist Ace and the dastardly Blackbeard. Flames collide as these heavyweights lay waste to an entire island. When the dust settles, the scene shifts back to the Straw Hats who find themselves trapped in frigid waters – and hunted by a family of bounty hunters. After their icy adversaries steal the Straw Hats’ flag, it’s all hands on deck to recover the precious symbol of their pirate pride!
Later, while drifting through haunted waters, the Straw Hats encounter a walking, talking skeleton. Luffy quickly befriends the newcomer, but the rest of his mates want nothing to do with this perverted bag of bones. Before the mystery of the seagoing skeleton can be deciphered, the Straw Hats find themselves trapped within the terrifying walls of Thriller Bark!
Contains episodes 325 – 348.
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 in 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. 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 with seven/five/seven/five format that covers a range of material. The series in its widescreen form has a very good look where it takes what we had in full screen and just gives it a new life. The placement, framing and general look of the series comes across as brighter, cleaner and better choreographed both in fight sequences and general humor. The transfer brings through the detail of the animation much better and it just feels like the source material is in better shape as well. Colors are bright, appealing and problem free with only a mild smattering of noise in some of the backgrounds that never really detracts.
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. We’ve had a little bit of a mix of styles recently, but this installment goes with a single character image of Brook, which is fully appropriate for this volume as he tips his hat while looking great against the Straw Hats logo. With the pirate flag logo behind him, there’s a lot of black space that works very well in drawing the eyes to the almost exaggerated look of Brook and just the style of his bod. 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 shot of Brook playing his instrument with a kind of joy about him. 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 for this release are pretty good as we get the same as the standalone releases with a number of English language dub commentaries and the clean opening sequences for the relevant episodes. We also get some of the “On the Boat” sequences which provides some good one on one time with the cast talking about the show as new characters are brought on.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One Piece brings to a close their ninth season with this show as these episodes went up through the end of 2007 during its original broadcast. The series has had a lot of fun with its recent arcs and a general light tone for a lot of it as we got the crew the Sunny after the loss of the Merry and the experiences that comes with a new ship. And we also got to know Franky a bit more which helped to make him a little more engaging and fun to watch. I’m still not sold completely on the character – even after watching the later simulcast episodes with him – but each little bit of background helps to make me like him a little more. The recent lightness in the story has definitely been welcome though considering the heavier material that came in through the Enies Lobby arc and all that happened there with the Straw Hats. Getting them to be friends again and working towards their goal of the New World just felt like it was nicely smoothed out here.
Before we can get to more of that in this set though as their journey continues on, we get a good bit of background building going on for other future events. This takes us to a place where we get to see Ace once again, someone we haven’t seen in quite some time, who is about to face his own challenge. Considering his allegiances in the past and where he’s been and who he’s been involved with, it’s not a surprise that when Blackbeard shows up and starts talking about his own larger goals to win over the New World, he intends to have Ace either a part of it or out of the picture. The two have a pretty fun dynamic between them and even though it leads to an expected fight between them that takes up the bulk of the episode, it works because we get a good understanding of their powers and what’s going on. With Ace’s fire ability what it is, seeing how he’s capable of using it against Blackbeard and his newly acquired darkness powers makes it clear that both are formidable opponents.
While that does start the set off well, I was a bit less enamored with the rest of what’s here, though I understand the approach taken. With it being the end of the ninth season, what we get isn’t exactly filler per se, but the closure of certain events with some minor nods towards what’s to come without any truly serious connections to the New World. With the crew having gotten underway in good order recently with the Sunny, they’re following the Log Pose as closely as they can to their next destination. But there are always distractions in the world of One Piece and with Luffy in particular. When they come across a seemingly abandoned ship with no sails and a lot of damage, it’s easy to see them just sailing right by it. But when they see some people on it that look pretty bad off, they’ll take the chance to try and help because it’s the right thing to do. And it reinforces that these are not your traditional pirates once again since most would not “help” anyone else when there’s plunder ahoy. The whole encounter is amusing since the fisherman on the derelict ship are surprised to be helped by pirates, but we get some good bits of humor across it and as Chopper helps them with medical issues, including spending time below decks on their ship with the captain that’s been unconscious. It’s here that we learn that these aren’t fisherman though but rather pirates themselves that got in a big bit of trouble when they braved the New World themselves.
That this group are being used themselves makes sense as they’re basically a lure and trap to draw in other pirate groups for the Acchi family that will then capture them and acquire the bounty for them. That doesn’t go over so well with the Straw Hats of course and it’s amusing to see this pretty low-quality group – in terms of strength and cunning – thinking they can get one over on the Straw Hats without them noticing. But the whole thing really does play out nicely as the Straw Hats end up helping these Phoenix Pirates in their own way, particularly since their captain, upon being healed by Chopper, really is a nice guy but is struggling with the feeling of being so overpowered when they went to the New World. That helps to reinforce the kind of dangers that are out there and the way that Luffy is just so confident that he’ll be the King of Pirates some day that it’s a kind of amusing disconnect. The Phoenix Pirates are struggling with being bested and then subservient to this bounty hunter family and that factors in nicely as a subplot along the way.
The material involving the Phoenix Pirates is pretty well spread across the set – since the arc does conclude with the final episode here – and while I didn’t really connect with any of them in a significant way, there’s a lot to like with the balance between them and the Straw Hats. Where the real challenge of the arc comes in is when the gang ends up getting involved in dealing with the Acchi family and their powers and abilities since they’re found ways to corner ships using them and the natural surroundings and creatures – including some pretty difficult to deal with penguins. This part of the arc works well enough as we get the Papa figure who has come up with a pretty good trap to lure pirates in and collect the bounties on them and he’s reinforced it as a family job so that the kids are pretty eager to curry favor. The Straw Hats get it doubly bad since they get caught up in it during Papa’s birthday and the kids are trying to bring some great gifts to him in the form of big bounties, which the gang certainly has.
This takes up most of the action in the show as it really gets underway and with a variety of opponents, from figure skaters to a pair of identical twin brothers and those penguins as well, everyone gets their opponent to deal with. For Luffy, he gets to face off against the Papa figure who can turn his body incredibly hot, which is surprisingly useful on the ice plateaus they fight across, but the rest have a really fun mission themselves. The youngest of daughters for the Acchi family uses a bird to swipe the Sunny’s Jolly Roger, something they can’t let Luffy find out about so they go after it pretty intently. But it also brings a good bit of comedy along the way in a physical sense since it’s more slapstick as it runs in parallel to Luffy going up against Papa. Neither fight arc is bad per se, but they are mostly predictable at this point with the expected highs and lows that ends with everyone where you’d think they would end up from the start of the arc. But it is fun in that kind of light way.
With the second half of this set, things move firmly into the next “season” of the series and that means big arc time. That arc is Thriller Bark, which definitely has a lot to like. The main focus of it is to introduce a new player into the mix for the Straw Hats that comes in the form of Brook, a pirate who died years ago but had a strange Devil Fruit that allowed him to come back to life afterward. The problem being that it took awhile for his spirit to find his body so he’s ended up inhabiting his former shell, which is basically just bones and a suit – and an afro cause he’s got great roots. Brook is discovered in the course of their journey when they come across his ship where he’s all that’s left after his friends and crewmates had died years ago. Naturally, the Straw Hats are wary (and afraid) of Brook because of what he is, but Luffy is just excited and invites him to be a part of the crew – which is especially useful in his mind because Brook is all about playing the music. It fills out another piece of the puzzle – though that’s delayed since Brook ends up skipping on them since he can’t leave this region of the sea.
This is where we get the key to what the Thriller Bark arc is like as the region is covered in clouds and fog while being maintained by one of the Seven Warlords, a man known as Moria that has the special ability to steal men’s shadows and implant them in zombie bodies and constructions to be able to use them to his benefit. It makes him feared to be sure but also gives him a lot of low level grunts because those whose shadows he steals can’t be in the sunlight anymore. If they do step into it they end up burning up quickly. Which some do after awhile in order to gain release from the prison that Moria has put them in. Moria’s certainly a cruel one and a powerful one so it’s made clear why he’s one of the Warlords. Thriller Bark is like his demented playground of creations that’s made worse by his control of Doctor Hogback who has made a lot of combined creatures and people as well. And since the shadows Moria implants in them retain their original owners abilities, they’re often quite powerful.
As is the case with any bigger One Piece arc, the first segment of it is all about the introductions and establishing the setting. We get that done up well here, though sadly Brook is a limited presence overall and you really do want more of him. The crew themselves have the standard approach here where they all end up on the floating island quickly and in different groupings so they each get to discover different things, with Zorro having his shadow stolen to Nami being pursued by one of Moria’s henchman named Absalom that wants to marry her. Franky gets to show off a bit early on with the way he fits in with the crew, but like Robin they’re just going through the motions here, as is Usopp. Their roles will grow of course, but for the moment it’s all about establishing things and setting the course for the arc. And it does it well because there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
While One Piece offers up a mostly light story here in the first half, it’s one that has its fun moments and definitely works the characters personalities in a good way rather than coming across as out of character for it. There’s a kind of buffer feeling going on here where the self-contained eleven episode arc hits some good notes but without any kind of real challenge to it. We get Luffy to deal with a new kind of powered up person, but not one that would in any way constitute a real threat, which deflates it to some degree. But we also get a comical side plot involving the bulk of the crew going after their stolen Jolly Roger, which is fun and mildly convoluted if only because they have to face off against most of Papa’s kids and their quirky abilities. With the second half kicking off the Thriller Bark adaptation, it has its own mix of interesting comical and serious pieces that plays out in tried and true One Piece fashion. Longtime viewers know that the introduction of Brook is an important piece of the overall storyline and getting to connect with that here works well. The plot as a whole has a good mix of light and dark and is really just getting underway, so it sets up a solid foundation here..
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, One Piece in the Booth, Episode Commentary (326, 335, 348)
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 10th, 2014
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.