The conclusion to the Vivi arc ends with both a definite and surprising conclusion, a new crew member (again surprising as it isn’t the one you’d expect it to be) and overall a great finale to a great arc.
What They Say :
Crocodile and his army of assassins have their sights set on conquering Alabasta, and the claw-fisted sandman won’t stop until he gets his hand on the most powerful weapon the world has ever known. Only the Straw Hats can protect Princess Vivi from her reptilian oppressor, but they won’t survive this battle without getting a little blood on their hands. Be on the lookout as Nami unleashes the power of thunder and lightning, Zoro tests his swords against a man made of steel, and Luffy goes underground to settle the score with Crocodile once and for all! Contains episodes 104-130.
Set up in both 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese, One Piece has a superb English audio in terms of needing to actually lower my standard settings so I could hear without ruining my ears. The Japanese track is also very good, where setting it to standard settings was almost as good as a standard 5.1 track. There were no issues with sound transition or any overlapping issues with missing audio or out of place dubbing or synching with the subtitles. Visually, the extremely colourful and unique style of One Piece follows well on a widescreen format, no picture issues with distortion (except with one point I noticed when I accidentally made it go faster and the animation did look like it wasn’t perfected on the release but on normal speed no issues) when pausing and no freezing or synching with the audio so a very quality release.
Each of the menus are the same but with a different character showcasing (on Disc 1 it is a beat up Luffy, on disc 2 it’s Crocodile, etc) on a brown Wanted Poster like background, the selections are vertical on the right hand side. The choices are Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras. Each is easily accessible both from the main menu and from the show itself if you need to revert to the main menu with little time delay. Very basic otherwise as the menus are static so pretty much the same as all previous releases.
The extras similar to the previous releases focus on several dub commentaries. The first one is of episode 114 featuring director Jason Grundy, Sonny Strait (voice of Usopp) and Wendy Powell (voice of Miss Merry Christmas) – it is a more comic commentary, talking about their favourite scenes, Jason reaffirming his love for Chopper, drinking game possibilities, how to make Usopp heroic, Wendy joking about being in character as Christmas to her boyfriend, and trying not to use character verbal tics in real life. Nothing that informative, just a lot of fun.
Second commentary is based on episode 119 with another director Scott Sega, Chris Sabat(Zolo) and Brett Weaver(Mr 1). Goes through all the fights, talk about the big cast and the interactions, Sabat about his roles, layers of One Piece (Zen aspect), how dark the episode is, going first or last in the booth, so it is more informative but at times they just enjoy watching it so a lot of fandom showcased here as well.
We also get the new textless opening and ending to round the extras up.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One Piece up to this point has been a good example of a shounen jump conversation, in the fact that it adapts from the manga quite well, and the filler portions haven’t been too bad to really detract enough from the series. And as we get to the end of this arc, it ends nigh on perfectly, varying all the characters in character development and battle sequences, and whilst the conclusion is in the end predictable, it takes a lot longer to get to this conclusion as Luffy doesn’t have an easy time at all, in fact it is a case of this idiot hero actually showing some battle intelligence to defeat Crocodile and I really liked how it got to that point.
One of the strengths of this arc is just how good the main villain is. Crocodile has basically manages to fool Alabasta into thinking he is the savior of the land, combined with his devil fruit powers allows him to turn anything into sand, turn himself into sand, absorb all moisture, etc – he actually is a legitimate threat to Luffy and the gang. Plus he is intelligent, he has countless backup plans to trick the public, causing civil war, to allow him to usurp – along with his other plan of getting an ancient weapon using his partner in crime Nico Robin to translate the ancient languages. Considering Luffy’s attack first, think later strategy with these battles until now, he is a different kettle of fish in terms of a main villain.
First of all, he managed to capture most of the Straw Hats and Vivi, along with Captain Smoker who was chasing them. Next, they send Baroque Works all over Alabasta, kidnapping the king and using Bon Clay’s powers to disguise as the king basically ‘admitting his crimes’ and to cause a mutiny. It’s all going in Crocodile’s favour expect for the fact that not all the Straw Hats are captured. A nice call back is made when Crocodile receives a call and it is from Mr Prince…who is in fact Sanji, referring to a call Crocodile made in the previous arc. He manages to lure Crocodile out to find him, and uses Chopper as a decoy whilst he goes inside the casino base to help save the crew who could be fed to some banana shaped crocodile beasts. Earlier on, an old enemy Mr 3 was eaten by one of the gators, so using the Wax-Wax powers manages to escape whilst also letting Smoker go, which gives some interesting repercussions later. However, the main issue is the first battle between Crocodile and Luffy…which really does not go well for Luffy as he cannot seem to hit him as he turns into sand whenever he throws an attack. He is quickly defeated and almost left to die sinking in the sand but is saved by an unusual source…
Meanwhile, the civil unrest is in full swing and Vivi cannot stop them on her own. The Straw Hats now begin to target the Baroques Works members (they work out who Bon Clay is using their signs they made previously) – so now we get to see all the other Straw Hats in action along with some new tricks. Usopp/Chopper take on Mr 4 and Miss Merry Christmas, which we see some good teamwork from the reindeer and coward to defeat them, but the ones after are more enjoyable – first we get Sanji vs. Mr 2 Bon Clay. Bon Clay is easily the most likeable of the Baroque Works member after he befriends the crew before, there is definitely something manic yet silly about him. Yet he is legit dangerous as his version of karate is more than a match for Sanji’s leg based martial arts. The two are pretty even until Clay uses Sanji’s weakness against him…the fact he transforms into Nami even her body which of course, completely distracts Sanji allowing a few cheap hits in there. Sanji actually has to work out the technique’s weakness to avoid being distracted which not only shows intelligence, but even some mild respect between the two as whilst Sanji does win, he was pretty beat up too and doesn’t kill him…which again, leads to interesting repercussions later…
One of the interesting ones though is Nami. Up until now, she has been the brains of the group but rarely battled and we see in a flashback that she confides in Usopp as the two ‘weak’ members of the group she wants to improve, and asks Usopp to make a weapon. So he makes her a staff called The Climate Baton, which at first, seems to be a party weapon with no real attacks as such so she struggles to survive against Miss Doublefinger, but then she works out how to combine the little weather tricks (bubbles, sparks, etc) into actual weapons of weather. She can make clouds, cause lightning, creator vapour to make illusions of herself, and in her attack that wins, creates a tornado. This allows a lot more possibility now to Nami in battle and not just as a navigator/thief, so am looking forward to see how she evolves.
Lastly, we have Zolo taking on Mr 1, whose body is basically a human steel blade, which Zolo at first doesn’t appear to cut. Zolo actually incorporates some Zen master trace, enabling all the energies and movement in anything, allowing him to cut anything, which leads to his win. Zolo has always been one of my favourites and I like the fact that he does have this samurai motif in this pirate age, makes him stand out as a character as well as a general badass.
However, the main end of the arc comes in three stages. 1) Vivi and the rest of the Strawhats trying to stop Crocodile’s plan. 2) Luffy trying to defeat Crocodile and 3) whether Vivi will join the Strawhats or remain as princess of Alabasta. Thanks to one movie in the previous fight, Luffy learns that Crocodile is weak against water, and is able to get some good hits on him this time, however Crocodile’s ability to absorb water eventually works and looks like Luffy is left for dead…fortunately Luffy actually drank a ton of water beforehand and able to expel it as he collapses so it lands on him after Crocodile leaves. As I said, Luffy is as dumb as a box of rocks, but in battle he actually shows some surprising awareness. In the meantime Smoker allows his partner Tashigi to do as she pleases, as he turns the other cheek on what the Straw Hats are doing because they saved his life. With Tashigi being defeated by Nico Robin, she lets the Straw Hats do what they have to do, and even orders her fellow Marines to aid them. Meanwhile, when Nico deciphers the tomb where Crocodile is looking for an ancient weapon, Nico basically says there is nothing here. Crocodile doesn’t believe her and nearly kills her but a recovered Luffy shows up. Knowing Crocodile’s tricks, Luffy showcases one of his own…Crocodile’s being weak to liquid, Luffy begins punching him…using his OWN BLOOD ON HIS HANDS. Got to hand it, that works.
The final battle does finally go Luffy’s way, as Vivi thanks to some heroic sacrifices and the work of the rest of the Straw Hats, managed to stop the mutiny and a bomb being set up, as the King reveals himself properly (and even Vivi’s old partner Igaram showing up to help explain) with a couple of nice loose ends (Smoker/Tashigi knowing the Straw Hats saved the day but the marines wanting to promote them despite them not doing the work, and Bon Clay also showcasing despite everything he genuinely likes the Straw Hats and actually helps out in a diversion to get them safe) – Vivi has to make a choice to join the Straw Hats or do her princess duties. I will say that the Straw Hats do gain a new member…but is it Vivi?
This arc is just fantastic. The way Luffy evolves around each battle, combined with how each of the Straw Hats also get their moment to shine and showcase how much stronger they are getting (Zolo now has a bounty and Luffy’s increases) – I also love the choices that a lot of characters have to make. Tashigi for example is a fairly minor character but because of her interaction with Smoker, she has to make a tough choice – go by the rules, or let the Straw Hats go knowing there is worse goings on. Smoker himself seems to have a respect for Luffy and vice versa so be interesting to see when/if they meet up again, same with Bon Clay as we don’t know what has happened to him after the Straw Hats escape, as his likeability was definitely high up so hopefully his friendship with the Straw Hats will resurface. Of course, the newest member of the crew we shall wait and see what happens but it adds a lot more intrigue…
It is rare that I rate a Shounen Jump series this highly, and so far this is the best arc of the main ones in any series I’ve seen. I am aware there is most likely going to be arcs where it will be weaker and even the dreaded filler arcs, but at least for here, One Piece is top notch. Seeing Luffy showcasing he does have some intelligence and how to beat Crocodile (and whilst the result is predictable, it does give you moments of doubt as Luffy has to face him three times) and that everyone has their moment to showcase their stuff, the interactions between the townspeople, the riots, Crocodile being an excellent manipulative villain with Nico Robin having a mysterious side to her as you don’t know what she is up to, combined with a great ending when Vivi and the Straw Hats make their respective decisions, it combines action, drama, comedy, and even a little tearjerker there as it concludes. Easily the best arc of One Piece so far and one of the best in the shounen Jump series in general.
One Piece concludes the Alabasta arc with a bang – using an intelligent villain vs. the dumb hero, the hero actually has to evolve and figure out how to beat him which is does, but it never is in an obvious way which makes it a tad less predictable than usual. The fact however each of the Straw Hats gets in the action, the very likeable marines in Smoker and Tashigi also get their moments, combined with some tough villains, and one very memorable and likeable one in Bon Clay, combined with a tense finale and a choice between Vivi and the pirates, it ends perfectly and sets up for whatever adventures the Straw Hats have in the future. Definitely recommended.
Content Grade: A-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment
Release Date: February 17th, 2014
Running Time: 610 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.