Spoiler-free review of One Piece Film: Red, which opens on November 3.
Shonen anime movies are usually punctual adventure formulas. The new place the protagonists must go to is revealed to be the home of a “famous” and extremely powerful character who has never been talked about before. The protagonist of the shonen comes into conflict with said character, defeating him with a new technique. The protagonist leaves the place victorious. Everything ends well. How awful. This formula makes for fancy scenes, but flattens the stories in their most compelling form. In short, it’s kind of boring. One Piece Film: Red, on the other hand, changes things up by combining shonen tropes with musical elements, making be the best One Piece movie of the last decade. Unlike the previous ones, Film: Red has captured the essence of One Piece comprehensively.
One Piece is, of course, about Monkey D. Luffy’s journey to become the Pirate King. To achieve this goal, he and his crew, the Straw Hat Pirates, travel the sea to find a legendary treasure known as One Piece. Along the way, the Straw Hats engage in action-packed shonen battles. Those antics are what give One Piece its charm, as the series is closer to an adventure comedy than a traditional shonen. One Piece Film: Red is one of the only films that totally adhere to that idea. The jokes are made at inopportune times, and at times when a lesser film would rely on action, Film: Red opts to throw in another joke or musical number. This movie understands One Piece.
In One Piece Film: Red, the Straw Hats attend a concert by a celebrity recluse named Uta. Like many One Piece characters, she is a triple threat. In addition to being a singer, Uta is also Luffy’s childhood friend and the daughter of the famous pirate Shanks.. The film begins with Uta serenading a stadium and continues to regularly dish out more songs to everyone.
When you introduce a specific character in an independent film, there’s always the risk of it being shoehorned in, but the inclusion of Uta is natural. In fact, it feels like Uta has always been a part of the One Piece mythos, with the added bonus of giving Shanks and Luffy more depth. It’s nice to have a character from Luffy’s past who saw him as an equal, living up to his competitive drive and childish idealism. In the main series, Luffy is usually initially scorned for being too childish, but this is not the case when it comes to Uta. It’s refreshing to see that the idealistic part of him is matched by another character.
All the songs of Uta, meanwhile, have lyrics that reflect the core ideals of One Piece. For example, the main theme, New Genesis, is about the current era of oppression and struggle being overcome. New Genesis also takes lyrics from the classic One Piece song, Bink’s Sake. This is a well thought out choice that makes the entire film feel authentic to the source material. Using music as a vehicle, One Piece Film: Red is able to include many more One Piece principles than its predecessors. Additionally, the songs serve as an easily digestible and catchy shorthand for Uta as a character, bringing us up to date on his off-screen evolution. The tradeoff is that the film requires the viewer to have read the main series to understand some of the nuances of the songs. Many of the song lyrics have a double meaning that may have broader implications for the main story of One Piece, and while that’s fun for die-hard fans, it might not be fun for those who aren’t totally up to speed. .
One of Uta’s best qualities is her versatile singing voice, provided by Japanese pop star, Ado. Each song has a completely different energy, allowing Ado to show off his fantastic tonal range. In New Genesis, she feels hopeful, as if the future is near her and she can reach it. On the other hand, Ado’s tone can become distinctly frustrated and mocking on songs like Fleeting Lullaby. Her voice is one of the most important aspects that enhance One Piece Film: Red to the best of the One Piece franchise.
In One Piece Film: Red, everyone is on the island for a believable reason.
Shanks was introduced in the first One Piece chapter as Luffy’s idol and early father figure. He is one of the few pirates who has been around as long as Luffy himself. Despite this, he remains an elusive figure. One Piece Film: Red was marketed as something that could change that, giving Shanks a bigger role than he’s had in the past. It is true that he has a presence, but he still does not reveal much about him. It is a secondary role that catalyzes One Piece Film: Red, and that makes us think that there are more things to come. Obviously, they couldn’t unravel a big mystery in a movie, but it would have been nice to get more information about one of One Piece’s most mysterious characters.
The Straw Hat crew doesn’t get a lot of screen time, which has been a constant problem throughout the movies. Crew members like Chopper and Robin have single lines and interesting little moments, but that’s about it. As usual, the focus is more on Luffy than the others, but One Piece Film: Red is really exceptional in his casting choices. In movies like One Piece: Stampede and One Piece Film Gold, it sometimes seemed like the cast had been chosen for popularity; as a result, the secondary characters seemed more like a fanservice forced than significant choices in history. In One Piece Film: Red, everyone is on the island for a believable reason, and appearances are crafted by the characters’ in-universe choices, rather than by a committee looking to sell merchandise.
One Piece Film: Red breaks the mold of the typical shonen anime film, capturing the magic of the series. It’s also a musical, with J-Pop star Ado, providing some fantastic sounds as Uta Shanks doesn’t get as much screen time as fans might expect, but enough to be satisfying. It’s not the movie that will turn non-believers into fans (it feels more like a lost episode than a knockout for newcomers) but by integrating tightly with the main series and understanding the humor that makes it shine, One Piece Film: Red ranks at the top of One Piece feature films.