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One Piece: Collection 18

Separated from the rest of his crew, Monkey D Luffy learned that his brother Ace was due to be executed by the World Government. With the help of his new friend Boa Hancock he breaks into the legendary high-security underwater prison Impel Down, with the aim of saving his big bro from the hangman's noose.

The DVD release One Piece Collection 18 contains the episodes 422-445, which originally aired between October 2009 and April 2010.

It's pretty impressive that after well over 400 episodes, One Piece continues to tell such a wide variety of stories without just repeating itself. So after surviving the challenges of the women-only island of Amazon Lilly, Luffy finds himself entering an environment that (aside from visitors and the odd staff member) appears to be inhabited only by men.

It's a prison break One Piece style, and that means that there's quite a few twists on the classic formula- not least that Luffy is actually trying to break in. Impel Down is quite the location, too an imposing structure where each successive floor brings a whole new set of challenges.

Luffy must fight his way to descend from floor to floor to reach Ace, kind of like an inverse version of classic Bruce Lee flick Game Of Death. Along the way he has to contend not only with the guards, but also with the prisoners- and Impel Down is apparently reserved for only the most dangerous criminals and pirates.

That includes a number of characters that Luffy has fought before. This leads him first into an unlikely alliance with Buggy The Clown and former Baroque Works employee Mister Three,  and then with Bon Clay, the ballerina with the ability to mimic the form of others.

Villains turned heroes and enemies turned friends is a well-worn shonen trope, and one that One Piece does well. The friendship that develops between Luffy and Clay in this volume is genuinely surprising and unexpectedly enjoyable.  At first, Clay seems like little more than a questionable stereotype, but he goes far beyond that to become a sympathetic character in his own right- and potentially the most bad-ass ballerina ever seen on screen.

As well as returning characters, there's a whole load of new faces that come with the new stories, including a number of new Devil-Fruit users. The most memorable of these has to be Iva, the self-described "queen of queens" whose dress-sense seems to be modelled on Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He has the ability to transform himself or others into the opposite gender at will.

Even by One Piece standards, this particular arc gets pretty ridiculous. However, despite the hints that some major events are on their way, this whole mission can't help but feel like something of a distraction or side-quest.  It seems like a story that would make for a decent movie, or even the set up of a video game spin-off.

The volume is also broken up with an unrelated 4 episode arc (out of continuity) that ties in with the Strong World film (available as a standalone release on Blu-ray and DVD). These episodes are pure filler but will at least give fans a chance to see the crew back together again for a few episodes, and offer a change of pace.

Overall, Collection 18 has more than enough to keep most fans happy. This series is never less than entertaining-  largely thanks to its ever-expanding colourful cast of characters and this volume is no exception. And while this may not be One Piece's strongest set of episodes, it's still a tremendously enjoyable show.

FORMATSDVD/ Streaming [US]
FROM Manga UK/Funimation

26 Episodes

IN A NUTSHELL: There's a ton of fun to be had with One Piece's unique take on the prison break genre.