Remember when I reviewed the Hunter X Hunter pilot? Back then I mentioned the Jump Super Anime Tour, which was an almost-every-year occasion Shueisha would do where they would commission new animation based on their popular manga and show them off via roadshow; nowadays the JSAT still exists as a precursor to Jump Festa, though it's sometimes called the "Jump Festa Anime Tour". Anyway, for JSAT 1998 Shueisha showed off three new anime pilots: Hunter X Hunter, Seikimatsu Leader Gaiden Takeshi!, and the subject of today's review: One Piece: Taose! Kaizoku Ganzack/Defeat the Pirate Ganzack!. It's a 30-minute production that predates the TV series, is not animated by Toei, and features a completely different cast... But, unlike the Hunter X Hunter pilot, this actually can appeal to a wider audience.
Luffy, Zoro, & Nami are in the middle of nowhere on their little dinghy without any food (Luffy & Zoro ate it all), when all of a sudden they're attacked by a gigantic missile. In the chaos Nami is kidnapped by a Sea King (i.e. a giant sea monster) & Luffy & Zoro get washed up on the shore of a nearby island. Turns out this island has recently been taken over by Ganzack, a villainous pirate who aims to use his technology to become the Pirate King, and in return for giving them a great meal Luffy & Zoro agree to help a little girl, decked in armor, named Medaka rescue her father from Ganzack. At the same time, Nami has agreed to join Ganzack in an attempt to look for any treasures the captain has gathered.
As any fan of One Piece can tell already, this pilot doesn't happen in the manga. Not only that, but it's potential placement in the story is early... Literally, this pilot would take place between episodes 8 & 9 of the Toei anime. This is before the trio even meet Usopp & gain their pirate ship, the Going Merry! Still, the fact that this pilot is an original "filler" story means that it is actually worth watching for all fans of One Piece from the simple fact that it's something new to them. This story was never redone in Toei's adaptation as a filler, so it's only viewable via this pilot. Of course, all of that would mean nothing if the pilot sucked, but thankfully this pilot is really good.
Luffy, Nami, & Zoro all act like they should, which means it's easy for newcomers to just jump right into this pilot anytime they want, though the lack of 5/8 of the present crew might throw some fans off at first. As for the pilot-original characters, they honestly do fit right in with the One Piece cast. Medaka's odd armor that seems to be made just for her does indeed look like something Eiichiro Oda would design, and Ganzack also has that Oda-style design to him, right down to him wearing a back-strapped apparatus that gives him crab-like legs & claws... Just don't call him a crab. (That's Ganzack-sama to you!) Ganzack's use of technology like giant cannons just really works for him, and it honestly does make the character pretty memorable, not to mention the fact that he tamed a Sea King, which I can't really recall as happening in the actual story all that often, if at all.
The story itself is a simple one, but it also feels like something you could see Toei have done for a filler story arc, though Toei would have stretched this out to at least three episodes or so, obviously. The best thing about this pilot, though, is that it doesn't interfere with the main story, but rather seems like it could have honestly happened; hell, at the end of the story Luffy, Zoro, & Nami even get a new dinghy to sail on, just so that they can still follow the original story when they land on the island that Usopp calls home. Admittedly, this pilot doesn't really do anything different or new, but that's a pretty moot point simply because this is the very first One Piece anime ever made & was just made to make fans (& probably some potential sponsors & studios) salivate at the mouth at the potential of an actual One Piece TV series.
Though One Piece is Toei's baby, they did not do this production; instead, the similarly-legendary Production I.G. was brought in to animate One Piece for the very first time. This pilot is directed by Goro Taniguchi (director of Code Geass, GUNxSWORD, & Planetes), and he does a great job at keeping this production feel truly like One Piece. The character designs are done by Hisahi Kagawa (of Toriko, Ray, & Wangan Midnight fame), and though they do look different from the style we're all accustomed to via the TV series, Kagawa's style still does a really good job; if anything, Kagawa does make Luffy, Zoro, & Nami look younger than they do in the TV series. The music was done by Toshiya Motomichi (of which this is his only anime work), and I actually really like the direction Motomichi went, as it's a really cool jazzy-rock soundtrack; it definitely doesn't sound like Kohei Tanaka & Shiroh Hamaguchi's music for the TV series, but it still fits One Piece really well. There is no opening theme, but the ending theme, "Grand Line" by Chie & Makun, is also a neat jazzy-rock song that fits the series very well; it certainly is no "We Are!", but I could have easily seen this be a great ending theme to compliment "We Are!".
I will admit that I absolutely love the Japanese cast for One Piece, though FUNimation's dub is no slouch of a production, but the pilot actually does feature a really great cast on its own. Luffy is voiced by Urara Takano (Kai from Beyblade, Maria Tachibana from Sakura Wars), and she does a great job with the character; in fact, Takano's performance actually has a lot of similarities to Mayumi Tanaka's iconic performance. Zoro is voiced by Wataru Takagi (Garrod Ran in Gundam X, Alaindelon in Beelzebub, Aoki in Hajime no Ippo), and he likewise pulls off a fitting performance, with also a similar style as that of Kazuya Nakai's later performance. Nami is voiced by Megumi Toyoguchi (Revy in Black Lagoon, Klan Klang in Macross Frontier), and her youthful performance fits Nami very nicely, though Akemi Okamura will still be the iconic Nami to many. As for the pilot-original characters, Medaka is voiced by Jun Tanaka (this being her "biggest" role), and she does a fine job as the fiery little girl. Ganzack is already pretty memorable simply from his design, but he becomes all the more memorable just by being voiced by the venerable Norio Wakamoto, who definitely sounds like he was having nothing but a blast playing this pirate; the fact that Wakamoto has never been brought back to play a character in the TV series yet is just stunning. Finally, for the fun of it, the narrator who starts this very pilot, saying the same introductory line as always, is voiced by Ikuya Sawaki (Mao from Darker than Black, Inspector Tokuno from You're Under Arrest!), and he does a great job saying those ever-memorable lines, just like Mahito Ohba.
One Piece: Taose! Kaizoku Ganzack is just great fun to watch, and is an excellent anime pilot for such a truly enjoyable series. Since it's an original story it appeals to both hardcore fans, who would want to see their favorite title through a different lens, as well as casual fans, who would just like to see something from the series that they never saw before. Unfortunately, don't go thinking that FUNimation will ever license this pilot, as they likely never will. Obviously, the fact that Toei didn't make this would mean that FUNi would have to engage brand-new negotiations to license this pilot, but there's also the fact that this was commissioned by Shueisha. There's a good reason why FUNimation has never licensed Dragon Ball: Yo! Son Goku & His Friends Return!, even though they have stated multiple times that they would love to: Much like the One Piece pilot that new Dragon Ball production was commissioned by Shueisha specifically for the JSAT (JFAT in Dragon Ball's case), so even though Toei made that new Dragon Ball production, there is likely some trouble coming from Shueisha (who co-owns Viz), hence why you'll likely never see either of these productions brought over here. Luckily, the One Piece pilot has been fansubbed, so it's out there for any adventurous fans out there who want to see One Piece before "We Are!" blared out of the speakers of Japanese televisions back in 1999. I mean, come on, this is the Great Age of Pirates, afterall...