REVIEW: One Piece Film – Red (2022)

A Theatrically-Released Anime Film

One Piece has always been one of those franchises that I have neglected, and I’m not sure why. I actually do like it quite a bit, but am so woefully behind on it I’m not even certain I could “catch up” without a Herculean multi-year task of trying to watch something like 900 of 1000 episodes of a TV show and fifteen movies. That said, I may have no choice as my son has started watching it here and there, so we shall see. It all started this past weekend, when we attended a screening of the newest film in the series, One Piece Film – Red, which got a wide release due to Crunchyroll’s new plan (under Sony, of course) of releasing most of their big properties into theaters. Since then, a twenty year old Luffy plushie I got at an anime convention in 2004 has become a prized toy of his, and he instantly became a fan.

For me, I always appreciated the show because of the way that it is written and especially the atypical art style. In a time when a large percentage of anime productions from major studios all end up looking so similar, One Piece is a breath of fresh air. This is the exact same reason that I enjoyed the show Akagi, I mean, I honestly know absolutely nothing about mahjong and have never really followed anything related to it, but simply by virtue of it being different and looking different I loved it. I remember when I was in college, and still in a local anime club, a lot of people hated on One Piece due to it not “looking like Inu Yasha” (actual quote I heard), which apparently was the barometer that defined good anime for the casual fan at the time. I always felt like it was their loss and most of those casual fans have never really followed up with any more anime fandom since. So here we are in 2022, with the 15th One Piece movie, and with it being easily watchable in the movie theater on a wide release I thought “what the hell!” The worst that can happen is that I’ll get to see some cool stuff and not understand a minute of it!

“Uta is a beloved singer, renowned for concealing her own identity when performing. Her voice is described as “otherworldly.” Now, for the first time ever, Uta will reveal herself to the world at a live concert.”

First and foremost, before anyone goes into this movie expecting it to be the same as the TV series, I wanted to give a heads-up that this film is largely a musical in many ways. The entire plot focuses in on the story of a wayward idol singer that is equal parts loving (to a fault) and slightly deranged in the way she plans to show that love. The Straw Hat Pirates attend one of her concerts to let off some steam and have fun, only to be roped into an epic showdown they were unprepared for. There are multiple musical numbers, and I’d imagine that the movie was created with the sole intention of selling an album of the film’s soundtrack. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not 100% what I was expecting going into this. Then again, as I stated, I haven’t kept up with these and every single One Piece movie very well could be a musical. I have no idea!

With my particular situation going in, as a lapsed fan that hasn’t kept up with the show for probably a decade, I found it relatively easy to understand what was happening although there are a handful of characters that I was unfamiliar with that have obviously shown up later in the show from what I’ve seen. I’m sure that if I knew more about some people I would have appreciated what were obvious cameos at various times, but I never lost track of what was actually happening within the narrative. It was cool to see some characters that were in the very beginnings of the show and see how they have matured both in appearance and demeanor since the show premiered something like 25 years ago today. I’m not 100% certain that this would be a good entry vehicle for new fans to try to get into the property, but it does give you a decent idea of what sort of powers and fighting abilities that most of these characters have. and with any Shonen anime/manga, that’s largely what most of the audience is there for.

Really, the only real gripe I have about this film is the animation being very inconsistent. Sometimes everything looks really gorgeous and other times it looks like the typical Toei Animation TV art style that ends up looking somewhat unfinished due to them saving the “good animation” for the eventual DVD or Blu-ray releases. This seems kind of silly to me considering this was a theatrical movie released widely on an international market, so everything really should have been up to snuff.

I’m not 100% certain that it was not due to the fact that I saw this on an IMAX screen sitting towards the front, but there were many times when one could tell that they had animated a much larger image and then zoomed in to get close ups and reaction shots from people. This would have been okay had it not been for the fact that a lot of these zoomed in shots were somewhat pixelated and looked insanely unfinished. This is something that can happen with any sort of digital animation, especially after being blown up to such a huge size. Just looking at something, say, the recent Dragon Ball Super movie Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero or even the last animated film that I’ve saw in the theaters, Mobile suit Gundam Cucuruz Doan’s Island, none of these issues were really there. This didn’t really ruin the film for me but I was kind of disappointed at times when the movie jumped around from looking absolutely gorgeous to not so much.

It has been really awesome to see so much big budget anime in theaters this year, this is basically a dream I could not have imagined even a decade ago, and here we are. I may do a write up about this at some point as this is a BIG change in how this medium is consumed in the U.S., and I would like to pinpoint when it all started up. Despite my minor issues with the animation and continuity, I still felt like this was a solid film, and both my son and I loved it a lot. I guess, more than anything, it got both of us interested in watching the TV series, so mission accomplished for Crunchyroll. The music was outstanding, the plot was interesting, and the finale was a solid nostalgia-filled cameo-thon that will make the fans VERY happy. Keep watching this space – while I have no plans to go on a huge review spree for One Piece, I may watch some more of the movies sometime – if you are a fan, keep your eyes open!

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