Review for One Piece: Heart of Gold TV Special
Since Manga Entertainment has been bought out by Funimation, you won’t be surprised that the Funimation content has started flowing once more to the UK market, after an inconvenient hiatus when they ceased releasing through Anime Limited. We’re now getting shows like Attack on Titan and Steins;Gate again. But one Funimation staple conspicuous by its absence has been One Piece. It’s the go to Shonen Jump show, even more impressive than shows like Naruto, and it has been going for ages. But so far this year, we’ve only had the one release in January, while 2018 saw three releases, 2017 only saw two. Things have been slow in the One Piece market for a while now, slow enough to get me importing. I’m not going after the series just yet, as I expect they’ll resume soon enough, but I’m less certain about further releases of the One Piece movies and specials.
Indeed, specials. With the long running Shonen Jump titles, you’d be justified in expecting the series, and you’ll also expect the films as well, but generally in the West, we miss out on the specials, the OVAs, the made for TV animations that get aired on special occasions, the anime equivalent of the Christmas special. With Naruto we were lucky to get The Lost Story, but that was a one off. One Piece has seen many specials alongside its movies and the TV series, but we’ve missed out on them as a matter of course. But in recent years, Funimation has started licensing these one-off tales and while we’ve missed out on the earliest ones, you might find some of the later ones like Episode of Sabo, and Adventure of Nebulandia coming out on disc in 2019. The first of these specials to make it to the West was a TV accompaniment to the One Piece feature film, Film Gold. The Heart of Gold special was a TV prequel to the theatrical release, and it kicked this whole side business off with a US release in 2017 alongside the film. I’m taking a look at the Region B Australian release of Heart of Gold for this review.
A little girl is the focus of attention for the Navy, who have her in custody aboard one of their ships. The Navy is after the legendary Pure Gold, and this girl, Myskina Olga is the key. She’s in big demand too, as it isn’t long before the treasure hunters led by the pirate Mad Treasure attack, wrecking the fleet. In the mayhem, Olga escapes on lizard-back. She gets as far as the Thousand Sunny, where the crew are currently fishing, and they aren’t too impressed when she threatens Luffy, demanding their help. But the Straw Hats perk up when they hear about the Pure Gold, especially Nami, who gets Berry signs in her eyes at the thought of this ultimate treasure. Olga’s father refined this precious metal on the island of Alchemi, and it has remained there ever since. Getting to Alchemi won’t be easy, as it currently lies in the third stomach of a gargantuan lantern fish. And that’s not all, as Mad Treasure and his crew are still on Olga’s tail.
Just like the TV series, One Piece – Heart of Gold gets a widescreen transfer albeit 1.78:1 and 1080p, and the quality of the animation is akin to the TV series as well. The image is clear and sharp, and this being a special means that we get it on Blu-ray. Even though One Piece has been broadcast in HD for over a decade at this point, can you imagine getting the whole series that way now? The image on this disc is clear, sharp and colourful, the animation is smooth, CG is used sparingly for the effects sequences and rendering the ships, while the character animation is the usual ‘hand-drawn’ 2D, where the characters are as animated as Looney Tunes and Tex Avery characters, plenty of jaw drops and eyes bugging out. It looks pretty good on this disc, and there is plenty of imagination at work to bring across the far-fetched story.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with option English subtitles and a signs only track. I was happy with the Japanese audio, and the subtitles were timed accurately and free of typos. Even with the stereo audio, the action comes across with impact, and there is a degree of immersion to the audio. The music works to drive the story with its usual orchestral extravagance, and the theme songs are typical bombastic One Piece. One issue is that the volume levels are a tad low on the disc, easily remedied with a push of a button.
Madman Entertainment in Australia have merely reworked the Funimation release for Region B territories. You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, and the inside of the sleeve doubles as a mini-poster.
The disc autoplays a trailer for Dragon Ball Z: Kai – The Final Chapters, before booting to an animated menu. The only extras on the disc are trailers for One Piece Film Gold, Hyperdimension Neptunia, Attack on Titan Junior High, My Hero Academia, and Divine Gate.
It has been so long since I last had a hit of One Piece that I was grinning like an idiot through the first half of this film. I just missed the characters so much that Heart of Gold felt like a family reunion. It is set after the time-skip, well after the point where we are with the series, so there are some differences that aren’t accounted for in the 106 minute runtime, things like Zoro’s eye, Luffy’s scar, Sanji and Usopp’s beards, and Robin and Nami’s breasts, as well as all the new abilities the characters have, but they are very much the same old characters. The trademark One Piece humour is there, plenty of absurdity and slapstick wackiness, and I was in One Piece heaven for a while.
Unfortunately, that while was much shorter than the movie. It doesn’t take long for the reality to sink in, that the creators have taken the stock Shonen Jump film script off the shelf, the one that gets adapted into every quick cash-in spin-off that gets made. It’s been used for multiple Naruto movies, for Bleach movies, for Fairy Tail movies, and so on, and once you recognise the formula, you get thrown out of the experience. Heroes encounter a guest character. The guest character has emotional issues, as well a quest to complete. There will be villains pursuing the guest character. The heroes will go on an adventure with the guest character, defeat the villains, complete the quest, and more importantly get the guest character to work through their issues, and become reconciled. Heart of Gold follows that formula like clockwork.
Olga is the guest star in this story, a deceptively childish girl who is the key to finding the treasure, Pure Gold. Everyone wants a piece of her, and she’s spent much of her life avoiding them. She’s cynical and manipulative, although she has the quirk of not having any inner monologue. Everyone can hear what she’s scheming. Her father created the Pure Gold, and by creating it brought calamity on her home and her family. In the end, the island of Alchemi was swallowed by a giant fish, and she spent several years alone in its stomach before finding a way to escape. She doesn’t trust anyone, and above all she blames her father for creating the situation.
Any pirate worth his salt wants treasure, and when she sees how strong the Straw Hats are, she promises to take them to the Pure Gold if they promise to protect her. But it turns out that Mad Treasure and his pirates want the Pure Gold as well, and they somehow bizarrely prove a challenge to the Straw Hats (Luffy’s crew must have the flu or something as Mad Treasure isn’t exactly the toughest challenge they’ve faced). Dealing with the fish’s stomach acid is another problem. As is usually the way in this sort of film, Mad Treasure deals a reversal to Luffy, captures several of the Straw Hats, and takes Olga too, into the depths of the fish’s stomach and Alchemi island looking for the treasure, a sequence that owes much to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Of course by this time, Luffy’s escaped his predicament, figuratively levelled up, and is ready for a rematch. The last half hour of the film minimises the comedy, and ups the action leading to the big climax.
This is Heart of Gold’s big problem. The guest star Olga lacks the personality to really invest in her story, and the Mad Treasure pirates are even less effective as characters. They do the One Piece villain thing of having a distinctive laugh, but that is as far as their personalities go. The film then relies on the regular characters, the humour, and their interactions. There’s plenty of Zoro and Sanji sniping, Luffy being Luffy, Brook forgetting he’s dead, Chopper being cute and so on. That is fun while it lasts, but when things get serious for the film’s climax, that’s when tedium at its predictability causes my eyelids to droop. But Heart of Gold sticks to its guns, and follows that formula religiously to the end credits, resulting in a mediocre and forgettable film, which is really just nice if you want a quick hit of the One Piece characters without investing in close to a thousand episodes of the TV series.