By Amanda L. Kondolojy
February 2, 2008 - As one of the most popular anime series in Japan and North America, it only seems fitting that it should be one of the first modern anime to see a Blu-ray release. One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates - Adventures in Alabasta is actually the eighth movie to be based on the series, but it is the first to be released in North America. It takes place during the second half of the fourth season of the anime, and it truncates the events of the Alabasta story arc.
One thing that you should know right off the bat about One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates is that it is a fans-only title. The movie makes no bones about this, and doesn't even bother with character introductions or any type of back-story. It definitely assumes familiarity with the series, but the good news is that even if you haven't seen the episodes that inspire the movie, as long as you have seen a few episodes from the first or second season, you should be adequately prepared to understand the events of the movie. But, if you are looking for an introduction to the series, this one is not for you.
As I mentioned before, the movie takes place during the Alabasta story arc, and it involves the exploits of the Straw Hat Crew as they return to Princess Vivi's homeland of Alabasta to prevent a devastating civil war. It opens with the crew rescuing a cross-dressing assassin from drowning, and it just gets crazier from there. The story is not particularly deep, but it allows for plenty of comic relief, and intense action scenes involving the wild villains and outrageous situations that the series is known for. I won't get into too many of these scenes for fear of venturing into "spoiler" territory, but needless to say, if you like oversized creatures and baseball-bat-toting bad guys, then you will not be disappointed.
However, the biggest reason to check out One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates is not the story, but the high-definition video. Although older anime like Dragon Ball Z have been transferred to the Blu-ray medium, the picture quality was not greatly improved. However, as this is the first modern anime to be produced for Blu-ray, expectations were understandably high. Fortunately, this movie looks great in Blu-ray format; you will not be disappointed with the remarkably detailed look of the film. The video is presented in 1080p, and the high-definition transfer is very noticeable during digitally-enhanced fight scenes that involve more than 100 characters moving on screen. Also noteworthy are the digital sand effects that permeate scenes with the movie's main villain, Sir Crocodile, who controls this element. The Blu-ray greatly enhances the overall look of this movie, and if you haven't already invested in the standard definition version, the Blu-ray version is definitely worth the extra investment.
Another big boon for the Blu-ray version of the movie is the audio. There are four different audio tracks, two in Japanese and two in English, each with standard 2.0 digital and HD 5.1 surround varieties. Both soundtracks sound balanced in the 2.0, but if you have a premium speaker set-up, the 5.1 sound is amazing. Dialogue balances perfectly with sound effects and background music, and the Japanese track sounds especially crisp.