Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 29th 2008
DVD - Season One Part 2 Second Voyage
A brutal, masterful Kuro blasts Usopp and his newfound pirate buddies with the black depths of his plans for Usopp's village. Initially emboldened by his presence, Kuro's Black Cat pirates are horrified to learn that Kuro's plans include their untimely demise, but are unable to do anything as their seemingly indestructible leader faces off against the funny, flexible kid in the straw hat. When the dust clears, Luffy and his freshly minted crew of Straw Hat Pirates (number: four) upgrade to an actual ship, complete with sails, Jolly Roger and cannon (number: one). After a visceral demonstration of the perils of poor seafaring diets (ah, the joys of scurvy), the crew sets out in search of a cook. Which leads them straight to the Sea Restaurant Baratie, home of the toughest cooks in the East Blue. There they meet tough-talking, girl-crazy cook-cum-martial-artist Sanji—the perfect candidate, save for the fact that he has no intention of joining their crew. Oh, and the fact that he's soon besieged by the ruthless minions of Don Krieg, pirate king of the East Blue and natural enemy of Luffy's ambitions.
Explaining why One Piece is fun is like explaining why apples are tasty. It's possible, but it's just easier to agree that they do and leave it at that. The alchemy by which it combines a crazed, cartoony aesthetic, unabashed tear-jerking, and super-powered martial arts with standard shounen-action journeying and creates something satisfying is damnably elusive. It certainly has something to do with the balance of elements, with its ability to never take itself too seriously and yet never grow fluffy or inconsequential. It is doubtless tied up in the childlike appeal of Eiichiro Oda's wacked-out world of endless adventure and strangely larceny-free pirating. And no doubt director Kônosuke Uda's steadily growing skill with the timing and choreography of piratic brawling is a factor, as is the endlessly inventive manipulation of superpowers by Luffy and his Devil Fruit brethren. But just try condensing all that into a pithy sentence. Easier to simply say "pirates are cool." Anyone who spent their childhood rewatching The Goonies will know exactly what you mean.
If this set feels a little lopsided, that's more an effect of the carving of the series into thirteen episode blocks than an artifact of the storytelling. The set opens with a jolt, the Captain Kuro fight in full swing, the emotional stakes jacked as high as they'll go, with Usopp laying his battered body and soul on the line to protect his beloved hometown. Kuro oozes blackest villainy, Luffy and his crew are afire with bruised righteousness, and the fighting is brutal, funny and unpredictable. And then it's over. Some of the series' persistent pacing problems crop up as it clumsily inserts a flashback and wanders into a disposable side-story, but the set soon settles into the increasingly confident buildup to yet another fight with yet another potential crewmember at stake. Only to cut itself short just as it gets underway. Curses.
Nevertheless, this set finds the series well and truly in its element. Its two flashbacks—one to Sanji's past and the other to Zoro's—really do jerk tears, even if they are less than gracefully executed. Its glorification of the pirate lifestyle is in fine form as the characters loll about deck, gleefully target-shoot with their cannon, and just generally enjoy the freedom of the seas—scurvy be damned. It encompasses the end of one risible (yet unspeakably cool) villain and the rise of another, introduces plenty of colorful, eminently likable supporting characters, and hits on some of the series' best sight-gags to date (a green-afroed pirate stuck in a treasure chest, the various ways it crams one character's ridiculously tall hat into the frame). The inescapable Shonen Jump preachiness, in which Luffy schools Kuro in the meaning of "comrades," only marginally slows action that is swift, exciting and cooler than its neck-stretching, goofy-shoed aesthetics would lead one to believe.
With scenes such as the one in which a group of pirates advance towards the camera in one static plane along with the debris they kick up, it's clear Uda hasn't entirely mastered the limitations of his budget, but he's improving. His deployment of stills and speed-blurred (or MIA) backgrounds is keyed more towards improving the impact of a scene than obvious penny-pinching. His growing familiarity with Eiichiro Oda's fondness for far-out angles makes creating striking imagery at minimal cost simpler, and the Kuro fight shows some of the first real signs of the combination of flat art and flashy CG effects (simulated zooms and crane shots in particular) that later becomes one of the series' visual trademarks.
Composer Kouhei Tanaka's wonderfully unsubtle pirate bombast, on the other hand, remains blessedly unchanged. A jaunty Sanji-specific theme is added to the steadily growing pile of character themes, but does nothing to dampen the score's swashbuckling bravado, a mirror of the characters' own.
Though still not at whatever sublime level is required to satisfy all of the series' fans, Funimation's English adaptation remains rock solid. Colleen Clinkenbeard's Luffy continues to grow on you, and there are enough moments of perfection (Jango's hilarious reaction to Kuro's untimely arrival, Kaya's confrontation with Kuro, everything involving Hawk-Eye Mihawk) to remind you of why it is that Funimation leads the dubbing pack. Save for the usual lip-flap adjustments, some spicing up here and there, and a few excisions of redundant dialogue, the re-write faithfully reproduces the original dialogue. Some of the subtleties are lost in translation—Luffy's carefree delivery suffers a bit and Sanji's transitions from light to dark are downplayed—but the big emotional payoffs make it through with every shred of their shameless hanky-grabbing power intact. It's hardly the kind of work to make dub-worshiping converts of the sub faithful, but anyone with a leaning towards English versions will be more than satisfied—so long as the English-dubbed songs don't set their hair on end.
The set's only extra of any note is a commentary track for episode 17 featuring ADR director Mike McFarland and actors Sonny Strait (Usopp) and Luci Christian (Nami). More laid-back and technical than is the norm, it's also more informative—a good listen for anyone who wants to know the kinds of difficulties that face a dubbing crew. And for the dub nitpickers in the crowd, McFarland confirms that yes indeed the English version has the explicit approval of none other than original creator Eiichiro Oda himself. Have another slice of humble pie. As with the last set, the commentary is only accessible from the "Episodes" menu.
A build-up-heavy slice of a steadily improving shounen adventure, the second part of One Piece's first season isn't revolutionary, insightful, or even particularly smart or original. It's just massive fun: exciting, funny, possessed of a knack for unorthodox cool, and just a touch touching. And if that don't do it for you, you can always think of it as an opportunity to play pirate without the embarrassment of revealing the eye-patch and plastic saber you have squirreled away in your closet.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Built-in appeal to the Errol Flynn crowd; direction and storytelling gaining confidence as the story arcs start stretching their legs.
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