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‘One Piece Film: Red’ review: Not quite king of the ‘One Piece’ movies

By November 8, 2022March 29th, 2023No Comments5 min read
one piece film red

Over two decades have passed since the first chapter of Eiichiro Oda’s long-running magnum opus, One Piece, changed manga forever and continues to be the one of the most successful and beloved entertainment franchises in history. The manga still sails on, of course, a whopping 1065 chapters and counting. But while the main story is far from complete, the off-shoot films appear to be hitting a bit of a fifth gear in this new era of pirate anime adaptations.

Or maybe we should say fifteenth gear. One Piece Film: Red is the fifteenth feature film in the series, after all. But as usual, it has nothing really to do with the plot of the manga or anime, and it exists in-between arcs of the show without reckoning with the consequences of said arcs. It’s a standalone adventure that breaks the continuity of the canon, and purposefully so. It’s designed so that newcomers to One Piece can jump in and enjoy the action as much as they reasonably can, despite having no idea who these characters might actually be in context.

But let’s not kid ourselves. One Piece Film: Red is a movie awash with fan service, a reward to patient acolytes of Oda’s seemingly endless saga, with treats and little nods to one of its most intriguing and mysterious characters by far. The story mainly follows Uta (voiced by Kaori Nazuka in the movie’s original Japanese and famous singer Ado as the character’s singing voice), a pop idol so famous, her live concert has attracted familiar faces from all over the One Piece world, though mostly characters from the post-timeskip phase of the story from over the last decade or so. These heavy-hitters, who range from dastardly pirate crews to the powerful but often corrupt marines, collide in a bombastic musical-esque fantasy adventure where the entire world is at stake, as expected.

one piece film
Photo Courtesy of Toei Entertainment

The main draw for most One Piece fans going into One Piece Film: Red is undoubtedly the promise of new insight into Red-Haired Shanks, who was revealed in the film’s marketing to be the father of Uta. Since the beginning of One Piece, Shanks has cast a heavy, unburdened shadow over the story, barely showing up or being mentioned despite his larger-than-life status as the original mentor of the series’ protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy. That’s right, it’s been over 20 years, and we really don’t know all that much about the man who gave Luffy his signature straw hat, served as a cabin boy for the former King of the Pirates (whose wealth and fame mantra kickstarted the entire franchise), and is currently one of the four emperors of the sea.

Needless to say, One Piece readers and anime obsessives want more Shanks and have been waiting patiently for said Shanks, so it’s nice to report that One Piece Film: Red certainly gives them what they ask for…to an extent. Obviously, Oda has far grander plans for the character moving into the series’ final saga, so it’s not like we can expect a treasure trove of new information, particularly in a movie that keeps most of its focus on the complex backstory and motivations of Uta. Not since Golden Lion Shiki in One Piece Film: Strong World has a movie character felt this tied into the main canon of the series, which has been boosted by supplementary episodes of the anime and even some manga cover stories setting up her character in the lead-up to the film’s release.

But One Piece Film: Red is certainly of a closer kind to One Piece: Stampede, a similarly absurd battle royale of established characters duking it out amongst not just each other, but a common, seemingly unstoppable enemy. Gorō Taniguchi directs the film with Tsutomu Kuroiwa as screenwriter, but with Oda serving as executive producer of course. And the result is a similarly cathartic joyride through the series’ boundless mythology. Most of the amusement to be had in One Piece Film: Red is through intertextual character interactions and a “let’s party” atmosphere that actually fits in nicely with the “let’s party” mentality of its main character, Luffy.

The downsides are also familiar. At a certain point, the film twists itself into so many convoluted plot revelations, it’s a wonder the movie doesn’t end with everyone giving up due to a migraine. Without giving anything away, a lot of the villain’s most interesting and monstrous actions are removed from their own agency and blamed on external factors. Plus, it’s quite hard to find room for the Straw Hat pirates to shine in their own right, namely Brook, the crew’s musician, who never really gets a chance to take center stage despite how fitting that might sound for, again, a musician.

Fortunately, the movie lands the notes it obviously cares more about. The music itself is enchanting, with Ado’s talent and electric persona to be a wonder for western audiences hearing her for the first time. The collection of characters is quite random — Oven? Really? OK. — but longtime fans will feast on some of these appearances, particularly a clever play on the relationship between Usopp and the father he still hasn’t met. And the wonderful antics of our favorite would-be pirate king are as delightful as they’ve ever been.

There are just built-in limitations for anime movies with thousands of episodes and reading material separating established fans from newcomers. A film doesn’t need to be all things to all people in order to be worth anyone’s time, thank Goda. But there is something to be said about what movies like this are really for. If not to draw in new audiences, at least to give the people who already consider themselves nakama a chance to see a gorgeous animated adventure on the big screen. With characters who provide the instant gratification of comfort that only decades of consistently stellar storytelling will earn you.

One Piece Film: Red is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Toei Entertainment

  • ONE PIECE FILM: RED - 6.5/10
Jon Negroni

Jon is one of the co-founders of InBetweenDrafts and our resident film editor. He also hosts the podcasts Cinemaholics, Mad Men Men, and Rookie Pirate Radio. He doesn't sleep, essentially.

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