I've quite liked Manga's release strategy for One Piece. So far they've largely eschewed single releases in favour of budget box sets, bringing the series to us in 24 episode chunks and the older films in sets of three. For the films in particular this is a real bonus as they have been something of a mixed bag so far, something that is also true of this final set featuring Movies 7, 8 and 9.
The films in this final set are a bit unusual as only the
first of them - One Piece Movie 7: The Mega Mecha Soldier of Karakuri Castle
- is an original story. The film sees the Straw Hats scavenging from a
wrecked ship and inadvertently picking up a strange old woman, who offers to
give them a golden crown if they'll return her to her home on Mecha Island.
Luffy agrees only to find that the crown is an island legend referred to in a
popular folk song, and moreover the islanders attempt to drive them off with a
succession of ingenious mechanised defences devised by the island's governor
Ratchet. Luffy is convinced the legend is true, and looks to unravel the
riddle of the song's lyrics to track it down, but he's not the only one
searching and the truth - if they can find it - maybe more unusual than they
could have possibly imagined.
One Piece Movie 7 is a strong start to the collection. Set somewhere between the Skypeia and Enis Lobby arcs of the series the film is a rip-roaring adventure with nods to both Indiana Jones and the Tomb Raider game series (Nami even wears an outfit very similar to Lara Croft's for a good portion of the film). Boasting decent animation and an imaginative storyline, this film is actually one of the stronger cinematic outings for the Straw Hat crew, and its visual aesthetic - blending steampunk industry with ancient temples and
hidden caverns - is somewhat unique in the One Piece franchise. There are plenty of nice touches of humour, such as Ratchet's glasses which boast little retractable windscreen wipers to stop them steaming up, and the new characters are actually pretty decent even if you don't get to learn a great deal about them. A lot of films based on long running franchises falter as they invariably have to introduce situations that are non-canonical or deadly foes that no-one ever speaks of again, and this film's greatest strength is that it doesn't do this. The storyline is strong, it's entertaining and it fits in to both the One Piece chronology and it doesn't 'jump the shark' in terms of the possibilities established by the franchise. It's an enjoyable film which would be worth buying as a standalone release.
The next film in the set, One Piece Movie 8: Episode of
Alabasta: The Pirates and the Princess of the Desert, is something
completely different. The film is effectively a truncated recap of the
Alabasta story arc from the series, focusing on the final battle to save the
titular desert kingdom from the nefarious schemes of the Baroque Works
organisation and its leader Crocodile, one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea.
The film sees Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji and Chopper arrive in Alabasta
with the kingdom's princess Vivi, who has been travelling with them in the hope
of returning home and saving her kingdom from civil war. A couple of years
earlier the country had become gripped by a devastating drought, but
suspiciously rain continued to fall on the capital. Many believed the King
was using a banned substance called Dance Powder to ensure the rain fell there
at the expense of the rest of the country, and several callous acts by the King
only increased the sense of unrest which eventually let to open rebellion.
Vivi, knowing her father to be innocent, discovered that a criminal organisation
called Baroque Works was manipulating events and proceeded to infiltrate them to
gather evidence, before running into and befriending the Straw Hats. Now
with her country on the verge of all-out war Vivi has returned to put a stop to
Baroque Works' scheme, but why would they try to start a war? The secret
no doubt lies with the deadly Crocodile, a powerful government-sanctioned
pirate, but can they find out the truth and stop the bloodshed or will the
country descend into chaos?
One Piece Movie 8 was released a few years back as a standalone film in America, and as such is the only one of the three films in this collection that has an English dub. Manga also initially planned to release it as a standalone title but appear to have changed their mind, which is probably for the best as it is easily the weakest film in this collection. Unlike any of the previous films One Piece Movie 8 is a straight retelling of a story from the series, and it well and truly bites off more than it can chew. The Alabasta arc was one of the series'
most ambitious storylines, with the main arc taking 30 episodes - around 14 hours - to tell, and that's after a setup that slowly built in the background over the course of the two preceding seasons. The film ignores the setup and tries to squeeze the main 30 episode Alabasta storyline into just 90 minutes, leavinga pretty incoherent mess that only makes sense if you have seen the series and can mentally fill in the (many) gaps. The film will jump without explanation from the Straw Hats speaking to an old man in a dried up oasis, to them riding across the desert on a giant crab. It makes little reference to how or why Vivi knows rebel leader Koza, cuts out huge swathes of storyline, several characters - such as Smoker, Tashigi and Mr 3 - don't turn up at all, and all of the Straw Hats battles against the Baroque Work Officer Agents are cut short leaving just brief sequences that show their conclusion. The only part of the story that survives largely intact is the inevitable final battle against Crocodile. If you have not seen or read the corresponding arc in the anime or manga then you have very little chance of making sense of this film, and if you have read or seen it then you'll be disappointed by how much is left out. It does look good, the animation is noticeably improved from the series, and it does effectively ramp up the tension and action towards the end, but it feels like a largely pointless exercise.
After the disappointment of Movie 8 my
expectations were somewhat lowered for the final film in the
collection - One Piece Movie 9: Episode of Chopper & The Miracle
Winter Cherry Blossom - especially after it became clear that it
was another one based on a series storyline. This time the
story arc in question was the Drum Island arc, which originally
preceded the Alabasta arc and saw the Straw Hats searching for a
doctor after Nami falls deathly ill. The film takes the same
premise and features pretty much the same story, but it is most
definitely a reimagining rather than a retelling. This time
round the action is moved to a later point in the One Piece
chronology, with the Straw Hats - including Nico Robin and Franky
and sailing on the Thousand Sunny - coming to Drum Island after Nami
falls ill. Desperate to find a doctor they learn that the
island's despotic former king Wapol abandoned it after a pirate
attack, taking all of the doctors with him. The only one
remaining is the eccentric Doctor Kureha, a 140 year old who has
taken to living in the king's old castle on the island's highest
peak. She's highly skilled but access to the peak has been
cut, she descends periodically by seemingly flying through the air
on a sled drawn by her mysterious hat-wearing reindeer Tony Tony
Chopper to heal the sick and injured, but with her currently in the
castle Luffy has only one option - climb the vertical peak to reach
her! His already arduous journey gets a whole lot more
complicated when Wapol returns to reclaim his throne. Wapol is
both cruel and powerful, he boasts Devil Fruit powers and a new
trump card in the form of his brother Musshuru, another powerful
fighter who harbours an even deadlier ability. Wapol plans to
use his brother's abilities to retake his castle and enslave the
populace, can Luffy get Nami to the doctor before he arrives?
And if so can Kureha help her?
If you are familiar with the anime and manga you will note that the plot of this film is not significantly changed from the corresponding arc. There are a few additional characters, notably Robin, Franky and Musshuru, and a few tweaks to events but the underlying story is the same as before. I was a bit worried that this would mean the film would suffer from the same faults as the last one, especially considering it shared the same writer, but thankfully that is not the case. The original Drum Island story arc was only 14 episodes
long and quite focused, taking place on one small island and featuring quite a small group of characters. It transitions well to the cinema, with the story cleverly adapted with new scenes and events to shorten some sequences without disrupting the flow of the film. The animation is improved and notably the character art and design has a distinctly different style to it which initially takes a bit of getting used to but ultimately gives a familiar franchise a fresh feel and helps the film establish its own identity. Musshuru's powers raise the stakes and Chopper's back story remains as moving as ever, whilst there are plenty of scenes of humour to go with the action and drama. The film is unusual as it makes no attempt to be canonical, merrily messing with the established chronology for the stake of its story. It's an alternative take on an existing story that works very well, plus it has the bonus of being pretty self contained, telling a coherent tale that you don't need a great deal of prior knowledge to enjoy.
Overall One Piece Movie Collection 3 suffers one below-par film for the sake of two very good ones. Yes, they are aimed at fans and make the most sense if you are familiar with the characters and their abilities, but apart from the internally incoherent and over-ambitious Movie 8 the other two hold up well even if you have only a passing knowledge of the franchise. The lack of an English dub on all but the weakest of the three films will put some off, and it is a shame that the two better films are sub only and all three lack 5.1 audio tracks, but (considering you will probably get the collection for less than SRP from most retailers) three films for under a tenner each is great value for money. Yes, some people may clamour for these to be on Blu-Ray but to be honest only Movie 9 would really benefit that much from HD, and yes, the lack of extras and audio options are a shame, but for the price this is a great release and one that fans should snap up asap.
As a budget set there are no extras on any of the discs, unless you count the English dub on the 8th film. There are after credit sequences on movies 7 & 8, whilst movie 9 ends with Chopper waving at you.