Thanks to Adult Swim's revival of Toonami, I've become hooked on One Piece. I don't normally form such a heavy attachment to Japanese cartoons, but unlike most shonen anime, the style in One Piece is completely original, the characters are vivid, three-dimensional and full of life, and the plot can't be boiled down to "two people fight." All of you should watch it -- if you don't, you're missing out on a lot of fun. I know this request is a tad unreasonable since it's on at 2:30 in the morning and averages less than a million viewers per episode, but in my case, it helps if you live on the West Coast and have access to the East Coast feed of the network.
I fear One Piece will never be accepted by Americans the same way it's accepted in Japan, because the average "normie" isn't going to know what to make of it at first sight. It's the Japanese version of "Adventure Time," basically -- it plays with logic just as loosely. To give you the most general idea of what kind of show this is, there's an episode that contains a court scene where the judge has three heads. No one thinks it's unusual that the judge has three heads, or questions it or anything. It's completely accepted, because hey, judges with three heads just happen. What IS considered unusual is when the judge's coat gets knocked off to reveal it was actually three small men posing as a three-headed judge. When he had three heads that was fine, but when it turned out to be three normal guys, the crowd was VERY disturbed.
If you're going to translate One Piece, it requires a light touch. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to add anything to it. If 4Kids had ever translated the episode with the judge in it, they would have made him say a lot of puns like "HEADS will roll!" and "I'm a-HEAD of you on that one!" The joke is simply that the guy exists; when you pile jokes on top of it, the original joke is completely ruined and it makes the show look terrible.
Habits like this were already familiar to TV watchers by the time 4Kids announced it had acquired the rights to translate One Piece, and fans of the show howled in agony over the horrible decisions they knew were coming. They figured Sanji's cigarette would be reinterpreted as a lollipop, and the prediction came 100% true. "They'll probably make the opening sequence into a rap," they said sarcastically. And that is exactly what 4Kids did. Must've been taking notes.
There's a lot of exposition here(most of which doesn't even rhyme). 4Kids felt every episode had to establish the setting, Luffy's rubbery condition, and the meaning behind the show's name. The world's most famous pirate left all his treasure in "one piece" somewhere in a dangerous area of the seas known as the Grand Line, and this is what sets the pirates off on their journey, though One Piece itself is rarely the focus of the show.
The first and previous episode (the 4Kids version, anyway) ended with Luffy meeting Roronoa Zoro -- er, "Zolo," yeah, that's right. "Zolo" is a famous pirate hunter who is about to be executed by the World Government's Marines -- er, the "Navy" (no one knows why this change was made). As he stands there tied up and the firing squad raises their rifles, Luffy races in front of him and the bullets bounce right off his torso. Luffy, you see, has a stretchable rubber body.
Some members of the "Navy" are confused by this, so one of them conveniently explains that there are rare fruits known as Devil Fruits (they've renamed them "cursed fruits" here, unsurprisingly) that grant the one who eats them a random superpower, but takes away their ability to swim in water. Normally for a pirate this would be a big problem, but not to Luffy, who fears nothing. His constant optimism, recklessness and general density makes him a great character to center the show around.
Then Luffy tells "Zolo", right in front of the shooters, that he's forming a pirate crew and asks him to join. Luffy knows he hunts pirates, and doesn't care, because he's Luffy. "Zolo" says if Luffy can somehow get him out of this predicament, then screw everything, consider him an instant pirate. (In the original Zoro became part of Luffy's crew in exchange for Luffy bringing him his three swords. Swords are Zoro's only real friends.)
Luffy gets to work on undoing the ropes holding "Zolo" down, but winds up just making them tighter. And the "Navy" is charging at them with bladed weapons! Good time to shoehorn in the first commercial break....
|If anything drives home how sad 4Kids' version of Saturday Morning TV was, it's this: they promised this morning's programming would be anchored by early 2000's preteen heartthrob Li'l Romeo, but when it came time to shoot the bumpers, they couldn't get him. They got a much lesser known hip-hopper named O'Ryan instead, crudely crossed Romeo's name out of the pre-rendered graphics and pasted in his. Maybe they hoped no one would notice.|
|This is one of the more original contests I've seen: win a weekend in an English castle for you and two of your friends, where you'll play stacks of video games and every meal you eat will be Spaghetti-Os served on silver platters. They pretty much nailed what a 9-year-old would consider a classy vacation.|
|Burger King presents....this strange fever dream of an ad starring.....some shapes. Makes you hungry, doesn't it? This is what they replaced the Kids Club with? I know, the Kids Club wasn't that great anyway, but at least it was comprehensible. If things weren't unnerving enough, the toys inside were based on DreamWorks' Shark Tale. There's a creepy Will Smith-faced fish inside every bag!|
|Nintendo's latest game was Mario Pinball Land, which to date remains one of the lowest-rated titles ever published by the company. Even Nintendo Power gave it a bad score. They do their best to hide the fact, and the ad's slick style manages to make the game look exciting, set to a cover of "Black Betty." Bowser had a baby, bam-a-lam!|
|People thought Lucas was done tinkering with the OT; then Star Wars got its much anticipated DVD release and fans were horrified to see the goofy face of Hayden Christiansen as a hologram in Episode VI. Will we ever get a "clean" release with no monkey business? It seems more likely these days, but then again, Fox will retain the rights to home video releases of the first six films for quite some time, and Lucas could still hold some control there.|
I haven't mentioned yet there's this pink-haired kid named Coby who's been following Luffy around and watching all this. That's because in the grand scheme of things, Coby's only purpose is to ask the questions the audience would about Luffy and the world he lives in, then disappear at the end of the episode and never return. But coming up is the one scene in which Coby holds some importance to the plot. With his stretchy abilities, Luffy makes quick work of the Navy's troops and begins pummeling the (literally) iron-jawed Captain Morgan, only to stop when he sees the Captain's son holding Coby hostage.....and yes, this is THAT episode:
This is the most famous scene in 4Kids One
Piece Hacksaw History: when this guy's gun wound up being changed
into a....whatever that is.
"YOU BETTER BACK OFF OR I'LL BOP 'IM, I MEAN IT!!!" No, not the bop!
If I can play Devil's Advocate, though, I can't think of one children's TV series where they've been allowed to hold a gun to a child's head. Not even in the slightly more permissible PG-rated CN cartoons has that ever happened. This is pretty much the closest compromise anyone could come up with without it actually being a gun, and in the crazy world of One Piece, it IS possible somebody might have a device like this in their pocket. But even still. WHAT the hell.
It doesn't seem to be changed in this shot. Hmm.
Of course Luffy doesn't know the meaning of backing down, even in the version where it IS a gun. As he's still approaching, Captain Morgan comes up from behind, and Luffy doesn't seem to notice -- but "Zolo" saves his bacon with his swords. Both "Zolo's" sword strike and Luffy's punch are cut out, and they add groaning noises from the Captain's body. It's anyone's guess what "Zolo" did to him in this version. Whether he's dead or not, the other soldiers actually hated him so they immediately celebrate.
And now we get our first scene with Nami, the treasure hunter, in this episode. While that whole mess is going on, Nami sneaks onto a "Navy" warship and enters the barracks to gain possession of a chart detailing how to navigate the Grand Line. Unfortunately she finds a note instead: "I TOOK THE CHART SORRY." ("Sorry"? Really?)
Nami crumples the map with her fist and exclaims, "BUGGY! THE NOTORIOUS PIRATE CLOWN!" Good thing she said all that so you know Buggy is a pirate AND a clown. But if you still didn't get the hint, 4Kids plays calliope music over his silhouette. This is the kind of "overdoing it" thing I was referring to earlier.
However bad Buggy is, at least he's polite enough to put "sorry" on his note.
|The second ad break features another Nintendo spot, this one for "Donkey Konga." That was a Gamecube rhythm game that came with a set of bongo drums. The ad works pretty well at holding your curiosity before the product it's symbolizing is revealed. I believe this was right before Guitar Hero hit -- they had the right idea, just the wrong instrument.|
|This wasn't the first time they sold Turtle toys, and it wasn't even the first time they sold "mutatable" Turtle toys. But it wouldn't be the last time either. I admire that these radical dudes have held the test of time, even despite the best efforts of Mr. Bay.|
|The majority of this break is made up
of PSAs, which makes it hard to write about, especially
when the content is as enthralling as a shot of two
people in a car for 15 seconds saying nothing.
"Another missed opportunity to talk with your kids
about marijuana," the ad captions.
"Scooter, where did you put my marijuana?"
"On top of the dresser."
Back at Coby's house Luffy and "Zolo" are resting up. "Zolo" mentions that he still hasn't met anybody else in Luffy's crew, and Luffy casually mentions "Oh, it's just you so far." "Zolo" has a "GAAAAAAK" reaction to this, as well as to the reveal that Luffy's "pirate ship" is, at the moment, a dinky little sailboat.
An official from the "Navy" arrives at the door and says that since Luffy and "Zolo" got rid of the Captain, they are free to go, but only because of that fact, and if the pirates are ever seen again they WILL attempt an arrest. Then he points at Pink-Hair and says, "Is he one of you guys?"
Luffy has to make sure Coby isn't connected to this, but he does it in the Luffiest way possible. He pretends to barely know the kid.....and then Coby looks on in horror as Luffy raises his fist and beats the crap out of him (shown in shadow, in the original cut).
This is pretty funny -- in the original version -- but 4Kids overdubbed every line and overexplained every inch of the plot out of fears some kid watching would get lost. Consequently all the humor was washed out of this scene so it doesn't come off as a joke anymore. As Luffy leaves Coby thinks "Now I get it, Luffy picked a fight for ME! He was putting on a show so they would think we were enemies! He was my true friend, to the end!" I don't think this dialogue makes it obvious enough.
|Sega's "Amazing Island" had a novel idea (YOU create the monsters!) but in the end kids were more into discovering and catching them than making them.|
|4Kids wouid also run these cheaply-animated "Crash Dummies" shorts in between their programs around this time. It was the last attempt at marketing crash dummies as toys after a successful run in the 90's.|
|This is going to be the most confusing thing you see in the entire program unless I explain what's going on. 4Kids was about to debut the Fox Box "mascot": a pair of CGI eyeballs and lips on a spring. In the month leading up to his reveal, they teased him by having him talk from behind that curtain. Just from hearing him rap, you likely hate him already. Mr. Spring Whatever had a fanbase as large as Amazing Island, and that month of teaser footage may have been longer than his actual career.|
|These are clearly Justice League figures. The show would be cancelled the following year. Normally when that happens it's because there aren't enough toys being produced. Here they are, so what was the deal?|
As the episode runs out its time, Luffy and "Zolo" are drifting away in their boat. "I'm gonna be KING OF THE PIRATES! I'm working on my roar!"
"Why do you have to be KING exactly?" "Zolo" asks. "Why can't you just settle for being a GOOD pirate?"
"Well, it's a promise I made to someone a while ago...." Luffy hints, and a drawing of Shanks, his old mentor, giving Luffy his straw hat is shown. If fans were angry before, they would really raise a stink the following week when Shanks' backstory, a great moment in the series as well as a major part of understanding what Luffy is all about, was completely cut out.
Because the translation of One Piece was mangled so badly, kids were repulsed in droves and the initial US launch was unsuccessful. Later on Funimation acquired the rights and gave a proper, accurate redub to the episodes 4Kids had messed up -- but, to this day, One Piece still has trouble breaking into the mainstream outside of Japan.
It doesn't have to be that way. It's up to US to spread the legend of Luffy, raise the ratings of the Adult Swim airings and let everyone know of the incredible, hilarious cartoon adventure story they're missing out on. More importantly, now that you know the full story of 4Kids' dub, you can watch this:
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