It's not as strong as the One Piece movie
that came out a few months earlier, but I didn't mind it. It's okay. It's amusing enough, although it's making no attempt at greatness.
What's surprising me is that the One Piece anime I've seen so far seems skewed a little younger than I'd have expected from the manga. However my samples are unrepresentative of the franchise. Both the manga and TV series are dominated by long story arcs, each ending in a life-or-death battle against a catchphrase-spouting villain with Devil Fruit superpowers. When it's really rocking, One Piece is capable of some rather impressive emotional and dramatic heights. In contrast, these movies and specials are one-offs. They don't matter. They're not even based on storylines from Eiichiro Oda's manga, but instead are original self-contained runarounds that don't affect anything.
In particular this TV special doesn't want to be world-shaking. It's like watching two back-to-back TV episodes, complete with advertising breaks. Criticising it for being lightweight is thus, perhaps, to miss the point. It is what it is. It's filler. There's more memorable storytelling to be found a-plenty elsewhere in One Piece, but this isn't the place to look for it.
However that said, I'm not judging the entire franchise here. What I watched today was this special.
The villains are surreal and mostly absent. More specifically there's one villain (Captain Joke), who gets murdered by his own crew right at the beginning and then spends the rest of the story coming back to unlife. Most of the time he's just a talking bat, but he's also an abandoned skeleton (with swords sticking through it) which is one by one growing back its limbs.
The murder is surprisingly graphic, but despite this it's all basically kiddie-friendly. There's no attempt to make the bat remind you of vampires, or to make the walking skeleton frightening. It's just silly pirate fun.
Instead we have weird monsters. The one attention-grabbing quality of this TV special is how surreal it's prepared to be. Luffy's ship gets sucked into a gigantic ocean sinkhole, as if someone pulled the plug out of God's bathtub, then at the end inflate some balloons and fly up out again. What's more, there's a town full of people down there. They're just ordinary air-breathing humans like you and me, living on some kind of dry land, yet they've been stuck down there for ten years. There's something 19th century and rather wonderful about this anime's disdain for scientific plausibility. It's like reading Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Furthermore, just to be even madder, this land is full of monsters that you can imagine as a cross between dinosaurs and seafood. There's a mutant octopus, a Godzilla prawn and a house-sized sea urchin that spends its days rolling around an Indiana Jones labyrinth.
Of course it wouldn't feel like One Piece if there wasn't some more heartfelt emotional content. This time that's fairly lightweight too. It's based around this show's favourite theme (friendship) and it involves a little boy whose mother died ten years ago fighting Captain Joke. It's not bad at all and it surprised me, but equally it's not getting that much story time.
So if there's not much story time for either guest characters or villains, who are we generally watching? Yup, that's right. The heroes.
This time there are five of them, although no Tony Tony Chopper yet. Luffy, Zoro, Nami and Usopp have now been joined by Sanji, who's the ship's cook and nearly as dangerous a fighter as Luffy and Zoro thanks to some silly-looking kicks. He never uses his hands in combat. Anyway, each of those three fighters gets to beat up a Godzilla-sized monster, although none of those combats are shown as getting desperate and no one ever seems to be in that much trouble during them. Mostly it's just everyone being goofy. Luffy's still funny and some kind of genius at being empty-headed. Sanji sleazes at women. Nami remains a bitch, although the episode does carefully give her two brief instants where she's seen to be human after all. Usopp doesn't really do anything except have comedically extreme reactions to danger, but Zoro's still cool.
To enjoy this special, you've got to be able to enjoy seeing these guys goofing around. At its worst, this can seem a bit kiddie-targeted. Personally though I like Luffy and Zoro, I'm neutral towards Usopp and I don't mind Sanji when he's not woman-chasing (which gets old quickly). Nami's important because she: (a) tends to drive most of the gang's scenes and (b) has nice breasts, although personally I find her an unpleasant character.
There's one eccentricity in the fansubs that slightly irritated me, incidentally. Every so often they'll leave a Japanese word untranslated, e.g. "yosh" or "nakama". I suspect the motives behind this are educational, since the words' meanings will be clear from context even if you don't speak Japanese, but I still found it a bit wanky.
Overall, inoffensive. It's in no way unmissable, but it's an eccentric and light-hearted piece of nonsense whose only crime is to be mostly aimed at a child audience. If I were watching the TV series, I'd certainly slot this in. Incidentally a decent place to put it might be between the Lougetown (episodes 48-53) and Warship Island (54-61) arcs, the latter being incidentally the anime's first non-manga storyline. Mind you, I did notice that it's similar in length to the first One Piece movie
, which had the advantage of fewer regulars but still managed to fit in more characterisation and stronger emotional content. Did I like it? Yes, I did. It's fun while not being without deeper storytelling, it has Verne-esque lunacy and above all it demonstrates that trusting Luffy with anything important is a terrible idea.