These latest volumes of One Piece largely continue the ongoing Water 7 arc. The first collection (including Episodes 276-299) is more of a mixed bag though, with episodes that advance the story mixed in with a good deal of filler material. It starts off well though, with the continuing of a multi-episode flashback to Robin's childhood that reveals more of her back-story. Out of all the crew members, Robin's story might well be the most interesting, so an opportunity to shine more light on it is most welcome. One Piece loves to give characters more tragic background than an average TV talent-show contestant, so Robin's story is full of expertly handled emotional moments.
Things swerve off course for a while afterwards however. There follows a run of 'clip-show' style episodes, that mainly comprise of reused footage from earlier in the series, showing how the team came together. These don't run for a normal episode length however, so we also get a series of comedic shorts 'Straw Hat Theatre' featuring the antics of squashed down super-deformed versions of the cast. For some unknown reason in one edition they are all recast as middle-aged women .
Later in the volume there are a pair of special New Year episodes, which featured all the characters recast in a Feudal Japan setting (with Luffy a samurai policeman, Zorro a Monk, and so on). Filler is something of a necessary evil in these long-running manga-based shows (they prevent the anime catching up with the source material). However, One Piece has always handled it in a better way than some of its Shonen Jump stablemates (*cough* Bleach *cough*). This volume features a rare misstep, deploying filler in a way that is more likely to aggravate fans. It might be more tolerable if you're watching on TV or streaming, but it galls slightly when you have to shell out for the episodes on disc. Once the filler is out of the way though, it powers ahead into the confrontation with CP9, providing some of the most spectacular action set-pieces the show has seen yet.
It continues full steam ahead into the second collection (Episodes 300-324), which continues the battle to provide possibly the most impact set of episodes we've seen since the Alabasta arc.
One thing that One Piece does brilliantly is convey a real sense of scale. The Ennies Lobby location is convincingly massive, and the towering Gates Of Justice even more so. Even though there is never really any doubt our heroes will be OK, this does at least lend a convincing sense of peril to occasions and make it seem like the threat they are facing is genuinely epic.
The show's biggest weakness is probably the animation itself, where the pressures of producing these shows week in week out on a tight budget begins to show. The quality is up and down like a fiddler's elbow, occasionally featuring off-model characters and wonky animation. It's a testament to the show itself (and the design genius of original manga artist Eiichiro Oda) that this never hurts the series, as you'll likely be too caught up in the fun to care.
The second collection brings the Ennies Lobby storyline to its climax in a satisfying and exciting way. What follows that is no mere filler, as the remaining episodes in the volume also feature some important stuff. There's an emotional farewell to an old friend, a reunion with a long-lost one and some revelations about Luffy's family. There's also some good work setting up future plotlines, that will leave you excited for what is in store. After the major events of the rest of the arc, it's good that the show takes time for more character-based stuff- which has always been one of the strengths of the series. All in all, it's quite a package.
Although collection 12 is taken down a notch by the over-reliance on filler, its still a must see for fans for the most part. With the filler dealt with, Collection 13 on the other hand is able to power forward into some of the most impactful scenes in the series thus far. More than 300 episodes in, One Piece is as entertaining as ever.
ONE PIECE COLLECTION 12 and ONE PIECE COLLECTION 13 are available on DVD from MANGA ENTERTAINMENT in the UK and FUNIMATION in the US. The series is also available streaming via Crunchyroll, Hulu (US Only) and Funimation (US only)