In 1999 one of the best anime series of all time hit the small screen, One Piece. Since then, we’ve seen the series flourish with over 1000 episodes, videogames, and plenty of spin-off films. However, in the vast sea of pirate content, the latest anime movie in the series One Piece Film: Red stands out as unique.
Packed with musical numbers and vibrant fight sequences, the movie, while perhaps lost on some new fans, is a striking character-piece and a visual treat for any Straw Hat enthusiast. Directed by Gorō Taniguchi, the film opens with a brief explanation of the pirate era. It is a time of adventure and riches, but if you are a civilian, it’s also a period of hardship and hatred towards those who call themselves the swashbucklers of the high seas.
However, in this world of pain and division, the popstar Uta offers a glimmer of hope, and thousands of fans – including the Straw Hat Pirates make their way to her concert set in the ruined kingdom of Elegia. However, after a bright opening number filled with magic and pop music video-style editing, a dark and sinister plot is revealed.
Uta isn’t just a popstar; she is the user of the Uta Uta no Mi devil fruit – which gives her powers to transport people’s consciousnesses to a virtual space. Oh, and she is also the daughter of Shanks, the captain of the Red Haired Pirates, making her Luffy’s long-lost childhood friend too. As her backstory is unravelled, a horrific plan to trap her fans in a utopia world kicks off, forcing Luffy to confront his friend and pushing the Straw Hats, the Navy, and the World Government to band together in an unlikely truce.
The heroes must figure out the mystery of Uta’s powers and stop the singer before her deadly song consumes every living soul. Sounds like your classic shonen film, right? And for the most part the story of One Piece Film: Red is, as it begins following the typical formula of the flicks in the genre. A stand-alone threat emerges, and our heroes fight to save the day – it’s a simple premise that we’ve all seen before at first glance.
But, where One Piece Film: Red proves to be different from past films in the IP, and other shonen movie spin-offs, is that its atmosphere, focus on backstories, and visuals succeed in making us feel as if we are watching a worthwhile addition to the franchise. Too often, shonen movies feel like an unnecessary departure or distraction from the main story of their series’. The new characters conveniently leave without much impact, and by the end of the action, everything is back to normal.
While One Piece Film: Red is technically stand-alone, Tsutomu Kuroiwa’s script is also a carefully drafted character journey. As such, it feeds into our views on Luffy’s long-standing ideals of friendship, as well as Shank’s past as a captain and as a guardian. In short, it gives the same emotional payout as an arc in the anime series but does so in the space of two hours. The film achieves this by building on our knowledge of beloved One Piece characters, which works splendidly… that is for those who are avid watchers of One Piece.
Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room: when it comes to any film stemming from an ongoing shonen anime series, we have to talk about how much sense it makes to both casual and avid watchers of the show. In the case of One Piece Film: Red, the movie is marketed for both new and old lovers of One Piece. However, let’s be frank, that isn’t strictly the case. Although the film doesn’t go into deep lore or continues a story/ arc from the series’ latest episodes, One Piece Film: Red is placed firmly during the most recent events of the anime’s timeline.
Characters, who were introduced into the series hundreds of episodes in, such as Trafalgar Law and Brook, are massive players in action. The Big Mom Pirates – who are the main antagonists in the ‘Whole Cake Island’ arc (aka episode 783 to episode 877) – also turn up. Similarly, you will have to know Usopp’s backstory with his father to truly appreciate the movie’s final battle. With this in mind, you have to know your basic One Piece lore and have watched more than a few 100 episodes to get the most out of the story of One Piece Film: Red.
So, despite how charming the story of One Piece Film: Red may be, its accessibility to new viewers is questionable. The film throws you into the world of the bonkers anime and doesn’t hold your hand while it does so. For long-time fans such as myself, this particular quality isn’t an issue, but for any new fans, or prospective One Piece viewers, One Piece Film: Red’s story will appear as chaotic as it tells Uta’s journey – so be warned.
But, putting newbie concerns aside, if you can follow the animated series and already feel a great attachment to all of these characters, One Piece Film: Red is a heart-warming tear-jerker that is brilliantly paced. Uta is a great new character whose relationship with both Shanks and Luffy is captivating. Her journey and final battle with Shanks is a satisfying climax that will make you cry as it goes hard on its sentimentality. The film touches on relatable feelings and themes of family misunderstandings and unconditional love amid the loud and colourful spectacles.
The fight scenes are enthralling as gunshots and devil fruit abilities are hurled onto the screen, accompanied by the backdrop of Uta’s catchy musical numbers. Each development, flashback and plot progression point, doesn’t overstay its welcome, making the movie extremely watchable. The high-quality writing and fun atmosphere from the One Piece anime series has been successfully replicated in its latest movie – making its two-hour runtime fly by in a blink of an eye.
Overall, One Piece Film: Red is by far one of the most enjoyable, effective and touching One Piece movies yet. Although it may be tricky for new viewers of the franchise, it captures the essence of the beloved anime without feeling as if it is backpedalling or diverting away from the show’s main storyline. If you are a One Piece fan at all – it’s an unmissable watch.
One Piece Film: Red hits theatres on November 4, 2022.
One Piece Film: Red review
One Piece Film: Red captures the spirit of the anime series and gives us worthwhile character development while doing so.