What They Say:
After two years of training, the Straw Hats reunited at Sabaody Archipelago. Getting past the Fish-Man Island, they finally made it to the final sea – the New World. At Punk Hazard Island, they met Trafalgar Law again by accident who suggested them to form a “pirate alliance” with him in order to take down the Four Emperors, which they accepted, and together with Law, they went for Doflamingo who is connected to the Four Emperors. They entered Dressrosa, the country Doflamingo reigns over, and got into action according to Law’s instruction but Luffy suddenly decided to enter a competition which prize was his late brother Ace’s Flare-Flare Fruit under the name Lucy, and made it to the final.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English mix gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The special is designed for TV so it’s not stretching itself too much in the Japanese side while the English mix bumps up the volume level a touch and adds a bit more impact in some of the scenes. Largely, this feels like most of the TV series episodes where there’s some good directionality at times and it’s giving a nod toward the theatrical level but not trying to get there due to other constraints. What we do get has a solid presentation to it with placement and depth as needed and it has a clean and clear feeling that makes it enjoyable to listen to, especially with the score and the theme songs.
Originally airing in 2015, this TV special is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Being a single special, it only uses the one Blu-ray disc (and one DVD as well) with the same general team behind the TV series from Toei Animation. We don’t get a lot of One Piece in HD on home video so it’s definitely welcome to see this TV material done up in this way as the colors are strong, there’s a lot of detail to it, and a good sense of design that gives it some nice pop. The show has some very fluid sequence where the animation is ramped up a bit but it is, for the most part, the usual TV animation, though some of it was reanimated material from the past in order to get it all on the same page visually. It’s pretty good looking and makes me wish more of the series was available in this form.
The packaging is pretty solid as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork itself. The front cover uses the key visual from the time that places Ace and Sabo in the background with the devil fruit, allowing for lots of nice red flames, while below we get Luffy in his adult form and then the three of them as kids below. It also ties together well with the red stripe along the top that highlights the BD/DVD of it all. The back cover goes for a white background approach with the summary being short and large of font size along the left. There are some oversized visuals to the right and all done since there’s nothing to the release beyond the show itself. The technical grid does break down both formats cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included with the release but we do get a tall version of the front cover that spaces things a little differently and with more visible.
The menu design for this release is a nice change of pace with a bit of animation to it as we get clips from the special playing with the ominous music going on along with it. It features a range of elements, especially of the arena, but it has a good feeling with a lot of blue that ties well to the navigation strip along the bottom that is a bright blue with choppy waves along the top. The selections are standard as there’s nothing here to this release beyond the special and some trailers so it’s quick and easy to work with both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback. The main thing is that the logo covers a lot of space simply because of how lengthy it is with the full title but that’s easy to ignore since there’s so much activity to it and it all looks pretty colorful and fun.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
At the time of this special, I’d been reviewing One Piece for about 300 or so individual episodes in addition to the collections that FUNimation has been putting out. The shoe was working through its Dressrosa arc and this special was commissioned much like some that we’d had before where there’s an easy expectation about what’s to come with it and for the most part it doesn’t disappoint. But it is at its core a recap episode, one with a few new moments mixed into it amid all the updated animation and smoother sequences here and there. For longtime fans it’s something of a mixed bag, as all specials tend to be, but it’s also impenetrable for new fans in a lot of ways as well. I have no idea if someone completely new to this story would see this and then want to engage with the property as a whole.
With the main series currently engaged in some really strong flashback material that doesn’t involve the main cast directly, this special provides a chance for some of them to get back in the spotlight as it returns us to when the Straw Hats first made landfall on Dressrosa. It’s here that their plan goes into motion to destroy the SMILE factory with a distraction play, one that gets put into motion in a good way within the ongoing itself but gets little attention here. Instead, the focus turns to Luffy discovering that his brother Ace’s Devil Fruit is being used as a prize in a to the death gladiatorial match. Even Franky realizes it’s a trap, as does Luffy, but you know he can’t let it go because of the meaning to him. Hence his entering and going at it, making discoveries there with the new cast of characters that exist and nods towards older ones or referenced ones from other pirates groups that are involved as well. It’s a fairly expansive piece with some fun characters involved and it provides some solid action while other stealthy elements are in play on the island.
Where this special spends some of its extra and new focus is with Sabo himself, who has come to the island as part of what his Revolution Army group is up to. This has been lightly touched upon before and it’s given the light touch here again as we just get a few communications with another member that’s on the island. For the most part what we get is Sabo watching as Luffy in his Lucy disguise goes about his gladiatorial matches, interacting with Rebecca and sussing out some clues as to what’s really going on here. For Sabo, it’s a reminder of the bonded brother he had made all those years ago and that gives us some very good flashbacks to the 500 episode range when we spent a couple of dozen episodes focused on the trio when they were little and figuring out their way in the world. That arc was a really strong one overall, especially since it close to ended with Sabo leaving the island only to be blown out of the water, leaving everyone to believe he was dead all this time.
Which makes his reunion with Luffy here all the more powerful when you view it from Luffy’s perspective. It’s difficult enough for Sabo who had his own adventures that could populate a series of its own, but for Luffy, who had lost him at a young age and then ended up alone in a sense after the loss of Ace, it’s profound. Luffy certainly has built up a great family around him and is well centered and has a solid foundation in his journey because of them but when you lose those early pillars in your life it takes a toll. So seeing him not realize who Sabo is at first and then to have that recognition is a great thing. Bringing it out after we see Sabo watching him for awhile, reflecting on his own past, and then making the decision about what needs to be done going forward is a reminder of the strength of the bond that survived all this time. The ease with which Luffy trusts him to take over is the biggest and clearest sign of that. And it’s one that Sabo earns easily.
That said, while the episode has a lot of fun elements to it, it is essentially recap with a couple of new scenes added in. These help to provide a bit more of a big brother/fatherly aspect to Sabo that’s welcome and you get a sense from him that he’s really proud of Luffy and what he’s accomplished. That’s a big positive considering their relationship. The show does a good job of capturing a lot of the early parts of this arc and why events are going on and it’s actually interesting to get the earlier stage of the Doflamingo and Law fight that was underway while getting the greater context from the new flashback in the ongoing series. Once the show gets to the last twenty minutes or so it starts to race through things more and it’s not a special that feels like it has a real ending to it, like the closing of a chapter or the launching of something else. It feels… incomplete. But with the way events were ramping up and how so many characters were excised from it with their storylines that’s not too much of a surprise.
Coming in at just under two hours, Episode of Sabo is a work that is pretty much just for the fans. I enjoyed it because it was fun to revisit aspects of it and there are nods that makes some of the storytelling in the present a lot more interesting. But that’s a given with the scale of the show as when you go back to the earliest Doflamingo appearances and place it in context to what we know at this time it can alter the view of certain things. The show here certainly looks great as it has a bright, bold and colorful look about it with some great animation and a real fluidity in the big scenes. It does what it sets out to do but it also leaves you wondering why they went and did it because it doesn’t feel like it’s really bringing anything new or significant to the table. It’s a special that while fun and enjoyable is also one that can be easily skipped without missing anything.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: March 19th, 2019
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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.