This time in One Piece, we look at two seasons: Grand Line Inrush arc and Chopper on Winter Island arc.
The Grand Line Inrush arc takes Luffy and his crew along the Grand Line, a volatile band of water that divides the oceans and where the laws of nature take a vacation. One could be on a desert island in the morning only to hit a land of perpetual rain by evening. Monsters are a common sight in these parts. After a brief encounter with a lonely giant whale, Luffy arrives at an island of bounty hunters that want that sweet, sweet mullah on his head. This is a mere pit stop in the story to introduce us to Princess Vivi of Alabasta. She employs the talents of the Straw Hats to transport her to safety back to her country, where a rebellion threatens.
Matters become more interesting on the next island. Two giants have been stuck in a duel for 100 years, evenly matched for eternity. The giants turn out to be rather friendly. However, a dastardly organisation called Baroque Works – responsible for the troubles in Alabasta – has plans for the giants and their new friends. Agent “Mr 3” wants to turn everyone into a giant wax wedding cake. Our heroes are to remain as cake toppers for all time!
What an unusual power. Similar to Gaara’s sand tomb, it’s a terrifying ability to imagine as it would suffocate you to death. One Piece, of course, tempers it with humour. These quirky villains are a riot. The guy literally has his hair styled into a 3 with the end lit like a candle!
The story gets a little more serious in the Chopper on Winter Island arc, where the team need to find a witch to cure Nami’s illness. The island, as the arc title would indicate, is in perpetual winter. And what is synonymous with winter? Reindeer. The witch’s small reindeer assistant is Chopper. Of all the character backstories so far, I like his the most. He was assistant to a crazy doctor reminiscent of a good Rick from Rick & Morty until his death, wish unfulfilled. It’s a touching story of regret, powerlessness, and ambition. He becomes the Straw Hats’ doctor after they help him fulfil his old teacher’s dying wish. This cute reindeer is the show’s mascot. Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry. I want to see more of him, though I hope he isn’t relegated to mere comedy relief.
One Piece’s adventurous feel continues to be its greatest asset, aided by a good pace on a micro level wherein no story lasts too long. However, we still seem to be in the introduction stage. On a macro level, these 92 episodes haven’t gone far in the grand scheme and I wonder how long it will take a real plot to develop.
There isn’t much more to say about these seasons. They continue in much the same vein as what came before. See you in the next season.
Quality so far – Medium (still)
Current Thoughts: I like the addition of Hulk the Reindeer to the team. It is also great to see the continued feel of adventure with the locations and cultures. Two giants stuck in an eternal battle – why not? An island covered in snow in the middle of the ocean? Let’s do it.
Never has the saying “better late than never” been more applicable to my anime viewing timeline. At over 900 episodes as of this writing, One Piece has reached proportions that seem impossible to tackle (read all about my recurring nightmare here, in One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog). However, I shall take this one episode at a time and finally conquer the seas! (Or until I no longer find it entertaining. Whichever comes first.)
For those of you marooned on an island in the South Pacific since 1999, One Piece follows the adventures of Luffy, a boy with ambitions of becoming king of the pirates and who has the power to stretch his body like Mr Fantastic. First, he needs a crew if he means to survive all that the ocean and other pirates have to throw at him. Much of this first season is travelling to various locations, where he meets and recruits crewmates. Among them, we have Zoro the three-sword pirate, Sanji the chef, Nami the cartographer, and Usopp the best pirate to have ever lived.
I had tried One Piece many years ago – a few times, in fact, but had given up within an episode or two. Revisiting it now hasn’t changed my mind on those opening few. They give a terrible first impression. What is with the shouting? Of the approximately 190 lines of dialogue in the first episodes, over 100 are shouted – that doesn’t even include the action/reaction yells and one-word screams. Some pink-haired kid yells just about every line he has! Yelling for dialogue is a trait of cartoons for little kids, as it holds their attention better. This coupled with Luffy’s laissez-faire attitude to the most dangerous situations (more on him later) makes One Piece feels so bloody juvenile. Is this for five-year-olds? Thankfully, this only holds true for the first few episodes. Once they reach the Usopp recruitment story (starts episode nine), the tone jumps up two age demographics.
I think back to the start of Naruto, which also had a weak few episodes. Who can forget the second episode where Naruto hangs out with that brat Konohamaru? However, Naruto was clever enough to include the scene when a teacher betrays him and shows him how life isn’t friendly or fair. This is a promise from the author that despite the juvenile tone of the early episodes, this isn’t a “happy go lucky” anime. One Piece needed that moment.
It’s obvious One Piece isn’t for small children with all the guns, alcohol, and smoking, which leads me into an aside about the original 4Kids dub, having gone down in infamy. I watched the new Funimation dub, which is unedited and matches the original Japanese, but I also looked into the 4Kids atrocity that removed blood, replaced all the guns with…something, swapped Sanji’s cigarette for a lollipop, skipped entire episodes, and cut the alcohol, amongst many other changes. This was their most censored import. Why bother bringing it over at all if they’re going to change everything, you ask? As I’ve discovered, the decision makers at 4Kids did not watch One Piece before acquiring the licence. It was a package deal with other anime, likely for a younger audience than One Piece. So when it came time to dub it, they realised it didn’t fit their target demographic and thus began the massacre. Funimation, thankfully, took over the project years later and undid all of the changes to release it remastered in HD.
This HD re-release was a fantastic idea. When I thought back to One Piece’s art style before this viewing, all I could remember was those giant mouths. I still hate them of course (they add to the screaming as well). However, outside of this pet peeve, One Piece’s art holds up well because of the textured environments and the character designs. Imagine if it had gone for the standard style of the day with those flat colours, two-tone shading/lighting, and shallow backgrounds. It wouldn’t have aged well at all! As for the character designs, I find some great examples here. I love the fish people from the octopus guy to the sawfish captain. The fat pirate queen in episode one and her look later in the season (plus her perfect skin power) has me laughing. Best design award has to go to Captain Smoker, a marine in pursuit of Luffy who smokes not one but two cigars at all times and has belts of cigars strapped across his massive biceps and chest. Bloody hilarious! More than having good individual designs, there is strong cohesion for such a large cast.
By contrast, I find audio to be One Piece’s weakest department. The original Japanese performances are a mixed bag, as is often the case in battle shounen, while the dub is quite good (the new one). The lack of great music so far most surprises me. I think back to how many iconic tracks Naruto already had by this point, though that is probably a genre exception. For many battle anime, the OPs are all people remember, sometimes just the songs created by the dub studio such as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.
As for story, I am mixed so far. It is better than my past impressions had led me to believe, there is no doubt here. This is very much a romanticised view of pirates and is rather tame, despite all of the “not safe 4Kids” content. Almost all story arcs so far have been about recruiting someone to Luffy’s crew and/or giving us their backstory. We have Zoro the edgelord with a sword in his mouth (I don’t like this design) who kept losing to a girl, Nami and the death of her mother at the hands of the fishmen she works for, Usopp the greatest pirate to have sailed the four seas and his tissue of lies, and so on. These are fine stories, some better (Nami) than others (Zoro). However, when I think of what Naruto and Bleach have accomplished by the 60-episode mark, they far outshine One Piece. Naruto has completed the Zabuza arc and is mid-chunin exam, while Bleach is at the climax of the Soul Society Arc. That said, anyone who has seen Bleach would tell you that one good arc doesn’t make for a great anime. One Piece has plenty more to show off, so I hope it delivers something great.
I don’t mean to say an anime such as this needs to turn dark right away as Naruto did. What I want is depth. Even if it’s just a few promises of what is to come. The biggest disappointment has to be Luffy. Battle protagonists are rarely the most interesting of the cast since they have little flexibility in demographic marketing, yet even by those standards, Luffy is a thumbs down from me at the moment. I hate how he doesn’t care about anything or how he laughs at every predicament. In a more serious setting, they would all be dead because of him. Not to keep drawing comparisons to Naruto, but when the orange ninja laughs and brushes off dangerous situations, there are consequences. Most of all, I hate how half of Luffy’s dialogue is yelling about how he’s going to be “king of the pirates”. We get it!
The action is quite good. Standard shounen content on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Bleach or the strategy of Naruto or the brisk pacing in Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it doesn’t have any glaring problems either. One Piece hasn’t had the action drag for ages (Bleach, Naruto) or power reset (Bleach) or repeated some trope to death (there is always a bigger fish in Yu Yu Hakusho). I will want something more soon though or I’ll stop paying attention when a fight starts.
To end on a positive, I want to discuss One Piece’s greatest promise for the future of the series – the world. There is such variety and limitless possibilities for a world where you can sail to a new island, meet a new culture, a new species of person. It reminds me of a simpler classic Star Trek (one of my favourite franchises) and that is always a plus. I love the restaurant ship that roams the seas to feed one and all in a scrumptious experience. There are rules (“more what you’d call guidelines”) that vary by location. One gets a strong sense of character and personality at each destination. When the crew gets on that ship and hits the open blue, I want to see what island they will discover next. One Piece delivers a true feeling of adventure.
Quality so far – Medium
Current thoughts: The early episodes don’t give a good first impression, but once the longer story begins, One Piece stretches it’s creativity to give a good opening season with promises of so much more adventure. Luffy needs to grow up and do something. See you in the next season.
For a man who loves the weather as much as Makoto Shinkai does, it was inevitable that he would release a movie about weather itself. After missing the opportunity to see this in theatres, I finally have access to the blu-ray of Weathering With You. Was it worth the anticipation?
Look, I love Shinkai’s visual style so much that even with a mediocre story it would still be worth the wait. He builds such atmosphere, such ambiance in his films that I simply like being in them. However, having a great story as well never hurts.
Weathering With You opens with a teenaged boy called Hodaka on his way to Tokyo. He’s on the run to what he assumes will be a better life. Little does he know that Tokyo has few favours in store for him, gives no pity. Someone takes advantage of him before he even arrives! Then there’s the rain. An eternal torrent of rain has settled over Tokyo and it shows no signs of abating.
Wandering the streets and starving after some horrendous financial planning (why go to McDonalds when low on funds? If you can’t cook, at least choose the convenience store), he finds a job at a small publishing house, where he becomes the jack-of-all-trades. Assistant, note taker, cleaner, cook, shopper, and writer, he does it all. It’s rough, but the people are nice. Things are looking up! All of this changes – for better and worse – when he meets Hina, a desperate girl about to make a horrible career decision with some shady dudes and he yanks her out of there. Somehow, she has the ability to “pray” the rain away and bring out the sun. Hodaka and Hina have the idea to sell her services as the “Sunshine Girl” for your event, where it’s a market, a wedding, or meteor shower viewing party.
One will immediately feel similarities to Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, when watching Weathering With You – and will appeal to the same fans. No works of his have been more similar than these two films. However, Weathering With You is much simpler in premise and execution. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Wait, when he was doing this, she was doing that, yeah? And this lines up with that other thing?” It’s much more straightforward and refined here. The concept of Weathering With You is not as initially gripping as Your Name was. It doesn’t summarise itself in that one neat sentence that can sell the idea without further explanation.
As such, Weathering With You does not grab me from the outset – storywise, of course; visually, amazing from the first frame. It isn’t until the first downward turn in Hodaka and Hina’s relationship when we realise there is a cost to her power that I get that, “Yes, now I’m really in,” feeling. Once the story hits that point, I love every moment of the tumultuous ride we go on as they struggle with her destiny and the past catches up with them. What, you thought being a runway kid with a gun wouldn’t have consequences? And what of her, an underage girl with a small brother in her care?
Most of Shinkai’s protagonists have this element of deep-seated sadness that drives so much of what they do. The characteristic has recurred so often, that I wonder what Shinkai experienced himself to compel him to write such protagonists. All characters in Weathering With You are believable and relatable on some level, from the publisher trying to visit his daughter against the objections of his ex-mother in law to Hina’s surprisingly mature little brother in affairs of the heart (my favourite character).
This is a delightful film.
If you were to ask for some negatives though, apart from that slightly weaker start, I wouldn’t have much to say. It is noticeable that the subplot of his job at the publisher stops about halfway, its purpose being to discover the cost of Hina’s power. There should have been a little something to keep it going, though thankfully the two characters from his job are always relevant. The lyrical music can be a bit much at times as well. There are a few little things here and there, but nothing is a big enough problem to detract from the overall experience.
Some people may take issue with the magic element of Hina’s power, but I don’t see it as a problem. Not everything needs encyclopaedic explanation. It all depends on how prevalent the magic is. The main reason we have explanations for magic systems is to avoid things like deus ex machina or general confusion. A writer needs to strike that balance of explaining enough to sell the audience on the premise without drowning them in exposition. Weathering With You gets it just right.
Art – Very High
You have never seen animated weather look as good as this. The other elements are great too. The only visual flaws are a few CG assets – wouldn’t have been much more work to do them normally, so they must have been pressed for time, but these are minor problems.
Sound – High
The soundtrack is beautiful, though a little overpowering at times with some lyrical tracks, as if there were product placement requirements in place that mandated a minimum runtime and volume to make sure the audience picks it up. Acting is good.
Story – Very High
A runaway teen meets a “Sunshine Girl” amid a dark and rainy Tokyo. Though it has a slow start, Weathering With You soon ramps up to become a dramatic journey of love, sacrifice, and eternal rain.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Watch it. Weathering With You is perfect for Shinkai fans and will even appeal to non-anime fans with its simple premise into great execution.
There are many classic battle anime from the hand drawn age, few of them any good. I thought I would look at one – just one – in full to get a feel for the classic era outside of Dragon Ball Z. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files comes the highest recommended so let’s go with that. And at a mere 112 episodes, it can’t be that hard to suffer through if the worst comes to the worst.
However, to my delight, one of Yu Yu Hakusho’s strengths is a good pace. You don’t feel its length across the four arcs as no fight drags beyond a few episodes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Yu Yu Hakusho is about a 14-year-old delinquent who dies one day saving a boy from being hit by a car, which goes against his nature. The kid baby in charge of spirit realm admin gives Yusuke a chance at revival if he can complete several tasks to prove himself as a Spirit Detective. Under the guidance of Shinigami Botan, he races against the clock to keep his spirit alive and his dead body intact. The story starts off, as most shounen do, with a series of smaller stories before it dives into longer arcs with bigger action.
Something I immediately like about Yu Yu Hakusho are these smaller stories. It avoids the tedious “monster of the week” structure found in the likes of Bleach, instead foregoing action in favour of a character focus. Early episodes are about Yusuke’s soon-to-be friendship with Kuwabara, another delinquent always hungering for a fight, who can’t handle that his rival is dead. He’s my favourite character, voiced brilliantly in the dub by Christopher Sabat (you wouldn’t know he voices Vegeta when you hear him here). Great dub, by the way. Kuwabara is such a meathead but you love him more for it.
These early episodes are the best of the show, for me. Perhaps I have seen too much shounen action – this action is good, mind you, and we’ll get there – but I like the character and humour focus of the first season, where Yusuke goes on mini capers taking care of incidents around town. The demon world is also a rather unimaginative setting (think a wasteland like any other). As such, later seasons aren’t as engaging. I suspect, however, I am in the minority for this opinion.
Yusuke also enlists the help of, begrudgingly at first, two demons when it comes to fighting the stronger denizens of the other realm. Kurama the fox spirit and manipulator of plants acts as the brains of the operation, while Hiei the fire demon born to a tribe of ice demons brings pint sized firepower. Get used to the idea of enemies becoming friends, for this writer loves the trope. As a set, the team make for a good balance of characters that don’t feel like usual archetype slots of a shounen cast.
Now to the action. Yu Yu Hakusho defies expectations of shounen action. Fights don’t last a dozen episodes – most are over in one. It knows when a fight is insignificant in the grand scheme and doesn’t drag it out. If this were Bleach or DBZ, every minor squabble would take 10 episodes at least. Here, the fight lasts long enough to have meaning and for the combatants to entertain, but then it moves on. It also mixes things up in who wins or loses. Only major fights take a few episodes, usually as the big finale for the season, and there aren’t many of these. Yes, one could tighten a few encounters, though not a major issue.
Villain designs, while dated, are entertaining at times. This anime has the most hilarious muscled villains. Muscles on top of muscles. It’s like a parody – “Oh yeah, you reckon going Super Saiyan was ridiculous? Check this out!” Straight out of botched surgeries.
Furthermore, Yu Yu Hakusho skips over training arcs. It shows a little to give the audience an idea of what Yusuke’s up to before the narrator says, “In this way, two months of training passed.” More anime should do this. The one notable training arc it doesn’t skip over in a later season has other threads woven through to avoid hitting a dead stop (rasengan training in Naruto still haunts me).
There has been a fair amount of praise from me so far, so let me temper this with criticisms, all of which revolve around the action. I despise the trope of enemies explaining how their ability work to the hero for the sake of the audience. This makes them stupid and I hate stupid. One opponent even tells of his technique before the fight. You can perhaps get away with a single enemy cocky enough to do this, not the majority, as seen here. Then we have the constant commentary from the sidelines that the hero can’t possibly win…right before they win. Lastly, it also overuses the trope of:
“You may have beaten my teammate, but he was weaker than me.”
“You may have beaten those two, but I am stronger.”
“I may be the last of my team, but the other guys were nothing compared to me.”
This happens with just about every enemy team, particularly in season 2, which is a tournament arc. These tropes are fine in moderation. Yu Yu Hakusho likes to wolf them down like a kid at the desert buffet going back for fifths. This repetition hurts the series the most and contributes to times when the pace feels off. And once you notice the pattern emerge, what’s to stop you from skipping a few episodes when you’ve seen this already?
Even so, Yu Yu Hakusho is an overall success. This isn’t the battle shounen to change your mind on the genre. It’s still for that core demographic. However, if you are part of that core and are tired of modern series going on forever, look no further than Yu Yu Hakusho with its complete story at a mere 112 episodes.
Art – Medium
The art is a mixed bag. We have moments of great animation (usually the battles) and some quality backgrounds. We also have sliding animation, bland backgrounds, and streaks. Done by hand with texture is a plus.
Sound – High
With a surprisingly good dub for such an old anime, you can go with either track here. The opening song, which stays throughout the series, doesn’t seem to fit a battle anime, but it grows on you.
Story – High
A delinquent and his unlikely allies have to deal with all manner of supernatural entities on the streets and in the arena. Fun characters, good pacing, and solid action make Yu Yu Hakusho a ride to the finish.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For classic shounen fans. Yu Yu Hakusho won’t convince those averse to battle anime to change their minds, but it is a good classic of the genre and doesn’t drag for 100s of episodes.
Of the shoujo story types, I tend to like the “ordinary girl draws the attention of an important guy (or the reverse)” type the most, especially in a fantasy setting. I like how it gives a clear coupling to the romance. I never hide my dislike for harems (inc. reverse harems) due to the lack of direction in relationship developments – doesn’t help that the characters are often atrocious. By giving me an indication of where the story intends to go, I don’t feel like I am wasting my time before things even begin. The fantasy setting is an added bonus, as it requires more effort in world building.
Snow White with the Red Hair follows a young herbalist in training called Shirayuki with shockingly red hair that draws much attention, including the unwanted infatuation of her nation’s prince. She only manages to escape life as a concubine when Prince Zen of the neighbouring country of Clarines comes to her rescue. Her new ally also opens the opportunity to become a palace herbalist. Passing the exam – and curing the prince from a poisoned apple – sets her on a path to success she could only dream of in her sheltered life.
Seeing this premise of a girl with [insert profession here] meeting [insert rich handsome guy here], I assumed her skill with herbs would be irrelevant. This is a common failing of shoujo anime and rom-com films. How often is the protagonist a journalist/architect/ad executive/author/etc. and it never plays a part in the story? You know it’s only there because it would be weird if she didn’t have a job. I assumed the same of Shirayuki. When a scoundrel kidnaps her, the expectation is that someone rescues her or she lucks her way out. To my surprise, however, she uses her knowledge to burn the right herbs together for a paralysing effect on her attacker. Alright! That’s what I want to see. She still needs some help in the end, but she did something and used her brain. I like an active protagonist with intelligence. Shirayuki endeared herself to me with that single action.
Further on, her studies and career as a herbalist continue to hold relevance throughout the story. We see her studying new mixtures, experimenting with ideas, researching plants, and taking exams. Probably my favourite element of the story. It adds depth to the world and makes her environment lived in.
The romance with Prince Zen is typical shoujo fare and works, for the most part. You do have to suspend your disbelief that a prince of the realm can have a public relationship with a commoner against little opposition, but that’s the way of the genre. They do make for a good couple and complement each other’s qualities.
Where Snow White with the Red Hair fails is in the UTTER LACK OF DWARVES! WHERE ARE THE DWARVES?! I kid, I kid. No, the problems are in the lack of escalation. Conflict starts well with Shirayuki’s sudden move to a new country, a new life, and while we do have some political, physical, and romantic conflicts afterwards, none of them hit a high-tension point. For instance, one romantic conflict arises when Zen has to “interview” a prospective wife for a royal marriage. Shirayuki isn’t bothered by this, and why would she be when nothing comes of it. When you have a cross-class romance, there should be a question of “Will they end up together despite the difference in status?”
The big finale of the series sees Shirayuki kidnapped by pirates. This is disappointing on three counts. First, it’s another kidnapping. Second, the pirate queen is a flat character unworthy of a finale. Third, this conflict doesn’t relate to the core themes of the story or offer any resonance (repeated kidnappings don’t count as resonance). It feels like a side story on the way to the next step of the main story. There is no intensity.
These failings ultimately leave me a little disappointed in how Snow White with the Red Hair turns out. I love the world, find the characters endearing, and had a great time in the first half, but when the “big” romantic, political, and physical conflicts flop like a dead fish on the cutting board, it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm. I think continuing with the manga is in order – another season is unlikely after four years.
Art – High
A great thing about the shoujo market is a higher demand for good-looking art compared to the shounen market. If Snow White with the Red Hair was an isekai for the shounen demographic, it wouldn’t have these beautiful colours and attention to palette.
Sound – High
The acting is good and the music is nice, suited to a fantasy shoujo. Not much to say here.
Story – Medium
A herbalist in training finds the opportunity of lifetime (and a beau to match) when she catches the eye of a prince. This typical shoujo fantasy has all the right ingredients to satisfy the core, though it could do with turning the drama up a level or two.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For shoujo fans. Snow White with the Red Hair won’t be dramatic enough for general fantasy fans, but those looking for something fun with that light-hearted shoujo romance will enjoy this anime.