To simply call One Piece a big franchise is a bit of an understatement. The Japanese manga has been around ever since 1997, and over the course of 25 years, creator Eiichiro Oda has drawn and written no less than 104 tankobon (manga books) about Monkey D. Luffy and his crew on his quest to become King of the Pirates. With over 516 million books sold worldwide, an anime series containing over 1,000 episodes, and a franchise with a total revenue of over 14 billion dollars, this is without question one of the biggest entertainment franchises ever made. What's most impressive however is how the show still holds such a high standard and continues to surprise and entertain, even 25 years after its humble beginnings.
Many Europeans might still think of an outfit reminiscent of a flayed Teletubby when hearing the words One Piece, but more and more are seeing the light as the interest for both manga and anime continues to increase in our part of the world. As a result, more anime movies not associated with the renowned Studio Ghibli are shown on our cinemas, including Your Name, Weathering with You, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. Now One Piece joins this merry list with its latest movie, One Piece Film: Red, the 15th of its kind starring Luffy in one of his adventures along the Grand Line.
This time Luffy and his crew have travelled to the island of Elegia, where they have received tickets to the first live stage concert with the latest pop sensation, Uta, the singer who has taken the world by storm over the last two years. With a spectacular stage show, heavy beats and an unrivalled charisma, everything is set for the greatest music performance of all time, but it doesn't take long before the situation changes. When Uta's abilities and background falls under the spotlight, Luffy must ally himself with both old friends and enemies to save the day.
Since the movie's main new character is a music diva, it may not come as a shock that the movie places a lot of focus on its music. What is surprising, however, is how much of it there actually is, not to mention how well done the production is with a surprisingly broad range of genres and styles. Some typical J-pop tunes are par for the course, but some of the other songs are a lot darker and heavier than one comes to expect of these franchise-related movies. The audio-visual production is without a doubt the movie's main cannon, and the great soundtrack matches the visuals quite nicely. The latter doesn't break any new barriers for anime, but it's a step up for One Piece movies, and many of the scenes are filled with visual effects showing that the production team has gone in guns blazing on this one.
Which is why it's a shame to tell you that even if the movie tries to blow you away, the end result is without any exploding force. The main reason for this is the story, which ends up as cacophonous nonsense without consistency or substance. One Piece is a show known for its long story arcs, which of course makes creating a story limited to only 115 minutes quite a challenge. Still, this storyline would have been better served as a longer feature film or even as a filler arc in the anime, because here we are thrown from one plot line to the next without the necessary transitions or logical connections between the scenes. The movie thus loses the impact it could have had, which One Piece itself is so known and loved for.
The movie's greatest blunder is still to lean so heavily on its cast of characters. One Piece is famous for its huge roster of characters great and small, and the moviemakers have decided they want to try to include as many of them as possible from the series' entire lifespan. You need to have a firm grasp of all the characters and their powers to even know what is going on here, which makes this movie inaccessible to newcomers. Throwing so many characters on the screen at the same time limits their time in the spotlight and ability to make any lasting impression, something we know can be avoided for movies with a huge roster if the screening time is longer and the script is tight, such as Avengers: Endgame.
To make matters even worse, the movie throws in new characters from the sidelines all the time. One Piece has never been shy of using deus ex machina as a narrative tool, but here it is used so much that the impact and value of it lessens each time, causing an inflation even worse than the one we are seeing in our own society today. The result is an unabashed fan service which will cause some cheers when certain fan favourites appear and do something cool (even this reviewer had a couple of "Yes!" moments during the screening), but where this merely tries to cover the movie's lack of substance and basic quality.
One Piece Film: Red has a couple of scenes and appearances that will give the fans something to smile about, and the music production alone is almost worth a trip to the cinemas to experience it on a great sound system. Still, it's not enough to save the movie as a whole. The story is too much all over the place with its unstructured chaos, and having a giant cast thrown in almost on a whim all over the movie only ends up making this an even greater mess. We can appreciate the fact that a One Piece movie is finally screened on our shores, but the content itself is certainly disappointing.