It was at the height of the Water 7 Saga following the Skypiea antics, some 300 episodes into Monkey D. Luffy’s quest to become King of the Pirates, that the loveable One Piece shifted into a darker, more introspective vein. It was a tone that would come to typify the series in amongst its idiosyncratic weirdness, kooky humour and charming cast of characters. The best of both are showcased throughout Collection 13, with some of biggest revelations and shake-ups to the crew up until that point.
It picks up amidst the Enies Lobby arc, with the scattered Straw Hats laying siege to the titular government stronghold that houses the secret organisation CP9. Their aim is to rescue archaeologist Nico Robin, ever the most enigmatic of Luffy’s ragtag crew. The early episodes of the collection see Nico at her most emotionally raw; beaten, weak and stripped of all mystery. Seeing her tremble with the fear of death, biting the side of a stone bridge rather than being dragged off is rightfully gruelling. But Nico comes out of it stronger than before, her character never compromised. The island of Enies Lobby is the strongest link in the chain to Nico’s past, and with the island beset by cannon fire, it’s a burden she’s forced to confront again.
Friendship, as is always the case in these long-running shonen properties, is what binds the characters together, and strengthened in the face of adversity. Nico learns as we do the strength of the Straw Hats’ resolve, and the lengths they’re willing to go to for one of their own. This is just as true for the Going Merry. At the start of the Water 7 Saga, the Straw Hats are on the search for a shipwright, but discover that their beloved vessel has reached the end of her voyage. But she has one more journey left, before being laid to rest in one of the biggest tear-jerkers One Piece has to offer. We all know it’s coming, especially almost a decade on, but to say much more would take away from the emotional wallop.
This is just one heart-wrenching moment in a collection-full of them. We finally see Franky, the dandy cyborg and shipbuilder extraordinaire, join Luffy’s crew, and his departure, spread across multiple episodes, is filled as equally with laughs as tears – a formula that has served One Piece well for all these years. Then there’s the estranged Usopp burying the hatchet, and revelations about Luffy’s family. It really is a cross section of just what the series excels at, proving as good a jumping on point for newcomers as any other.
Having recently started One Piece from the first episode, watching this collection alongside it highlights just how immune to the passage of time Toei Animation’s visuals are. Given the hyper-stylised characters and storybook backdrops of Eiichiro Oda’s original manga, the anime adaptation was always going to stand apart from its contemporaries. Of course, there’s been a clear development from the first handful of episodes to a few hundred in, but there is a visual continuity, just one that’s gone through a refinement process. The orchestral score is also increasingly adept at accentuating the action or emotional scenes. There’s still the odd bit of 80s soap opera synthesizer in the mix, but then that’s just part of the enduring appeal of One Piece, isn’t it?
English dub; cast interviews; episode commentaries; clean opening/closing animation.