[One Piece Film Retrospective] #8: Episode Of Alabasta: The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007)

What happens when Toei wants a new One Piece movie out each year but doesn’t wanna pay someone to write an original story? We get what are basically “recap movies”, that’s what happens, with this being the first but not last istance of the series dabbling in cheap arse territory, and an iffy proposition in itself.

Sure, you may want to see the canonical events from that arc of the series on the big screen, with better animation and production values overall, and i get why Alabasta, as it was the arc that really made people take notice and cement One Piece as one of the biggest shonen manga series ever, so for many fans the proposition of seeing the classic arc on the big screen had some attractive.

I see very little point in describing the plot since it’s a recap film, and Alabasta it’s like one of the most beloved and notorious arcs in the series as a whole, but let’s pretend you don’t know. Let’s cover the basics, just in case.

The Straw Hat pirate crew voyages to a desert land consumed by years of drought and with a civil war stirred up by Crocodile, officially known as a hero to the people, but actually the leader of a crime syndicate called Baroque Works that moved into the kingdom of Alabasta to foment hate towards the king, setting up the royal army against the rebels, all to obtain the secret ultimate weapon known as “Pluton”.

Luffy, his friends and Alabasta’s princess, Vivi, set on a quest to stop the Baroque Works’ machinations, avoid a full on revolutionary war, and defeat Crocodile itself.

As it’s a 90 minutes film that recaps an entire narrative arc’s worth of content (conversely even more TV episodes of the anime adaptation), you can already guess that a fairly extensive cutting down of the story was simply inavoidable, some sacrifices would have to be made even if ran for 2 hours.

I seriosly don’t envy the task of the editing team, the pyrric struggle of having to fit so much into a bog standard movie runtime, because regardless of how good you edited down the plot, fans would be bitching about some stuff missing.

And obviously the choice was to cut down almost everything that didn’t directly contribute to the main events in the Alabasta arc, so the minor arcs that set up the events of the main plot (Whiskey Peak and Little Garden in this case) were cut, alongside many minor scenes, often the ones introducing characters, so for example the whole salamander desert run is changed in a way that means there’s no Ace in this abridged retelling. Again, done to keep the focus on the main trust of the plot and “lighten the load”, with some small exceptions in the form of flashbacks about Nico Robin’s past that would otherwise be introduced much later in the story.

With so many cuts come many changes to be found, ranging from the minute detail to more noticeable ones, from the kinda necessary since so much characters and relative scenes have to be cut (like the Marine character are cut all together, hence Crocodile actually being one of the Seven Warlords responding to World Goverment is completely cut out as well) to the… questionable, if not odd, especially in terms of the fights, as these are sadly cut way shorter and are a bit confusing to discuss, since they present a mix of changes that make them at times feel more like the original manga scenes, at times a strange combination of trying to redo the manga panels but also not straying too much from what was done on the television episodes.

It’s a mess.

Contributing to this odd ensemble of choices is that the movie was eventually repackaged for TV broacast, and for that they added scenes recreating the events from the Whiskey Peak Arc.

Again, i don’t blame the animators, the editors, or anyone involved, since they did redo the whole thing from scratch, the production values do show and you can tell this is trying to feel like a “glossier/deluxe” redo, but the final result it’s something that suffers way too much from the chopping massacre enabled to fit dozens of episodes worth of content into a 90 minutes movie.

The staff did a good job (even though it could have been even better, since it’s a movie production and Toei has amazing talented people working for them), it’s just that they were given a task bound to be an unsatisfying compromise that would rile up fans to some degree, not awful but conceptually baffling and cheap, feeling like a cash grab.

This is only for big One Piece fans not because it’s a retelling of a canonical arc already translated into animation in the TV series, a retread of familiar material, but one that makes you wish they didn’t bother, since it’s such a famished digest that loses way too much in the downsizing process, and basically has to rely on people being already AND extremely familiar with the source material to know what’s gonna happen or what was supposed be there but isn’t.

This is NOT the movie for you if you’ve never seen One Piece or experienced the arc in question, i’d say, even if it does presents a narrative that in itself can be followed without getting confused, this isn’t the “Alabasta digest” you might think it is…. actually it might be exactly that, if you consider the runtime, but i still feel the target audience for Episode Of Alabasta it’s the One Piece “initiated/converted”. For everyone else, i’d suggest just watching the TV series… or just reading the manga itself if you wanna catch up with the story in a relatively quick fashion, and are a fast reader.

Heck, even if you just wanted to see some fights from that arc redone with a movie budget you’ll often be disappointed because the fights are way too short to be properly enjoyed, it’s just cliffnotes moments of those, and this break-neck pace needed to fit most stuff doesn’t really justify the fact that the various battles against the Baroque Works villain were often betten directed and photographed in the TV series, aside from benefitting from the format to stage them better.

Overall, it’s inoffensive, but also kinda pointless and born of a compromise that was unsatisfying to begin with. I don’t hate it, but i struggle to find much to like, aside from the talented technical work of the people at Toei animation having to deal with these creatively bankrupt projects.

This is for the One Piece fans that want to see it all for curiosity or completion’s sake, but serves no other purpose otherwise.

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