A Short anime OVA from Production I.G.
One Piece has had an astounding run as a franchise, including (as of this writing) around 1,040 TV episodes, sixteen films, 1,066 manga chapters, video games, and much more. What most fans may not realize is that the 2000 Toei TV series, that still runs to this day, is NOT the first bit of One Piece anime goodness, with that honor going to an obscure 30 minute OVA from 1998 produced by Production I.G. as a festival film shown at the 1998 Jump Super Anime Tour. This was a big 30th anniversary commemorative event, and other films such as a Hunter X Hunter film that also predates its oldest anime iteration were shown. The event travelled Japan, and screened this One Piece special at all its stops and in select Japanese theaters before being released to home video, I’m assuming this rip comes from a VHS tape.
What is especially interesting about One Piece – Defeat Him! The Pirate Ganzack is how early on in the manga’s run it was made. This was created at around the same time that the third manga volume (of 100 now!) was hitting the shelves, containing the Black Cat pirates arc featuring the introduction of Usopp as a cast-member. Due to this, the characterization and mannerisms we’ve all come to love may seem off to some viewers, but it’s interesting to see how an entirely different studio adapted the material. This was once considered something akin to “lost media” until recently, and I was happy to discover a rip of this on YouTube with English subtitles.
“The story starts with Luffy, Zoro, & Nami drifting on their boat. With no a crumb of food to eat. Right until a sea dragon appeared and attacked the boat and took Nami away. Zoro & Luffy wake up on the beach of a small island. Where they discover that the locals of the island are all prisoners of a pirate who’s seen as a crab according to Luffy. In order to the free the island’s imprisonment and save Nami, Luffy will have to defeat the a whole pirate crew. But he’s only doing it, so he can have a bite to eat.”
I think the first thing that will take people by surprise is how “off” the characters are going to seem to most people. Not only is this from another studio entirely, but the 2000 anime has the benefit of much more material to work in comparison. Keep in mind that at the time of its production, this must have started to be worked on at a barely double digit chapter number. Our main character, Luffy, is especially weird and seems to be fairly one-dimensional, practically lusting after the concept of eating throughout the film. If anyone needs to bend him to their will, all they have to do is promise food or vaguely imply that somebody else might have food he can eat. Everyone also seems to bicker a lot, and while the cast does do this a tad, it was a lot more malicious here. Nami is especially abrasive with her relationship to Luffy almost seeming like an alliance of convenience versus a real friendship.
More than anything, the tone of One Piece – Defeat Him! The Pirate Ganzack reminds me a LOT of Dragon Ball episodes from the original show (not Z), Luffy is a lot like Goku, Nami is more like Bulma, and Zorro might as well be Yamcha. It would be interesting to hear about what the comics author, Eiichiro Oda, felt about the two versions, and perhaps which one he felt was more akin to his own vision. No matter which one is “better”, I feel like this short film has it’s own charm, and it would have been interesting to see how this went had it been picked up to become the “actual show”. It’s interesting that this was made about the time Production I.G. had just completed a show called Blue Seed, and in many ways, this One Piece film retains a lot of that 90’s anime attitude the latter moved away from.
Not being related in any way to any specific manga storyline, this film contains new secondary characters and a movie-specific villain in Pirate Ganzack. Ganzack is a boisterous pirate leader that has a backpack with robotic crab-like appendages and the control over a huge sea monster. using these terrifying abilities, he has taken a remote village over, and most of the people have given up hope of removing his rule. That is, everyone aside from a small girl named Medaka, who has donned a comically mis-fitting suit of armor in a quest to save her father, one of the many villagers captured by the pirates. Unfortunately, Ganzack attacked The Straw Hat Pirates with his sea serpent, an act that would lead to his undoing.
There are some things I enjoyed more in this version, with the most notable being the fluid and eye-catching battle animation. This style is showcased well when we see Zorro fighting, his swords are animated in away that make them look both extremally deadly and very fast – something that is sometimes lost in the “actual show”. Luffy’s attacks are also imagined pretty well, and I’m not going to suggest they are in any way “better”, but just realized in a different way. I also thought the film’s soundtrack was interesting, being comprised of what basically amounts to jazz music with small flourishes of traditional Japanese instrumentation mixed in. The Toei show has some jazzy music here and there, but this seemed to have a music motif going on in that reminded me of something like Cowboy Bebop.
One final interesting element of the film is a punchy ending theme called Grand Line, as performed by Chie & Mar-kun. It’s a song that is dripping with nostalgia and very much fits into the style of most 90’s OVAs. Even the ending slideshow and a promise to vaguely go off into other adventures is very familiar to anyone used to anime OVAs acting as a commercial for their respective manga properties. It’s a real shame Toei has not purchased this from its owners and given the film and single a better release, although the fan-made remaster was pretty solid.
Once considered lost media due to its absence from the internet until very recently, I was very happy to have been able to watch One Piece – Defeat Him! The Pirate Ganzack. It definitely has some problems, most related to the unfairness of it being compared to it’s successor, but there are some real reasons to watch this. Chiefly, the animation in this looks better than most Toei animation (even today in some ways), something I talked a bit about in my review of One Piece Film: RED. It’s more fluid, and frankly has more style when it comes to battle scenes. Characterization in the film is weird, but as a time capsule and a question of “what if”, it’s an interesting bit of anime ephemera that any Shonen Jump fan should try to see. Now I can mark one more episode of my backlog of over 800 episodes of this franchise I am behind on; small victories add up!
For those wanting to see this, look below:
If this ends up being taken down for whatever reason, I’m sure it can easily be found by other means as well.