What They Say:
Experience the inspiring moments that launched Luffy and the first four members of his crew on their grand adventure to find the One Piece!
It’s all here—from Shanks giving Luffy the straw hat, to Nami facing the Fish-Men at her hometown. Along the way, Zoro finds his swordsman’s zeal, Usopp pays for his pranks, and Sanji sizzles up the Baratie. Join the crew where it all began in the waters of East Blue.
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 2017, 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. 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 Luffy in the center, arms outstretched, the creates a few sections for the core cast of the Straw Hats to get their own slot overall. It’s not the best laid out piece but it looks good for what it needs to do. 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 a good spot talking about the full-length documentary produced for the release. 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.
While a lot of these Episode Of specials have been without extras – not even the promos or TV spots for – this one comes with a little something more. One Piece: The Legacy and the Journey is a 55-minutes special in HD as part of the 20th-anniversary that’s being celebrated. It works through a lot of footage from the run but brings in a lot of the cast and creative to talk about the whole project and just how long some of them have been involved with it. The thing is, the show has such an expansive cast and creative that have been involved with it for years that really just listening to them tell various little stories throughout and how they connect is pretty engaging. For a lot of them, and for a lot of fans, the show is a huge part of their lives just in terms of how long its been running, and for some of them that worked on it, it’s pretty much been the backbone of their career. It’s a great extra and very worth the time.
Coming out two years or so after its Japanese broadcast, the Episode of East Blue brings us nearly two-hours of looking back to the very early days of the property. Which feels appropriate enough as we’re in the midst of the 20th-anniversary period of the series and have just crossed the 900 mark in terms of the simulcast. It’s still surreal to realize that we’ve been reviewing the show episode by episode since around 420 or so and have seen all 900 episodes at this point. There are very few things that ask this level of commitment in serialized storytelling and fewer that maintain a strong enough narrative and quality to it. The closest I can really come to it are certain comic book runs over the years but even they don’t have the singular narrative to hold up like this property does.
With so many stories going back and filling in blanks from time to time across the series, doing a proper chronological form of the show would be a massive and pointless (but fascinating) production. So getting a remake like this that takes us back to the early days of the core group of the Straw Hats is a lot of fun. Focusing initially on Luffy as a child with Shanks and the inspiration to become a pirate, and the whole devil-fruit thing, is a lot of fun. I always enjoyed the flashback filler run where we got Luffy and his “friends” at the time as kids on the island and how they played and bonded as it humanized both Ace and Sabo in ways that while not necessary were very crucial to have after Ace’s death and ahead of Sabo’s return a couple of hundred episodes later. So going back to the earliest days of Luffy here to start off with the importance of Shanks in his life is spot on.
With Luffy as the expected through-line on the special, the show moves forward well from there that takes us through the familiar territory. Zoro and his initial struggle against Captain Morgan. Usopp’s fight against the pirates coming after his village, Sanji and his time aboard the floating restaurant that Zeff ran, and then focusing on Nami and everything related to the Fishmen and Arlong in particular. Each of these stories predates Luffy getting involved in them and it helped to make it feel like the characters had lives before Luffy showed up. While he’s critical to their lives going on a new course, each of the tales are generally left to the other Straw hat in resolving, with or without Luffy’s help. He’s very much the catalyst for change character in these early arcs while drawing them in with his personality and sense of fun and adventure as he strives to the King of the Pirates. All of this serves to make everyone feel fully realized and capable on their own (and grow far more so as it progresses) while also showing that they’re great together.
And that’s key to why One Piece works.
Anyone familiar with One Piece knows these stories. The specials serve a couple of different purposes and everyone gets different things out of it. It’s a great and easy jumping on point, a fun recap, a chance to re-animate the early series in HD with a greater understanding of events and their impact. And it’s a way to dip back in and fill in a few little spots with what came much later for background. These are easy to put out ahead of films as a kind of primer and I like the idea of specials like this digging into the various arcs and doing a super high top-level view of it all but still making it clear why it has the heart that it does. Episode of East Blue feels quaint in a lot of ways but I also enjoy it because it does take me back to this period, which I now view different than when I first watched it. It’s a great little special and a worthy addition to any One Piece collection.
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: A-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: September 24th, 2019
Running Time: 107 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.