“Listen Uta, there’s no peace or equality in this world.”
A lot of anime have left a permanent mark on the animation industry, but there’s an extra level of celebration that’s surrounded Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece and its growing legacy. For some fans of the series, One Piece has been running for their entire lives. It’s accrued more than 1035 episodes and 15 movies, which works out to 420 hours–or 17-and-a-half days–of content. This is a staggering achievement in storytelling, but it’s also turned One Piece into an intimidating property for casual viewers to consume.
One Piece’s feature films take strides to tell more accessible stories and the most recent efforts–Gold and Stampede–have been among the best in the franchise. One Piece Film: Red manages to top those heights, but in a completely unexpected manner. One Piece Film: Red is likely to be a polarizing movie due to the radical risks that it takes. However, those that buy into its premise and structure will fall hard for it all, while those that aren’t into this creative pivot will at least be able to appreciate the bold choices made by Film: Red.
Right from One Piece Film: Red’s introduction of new central villain Uta it’s clear that this is going to be a very different type of story. By and large, the antagonists in One Piece movies are burly old men and Uta represents the opposite of that–a precocious pop idol who looks like she’s dressed for the MET Gala. Uta’s a success on every level and she’s one of the better character designs to come from Oda in some time. His passion for this performer is palpable.
Uta’s desire to use her unique Devil Fruit power to reshape the world threatens to make her first public concert an event that no pirate will soon forget, but not because her music is stuck in their heads. This becomes the driving force in One Piece Film: Red, which is ostensibly a concert film. Uta performs seven songs throughout the movie, which some may feel is excessive, but they’re all provoking pieces of music. Some of the angrier songs towards the end of the film, like “Tot Musica,” are particularly powerful.
The film’s atypical concert format comes across as an attempt to appeal to younger or even completely new audiences who don’t have the time to binge 1000+ episodes. One Piece Film: Red succeeds in this regard. It may feel slightly inconsequential to the die hard fans, but there’s still enough that’s familiar as well as exciting new ideas that the movie brings forward. Film: Red doesn’t seem like pointless filler, unlike some of the earlier One Piece movies. That being said, it’s unclear if Uta will ever return, as entertaining as she is here.
One of the biggest surprises in One Piece Film: Red is how much Luffy gets sidelined. He’s basically a supporting character who’s able to help facilitate Shanks and Uta’s conflict. This is the first One Piece movie to feature Shanks, but it also introduces the rest of his Red-Haired Pirate crew. This is long overdue and the movie benefits from how it’s really Shanks’ story. The movie is at its best during the tender scenes between Uta and Shanks, all of which culminate into a bittersweet conclusion. The film’s finale is couched in bright visuals and music, but it’s undoubtedly dark for One Piece.
Film: Red isn’t wholly absent of chaotic action, but it’s largely reserved for the final act. It’s a welcome change of pace that this movie doesn’t conclude in standard One Piece fashion where Luffy takes on the big villain. These surprising deviations to the well-defined One Piece formula all help Film: Red shine. However, this movie still understands its audience and throws an obligatory bone to ultra-fans as it provides the briefest of hints over a totemic transformation that fans have been waiting to see for years.
One Piece Film: Red is light in battles, but it’s still a visually stunning movie that truly benefits from the theatrical experience. It’s arguably the best that One Piece has ever looked and there’s some really inventive use of CG for Uta’s grand musical spectacles. It’s hard to believe that a pop idol singing a song can look as good as some of Luffy’s greatest fights.
So much of the movie’s unique nature is the result of its director, Goro Taniguchi. Taniguchi previously directed 1998’s initial One Piece OVA and is technically the first person responsible for bringing Luffy to life in animation. It’s poetic that Taniguhi has returned nearly 25 years later–while not missing a beat–to push the series into brave, new territory. There’s such energy to One Piece Film: Red that hopefully Taniguchi will return to direct subsequent movies. It would also be such an appropriate way to bookend the One Piece anime if one of the people responsible for the original animation plays a hand in one of the final–or the final–movies in the series.
One Piece Film: Red is the perfect entrypoint for those who have always been curious about One Piece yet never made the leap, but it’ll also resonate with the long-term crowd. Granted, this movie works best for those who have actually spent lots of time with Luffy, Shanks, and the rest of these characters, but it properly toes the line between a standalone mainstream crowd pleaser and a niche, indecipherable puzzle piece of the anime’s circuitous lore.
Film: Red is guilty of occasionally being superfluous, but Uta’s music is so catchy that they alone will make audiences want to rewatch the movie. It’s quite rare that the comedy or battle sequences aren’t what bring audiences back to a One Piece film. Those elements are still in fine form in One Piece Film: Red. It’s just truly impressive how a non-musical series makes its musical performances its greatest asset, but in a way that’s still incredibly faithful to the grander nature of One Piece.
Now, time to go listen to “New Genesis” for the umpteenth time until the next One Piece film gets announced.
One Piece Film: Red receives a limited theatrical release in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland on Nov. 4.