Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Great Age of Pirates

  Welcome back to the beach house! I stated in my introductory column that I was going to be reviewing weekly One Piece anime episodes (not the manga since the good people of the Unofficial One Piece Podcast have that covered rather well). And while I will be reviewing/talking about other things as well, I figured I should explain what exactly IS One Piece and why is it my anchor for this weekly blog. To say it's the most fun/dramatic/action-packed/emotional piece of animated entertainment is really underselling it; of all the animated (and live action) series I've ever seen, One Piece is easily on the top of the list (Lost would be its live action counterpart if I had to choose one).

"Johnny Depp ain't got sh*t on me."

"Wealth, fame, power. The man who had acquired everything in the world, the Pirate King, Gold Roger. The final words that were said at his execution sent the people to the seas.

Gold Roger: "My wealth and treasure? If you want it, I'll let you have it. Look for it, I left it all at that place!"

Men now, chasing their dreams, head towards the Grand Line. The world now enters a Great Age of Pirates!"

  This is literally the first thing you hear on the first episode of the series. I don't know about you... but I haven't really seen or read an intro as epic in scope since the Lord of the Rings movies (and that was easily the best introduction ANY fantasy movie could dream of attaining). That was easily the hook, but the question is "Does it deliver?" Eiichiro Oda's One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a 17-year-old boy who gains elastic abilities (think Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four) after inadvertently eating a mystical fruit, and his diverse crew of pirates, named the Straw Hats (I bet you're making some connections right now). Luffy explores the ocean in search of the world's ultimate treasure known as the One Piece and to become the next Pirate King. On his journey, Luffy battles a wide variety of villains and makes several friends. That last part is important, since the series main theme is that of Friendship (to the point where fandubs refuse to dub the word "nakama", which means comrade or friend; because they have given it an almost magical spin in the show).

Straw Hat Luffy, not to be confused with SHR.

 That show is essentially Dragon Ball (not DBZ, more on that later) with a better story, characters, art style (debatable by some), fights and drama. To illustrate, I recall feeling a bit sad in DBZ when (SPOILER ALERT) Krilling died and when Gohan went SSJ2 on Cell's ass. Keyword there was sad... much like Lost (DAMN those last 15 minutes of the finale), One Piece has a nice balance of action/adventure and emotional drama. Without getting into spoilers (the reviews will NOT be spoiler free... so feel free to leave before the spoiler tags at the end of the introductory part) I've literally CRIED, openly wept during One Piece at least 10 times. Granted, the series has over 400 episodes (and counting) under it's belt, but that's saying quite a bit for a show whose intended audience is 5-15 year old boys. Eiichiro Oda has said that Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball was his inspiration, and the somewhat goofy art style, epic battles, innocent yet brave main character and the scope alone are proof that he really loved DB(Z) growing up as much as we did. He just decided to add pirates and emotion to the mix, and what he's produced is easily, hands down, the best thing to come out of Japan in the 2000s.

It's like he's making love to us with his eyes...

  Let's get one thing out of the way... since I'm sure most of the U.S. audience is probably thinking the same thing.

"But SHR, last time I saw One Piece on TV is was a terribly dubbed kid's show with a silly blonde dude that always had a lollipop in his mouth and people threatened others lives with hammers."

"You got a problem with my nasally Brooklyn accent? S'how we talk in the Sea, chump!"

  This is the unfortunate side effect of dubbing companies trying to tailor a product from one thing to another. The dubbing company that picked up One Piece in it's initial U.S. market run was 4Kids... to say they completely changed the tone of the series is an understatement. I won't delve too deeply into the rape that was 4Kids "One Piece" but suffice it to say that they made the original intro into a rap song... and the original orchestrated music into random ghetto-Tiny Tunes musical chirps. Oh, and that lollipop was a cigarette and the "hammer" was a gun in the original version. If you REALLY want the real One Piece just head over to I guarantee you that both the sub and the current Funimation dub will change your perspective about the whole thing.

This begs the question: "Who uses a hammer to hold up a hostage?"

And if the art style is REALLY bugging you (as it did me), just remember one thing:

This used to be some REALLY swole art back in the day.

  And to cap off before I go into this week's review, the very few friends I still had watching Naruto and Bleach recently told me the art style was one of the main detractors, but felt the show had no depth (after 5 episodes), to which I told them what I am about to tell you. Watch it all the way until THIS episode... and then try stopping. Thanks for reading... and hopefully you give the show a shot, you won't regret it.

One Piece Episode 481
Title: ''Ace Freed! Whitebeard's Final Captain's Order!''

Chapters Covered: 572
Animation Director: Megumi Yamashita 

 Ace is free... RELEASE THE FANGIRLS~!!!

I jest I jest... seriously, the girls LOVE this guy, and I can't really say that I blame them. But at the same time, the HATRED Ace gets from the fanbase seems, wonky. Maybe I have to be overly cynical to actually SEE what they're talking about. It doesn't help matters that the events unfolding in the Whitebeard War Arc closely parallel the relationship between me and my brother... so there's that.The episode started with Ace and Luffy showing off and pretty much annihilating any marine that dare cross their path. Much to my delight Luffy even went as far as to use some Gear Second on the fodder when he CLEARLY had that sh*t on lockdown in regular mode. Oh and they have yet another Luffy and Ace flashback to further torment us with their childhood and the fact that this is all going to be VERY VERY sad.

Haters gon' hate.

  And of course what episode of One Piece --or any shonen based anime for that matter-- would be without the glorious reaction shots. Hancock fangasming, the Okama Candies doing their "O" faces and even the Okama King/Queen Emporio Ivankov crying (without his makeup running? fucking magic), the Marines, the Admirals and even Sengoku (who had the LOL moment of the evening when he stated "I couldn't stop this"-- nigga you were RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ACE this entire time.) Ahem, 'scuse me... Whitebeard ,from now on officially referred to as Papabeard of Big Daddy Beard; had THE reaction shot of the night though.

"The f*ck you mean this is Diet Pepsi?"
  So as Luffy and Ace wreck house as the Brothers of Destruction (tm), the "Blue Pheasant" Admiral Aokiji decides to summon an Ice Articuno and hurl some hurt towards Ace (go go Fire Phoenix?, missed opportunity there Toei), who casually brushes it off with his "St. Elmo's Fire" (lol). Reaction shots a plenty as everyone realizes that Fire evaporates Ice (elementary schools in the OPuniverse must be behind quite a bit). But that's not before Squardo decides it's time to hog some glory after having stabbed Papabeard a couple of episodes back (stupid malleable pirates).

"When Pokémon Attack"

   So Squardo gets on one of the Moby Dick ships (do I really have to be the one to make a joke about Papabeard having a bunch of Dicks? Cuz I really don't want to be th-... ohshi.) And navigates it through the bay and into the plaza, literally smashing through the cobblestone as it approaches at INSANE speeds and just as it's about to hit the Plaza... BAM!! Epic happens.

The gentleman HOLDING the ship would be Big Daddy Beard.

  Papabeard, in an effort to control the chaos spreading in the War (not to mention that Ace is now free) decides to stop Squardo and issue his final order (blunt foreshadowing?) as the Captain of the Whitebeard Pirates. To split away and leave the Marineford HQ, essentially to retreat since Ace is free (and that was the whole reason this entire war began). Lots of shockfaces and grown ass pirate men crying (since their "Dad" is essentially telling them to leave him alone to be fed to the Marines) but the orders are respected and the New World Pirates along with the Whitebeard Pirates' multiple Divisions begin their evacuation.

Papabeard uses his Gura Gura no Mii (Quake Powers) and gives his "Sons" the opening they need to begin getting the Hell out of town. The Three Admirals along with Sengoku begin the fated stare down with Papabeard as we're given the first flashback about the "World's Strongest Man" (that's not hyperbole... the dude is literally the strongest character shown in One Piece, and he's old AND sick), I'd hate to fight him in his Prime. And from what little we see, it seems that during his youth the old bastard had a chin that would shame Jay Leno, but most importantly, he was a pirate that didn't care for material treasures. Depth, in a shonen character? For shame Oda, for Shame.

"How are you alive?"
  The episode then ends with the now infamous (I'm sure this episode if going to be rewatched a LOT by one Piece fans due to the quotability factor) speech from Whitebeard: "I've been traveling a very long time. Let's get it over with! Navy!" End of an Era indeed, Papabeard. To say that the episode wasn't exciting is folly, not to mention the emotional weight of both Luffy and Ace's reunion (and fistcuffery) and the heroic actions of the main protagonist of this Arc; Whitebeard. Don't forget this IS ultimately the Luffy show... but Whitebeard's importance in the overall story and particularly in this Arc alone has cemented him from "mysterious side character/possible ally/villain" to glorified "Arc Protagonist." He's a character who will surely stand the test of time and whose very name should evoke an emotion or two from fans (and haters) alike.

You might Hate him.

You might Love him.

But at the end of the day... Whitebeard doesn't take sh*t from NOBODY.

All in all a SOLID episode with great pacing and a lot of memorable moments.

"We're calling this show White Piece now... any objections?"

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