Reviewby Sam Leach,
One Piece Episode of Sabo
After his disappearance as a child, leaving his sworn brothers Ace and Luffy to believe he is dead, Sabo has found himself to be the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Army. Now an adult, his job has taken him all over the world investigating a black market weapons trade that leads him to Donquixote Doflamingo's home turf of Dressrosa. It's here that he is fated to cross-paths with his long-lost brother Luffy, and together they will fight to protect the Flame-Flame Fruit, the ultimate prize in Doflamingo's tournament and the last ember of ‘Fire Fist’ Ace's legacy.
The “One Piece: Episode of ______” series, which currently spans both TV specials and theatrical films, can be a frustrating endeavor at times. I can't say with any confidence that these movies are actually for anybody. Theoretically, they're recounts of individual One Piece arcs, now at a more digestible pace and featuring more impressive production values, but there's always too much missing from them for me to ever recommend them to somebody who isn't already familiar with the material. Two hours is rarely enough time to put an audience through a proper One Piece-level emotional rollercoaster, and more often than not I find myself missing a lot of the old animation and directorial choices that made these stories memorable in the first place. Even if we're just looking at getting the general story beats out there for a more casual audience, the TV series is already slammed with clip shows and recaps as it is.
That said, Episode of Sabo is easily the best looking One Piece special to date. Dressrosa is a fairly recent arc, so there isn't really any old art that I'm mourning, and just about everything here is a visual improvement on the TV version. I love the amount of detail that can be seen on every individual character, and the actions scenes are outstanding. Luffy vs. Don Chin Jao is a particularly strong highlight and it boasts a notable stylistic in its slightly muted color scheme, frequently evoking an overcast sky.
Story-wise, this is a weird arc to give the TV movie treatment. It's the first half of Dressrosa, focusing on Luffy's battles in Doflamingo's colosseum. The main difference being that we're witnessing parts of the story from Sabo's perspective, who's appearance in the colosseum was a surprise twist in the original. Since this is Sabo's episode, we're frequently cutting back to flashbacks of Ace, Luffy, and Sabo's childhood, so this special also doubles as a remake of their particular backstory. The “three brothers” flashback is already well-trodden ground—I doubt there are any fans who aren't intimately familiar with it already—and it doesn't pair well with Dressrosa's extremely busy plot, most of which doesn't have anything to do with the titular character. It's like two movies stitched together, neither of which culminate in a particularly satisfying climax given that this is only half a story.
From there, one of the biggest draws of this release is its English dub, which is adapting material far past Funimation's release of the TV series. A staggering number of important new characters have been cast in order to bring this localization to life. I'm really pleased with the mixture of talent from both inside and outside of Texas, allowing us to hear fan favorites like Christina Vee and Christine Cabanos in the roles of Violet and Rebecca respectively. However, for those specific characters—natives to Dressrosa—the dub aims for faux Spanish accents, which goes about as well as you could expect regarding consistency.
Of the new additions to the cast, Tyson Rinehart's Bartolomeo leaves the biggest impression. He's a ton of fun, though I'm reminded of the dub's dearth of naturally deep male voices. We're scratching so many of these actors' throats as it is! The copious amounts of fake gravel make all these side characters difficult to tell apart sometimes. I'd also be remiss not to mention Jerry Jewell as Caesar Clown (one of my favorite characters), who only has a single line but he sounds like a perfect fit so far. I'm excited to eventually hear him in the show itself.
Episode of Sabo, like most TV specials, is something that will likely find itself in any hardcore fan's collection, but I don't expect it's something people will come back to again and again. It's a great looking movie, but its most compelling selling point is the dub and the fact that there isn't a lot of One Piece coming out from Funimation beyond these specials. The blu-ray itself is completely barebones in terms of features, with nothing more than the special and the usual batch of trailers. This movie was created to fill a time slot first and foremost, so the quality of the product exists independent of any other depth or value.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Great animation, fun to hear the new additions to the English cast
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