ANIME & MANGA - Review
09:00 - 13th July 2013, by Matt Kamen

One Piece - Uncut Collection 1

After what must have felt like an inexorable wait to fans of Eiichiro Oda's pirate saga, One Piece finally arrives in the UK. However, that delay for the series' release will likely warrant either euphoria or a tired yawn from fans.

For those who've already been invested in the aquatic opus thanks to VIZ Media's release of the original manga, or have seen the anime through imports or.... less savoury methods, these early voyages of rubberman Monkey D. Luffy may seem old (straw) hat. For them, it will be a recap rather than anything fresh. To anyone new to the series in any form though, the set serves as a perfect introduction to the madcap world of high seas larceny and super-powered sailors, packing enough characterisation and action into the 26-episode collection to have even the coldest heart cheering along by the end.

This debut outing charts the beginning of Luffy's quest to become 'King of the Pirates', and nascent efforts to build a crew. As his path crosses with navigator Nami, chef Sanji, inventor Usopp and swordsman Zoro, we get a nice insight into each of their personalities, motivations and histories, with some particularly sharp scripting as the budding team begins to play off each other. The pace is non-stop from the get-go, and the mini-storyarcs that build up the greater whole offer enough variance in locales, threats, and supporting characters to keep viewers' attentions. The series also does a rather good job of subverting audience expectations in places, with characters that seem to be earmarked to join the crew leaving, or 'obvious' bad guys proving to have slivers of nobility and greater purposes. For what's ostensibly a kids' show, One Piece can also be mature and considerate when it chooses to.

Given these episodes are 14 years old at this point, and were produced on a weekly TV budget, there's nothing too spectacular on the visual front. Oda's brilliantly bizarre approach to character and world design leaps from the screen though, and director Konosuke Uda captures the dynamism of the crew's various powers well. Luffy's stretchy punches provide the greatest thrills, but Zoro's lethal blade skills and Sanji's fearsome Capoeira-style kick-based fighting are both equally captivating. However, it's that same unorthodox style that may prove off-putting for some, particularly if you're a fan of more intricate anime or manga. The over-exuberant slapstick and Luffy's endless naiveté may also be wearisome, depending on your own humour proclivities.

With the ongoing nature of the series - which, much like other lengthy shonen adventure shows such as Bleach or Naruto, means a new episode airs in Japan weekly with nary a break - there's no clear 'season' structure. Accordingly, the 26 episodes here end on something of a frustrating point, with a flashback episode dedicated to Sanji's childhood interrupting the development of what was shaping up to be an epic battle. It's not quite a cliffhanger either, more an unwanted pause, though anyone whose imagination had been grabbed fiercely enough to make it through this collection will no doubt be on board for the next.

A strong first outing for Luffy and friends, only let down by the age of the episodes and the over-familiarity some audience members will have with the content. With Manga's rapid release schedule - we'll be up to episode 103 by November - that won't be a problem for long though, and for newcomers this isn't to be missed.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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