Ever get tired of anime that tries so hard to be deep and complex and want a return to some good, high-energy, manga inspired silliness? Well, this show might be just what you wanted. A huge and energetic adventure romp filled with over the top action and humor...and it's pretty well done.
The basic plot is not too complex. It's set in some fantasy world which is more concerned with expressing the whole `pirate era' ideal than strict realism. And amongst all pirates one legend dominates, the legend of `one piece'. The most fearsome pirate of all time, before his death, bragged that he had hidden the ultimate treasure somewhere on the main line. The main line being a line through the ocean used for navigation. As such it's not very specific, although the violence between the various pirates searching for it has made the entire area worth avoiding by sensible people.
And then into the story comes someone who's definitely not very sensible. A young boy, full of combat skills, exotic power and a complete lack of fear or restraint. The one thing he will divulge is that he plans to gather the toughest crew, get the finest ship (he starts in a barrel) and find the greatest treasure in the world...which is of course the one piece itself. It seems he has some hidden reason for doing so, but at least part of the reason is that he likes the challenge, the interesting situations and the rather exotic people he meets. And, naturally, we get to follow along for this grand adventure.
It's really energetic, overblown and awfully good fun. It's going to tell an epic adventure story full of action and humor and subtlety is not really that important. If you're expecting `serious' pirate stuff then keep moving, any sort of reality or historical accuracy is ignored in the interests of `superhuman' characters and exploits. It's got the full comic book mentality going.
And yet at the same time it has a bit more substance than you might expect. To begin with the characters, while a touch overblown, are actually quite cool and complex and the interaction can be good. The lead, Lufy, being a good example. On the one hand he's the most simplistic character in the world, so powerful he needs fear nothing and so ruled by his desires that he simply drifts from one action to another. Yet there'll be the moment of seriousness, or perception, to make you wonder what's really going on. It's also balanced in another way because his seeming lack of direction allows the other characters to express their own personalities...and some of those are likely to be fairly exotic.
It also has a relatively strong sense of story and design. The world is built like some demented vision of the pirate era that cannot be taken seriously. Yet there seems to be a consistent structure to it that becomes more clear as we are given more information and meet more people. Likewise the story, while happy to delve into some comedy or action, has a sense of forward progress. It always keeps you looking forward to how a story element will play our or what some `hints' will actually end up meaning. Although it is helped by a rather fast pace.
These things are not surprising. It seems to be the pattern when a manga is brought to the screen. The slower pace of manga creation allows more design and incidental detail work to be done. In the hands of a talented anime creator this gives a strong sense of solidity to the production. As well as allowing the best scenes of the manga to be represented in a more visually active form.
In a similar fashion it is clear that the manga, which was apparently very popular, has had a sizable influence on the design of the anime. The visual design is unusual and probably very much like the manga. Character design is kept simple, action is exaggerated and presented in a series of short `sequences', and the color is pretty basic. There's also lots of visual `symbols' for emotion which is very manga like. And, to be honest, it does take a little while to get used to the style and it's rarely beautiful. But it is effective and sufficient to tell the story. Indeed its fast and loose style well matches the general atmosphere of the series. The voices are strongly matched to the characters and fairly comic. I didn't particularly notice the ambient music used.
None of my regular sources have a review of this series yet. I expect this to change in the near future though.