DISCLAIMER: This review does not feature any sort of spoilers about Stampede. While I do gloss over some minor points of the movie and pre-release information about the general structure (which is still pretty vague), I do not bring up any big plot points or specific reveals, so rest assured that this review is SPOILER FREE
There was this thing thrown around to hype up Stampede’s release: that this movie was meant to be a “celebration of 20 years of the One Piece anime”. I originally thought this was just one of those anniversary promotion things, they do it a lot of the time with anime and game franchises, so I didn’t think much about it. But it’s not until I watched the movie in theaters this Friday that I realized just how much it really is a celebration of not just the manga’s history, but also the anime and the franchise’s legacy.
The main selling point that has been focused on so much in official promotion is that this is a crossover movie. Rather than just being a movie about the Straw Hats and a group of enemies, this is a movie about many characters from across the whole series: the entire Worst Generation, the Shichibukai, the Marines, the Revolutionaries, the Cipher Pol and many more; the movie brings in many beloved stars from across the series in one big action-packed thrill ride.
In the last movie, GOLD, all the Straw Hats were present despite them never being reunited since the beginning of Dressrosa, essentially making a completely non-canon setting. Stampede takes that concept and runs wild with it: the movie fully takes advantage of being non-canon and brings characters from all over the series that wouldn’t otherwise fit in any point in the manga: Bonney and Sabo being at the Reverie, Drake being in Kaido’s crew, Hancock being back at Amazon Lily, it would be literally impossible for this to happen in the manga. Yet Stampede throws all of that out the window and basks on the fact that it is non-canon to create some amazing set pieces that would otherwise be impossible. If anything, the fact that this movie is non-canon might be one of its best aspects: seeing certain character interactions that we could’ve only dreamed of, seeing certain match ups that you would never imagine being possible in the main story, it’s fanservice at its absolute best. While it might not carry the same narrative weight and quality Marineford had, in terms of scope this could very well rival that arc in the sheer amount of characters gathered and clashing together.
However, a big worry was that having so many characters would be too overwhelming and that ultimately the movie would suffer from not being able to focus on all of them. Yet after watching it, I was shocked at how incredibly well it handled its large cast of characters. There’s three core groups of characters the movie focuses on: the Straw Hats, the Supernovas and the seven fighters that have been hyped up in promotional material. All of them get extensive focus and have their own time to shine, be it through a battle or via special moments that represent their characters faithfully. Beyond them, there’s another set of supporting characters who aren’t given as much focus (though most of them get a couple moments to shine), but are still cool to see there in the movie, even if for brief moments, lending credence to the scope of this event. There isn’t a single one that I can recall having 0 moments to stand out and all of them, in some way or another, get their chance to take the spotlight at some point or another. Yes, even Helmeppo.
Yet one of my favorite aspects was the third tier of characters, being the easter egg and cameo characters. You know me well, One Piece details are my life, and seeing all these references is incredibly exciting for me. But beyond the 12 or so Pandamans in the movie, the pool of characters this movie references is insane, both from the main series and the years of non-canon content the anime has added. Yes, remember the salesman who sold Nami some sea chart paper in that random post-Alabasta filler? Yep, he’s in the movie. That’s the degree of references the movie takes from and it’s a delight for those of us who have taken the time to enjoy the series.
But the references don’t end in just the characters: there’s so many moments, attacks and scenes that will make you go “oh, that’s from that point in the manga/anime!”. Seeing stuff like Zoro smiling at Killer when clashing, seeing certain callbacks to arcs like Sabaody, seeing certain specific attacks from way back when and many more references (not going into detail to try to stay as spoiler free as possible) really lends credence to this being a celebration of the series. Plus, that end scene man, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.
And that celebration is especially present via the many fights the movie has to offer. From minor cool clashes to fully-fleshed out fights, there’s so many cool different interactions among so many different characters. For example, Perona defeating a certain character who I would’ve never imagined she’d meet in the actual story or Foxy getting absolutely bodied by a certain marine Vice-Admiral are interactions I loved so much as a long-time fan of the series.
Then of course we have the fights against the main antagonist, Douglas Bullet. Bullet is an absolute monster, easily top tier in the OP world and only behind the Yonko and other legends. Finally we have an antagonist who isn’t a nobody like Tesoro or someone legendary figure like Shiki or Z but with no real strength to back it up. This is a guy who FEELS like he’s at the power level his status demands and emanates a sense of fear that is not that far from the likes of Kaido or Big Mom. The way he baby shakes certain characters makes him feel like a genuine threat and is sure to please those who enjoy strong powerful villains in the series. I do feel that ultimately, while he has an interesting backstory, in terms of character Bullet ends up being the blandest of the four main movie villains, as he doesn’t have that humanizing touch Z and Tesoro had or the brilliant depth Shiki had, which takes away a bit from his character. However, I feel he makes up by the fact that he is an actual threat and for a movie that is more action-oriented than plot oriented, he feels like a much more logical fit in this case, so in that regard Bullet just makes more sense to be designed this way.
In that regard, the movie has a much more major focus on fighting and action than plot. Rest assured, there’s plenty of breathing room, emotional moments among the Straw Hats and time to expand Bullet’s character (though unlike the thorough explanation in volume expo provided for Japanese moviegoers, I feel his backstory was a bit glossed over in the film itself) to not be just a brainless actionfest. But keep in mind the fighting crossover aspect is the main star here, so expect a good deal of clashes and fighting. In particular, a large chunk of the movie is solely dedicated to taking down Bullet, with that essentially being the main focus for about 60-70% of the movie. The efforts to take him down are certainly no joke, so unavoidably a large part of the movie is focused on defeating him and everyone uniting forces to defeating this monster
If there is one major thing I had issue with however, is that at the end of the movie the seven fighters that had been so majorly featured in promotional material don’t really do much to fight Bullet (in fact, Lucci barely does a single thing, throwing just one attack). They certainly deal a good amount of damage over a series of attacks and have some cool combination moves, but the final clash is completely between Luffy and Bullet alone, where I instead wished it was a team fight until the very end. And while Bullet suffers from consistent damage across the movie, the fact that he goes down to Luffy in the end suspended my disbelief at least a little. I was able to get over it rather quickly, but it’s an urksome stain on what would’ve otherwise been a perfect finale.
Speaking of the fighting however, this would certainly be a great time to praise the choreography because my god, is it stunning. The way characters move and leap around, the way Bullet effortlessly destroys characters and the way the camera is made to pan out is stunning at points. In fact, the animation as a whole for this movie is through the roof and this doesn’t apply to just fights: the way the camera pans through certain landscape shots, the buttery smooth frames of animation in some of the action and just generally the overall fantastic visual direction paired with the jawdropping animation made this movie an absolutely stunning visual spectacle. There’s a surprising use of 3D CGI, yet it never felt uncanny or Berserky, as it blended very well with the natural animation, providing us with some stunning panoramic shots.
The beauty of the movie’s visuals is made clear from the very moment it starts: without going into spoilers, the movie opens with a certain scene from the series being shown again, yet the difference in quality from that scene in the anime is indescribable. While Wano might’ve gotten an increase in animation, so did the movies, making Stampede an absolute visual treat for the eyes.
The soundtrack is relatively solid, but I don’t quite recall certain unique tracks being too much of a standout (only that comes to mind is Bullet’s theme), something I can’t quite say about the soundtracks of Strong World and Z, which were incredibly memorable. This might be because just like GOLD, it seems Kohei Tanaka didn’t come back for the score, so just like that movie the tracks simply don’t stand out that much, feeling more like generic tracks to suit each scene. However, something that was quite cool was the use of remixes for some of the anime’s openings and endings, which emphasizes the concept of fanservice by providing nostalgic tracks to make certain moments far more memorable.
Also another thing I’d like to talk about very briefly, the humor is fantastic. Buggy gets a lot of spotlight and some of his moments are absolutely fantastic, including certain plot twists regarding him that had me in stitches because of how silly they were. The rest of the characters get great humorous moments too and there’s even certain jokes that only those who know the series well will get, once again rewarding the dedication fans have for the franchise.
I’d like however to touch on one more aspect I haven’t focused on yet and what might be one of my favorite aspects of the movie: the plot twists and reveals. It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything, but essentially, for the first time ever in a One Piece movie, actual canon content is revealed within it. While the movie isn’t canon, it reveals certain canon things relative to the main series and even drops MAJOR hints towards the endgame of the manga. The movie drops certain insane plot twists that had me literally jawdropped at the cinema, making me realize things about some of the manga’s secrets I hadn’t thought about until this point. To put it simply, it felt like I was reading a Reverie chapter in the middle of an already fanservice-packed movie, making the whole experience an insane ride of emotions of excitement, fun and hype. To experience all of this at a movie theater, instead of the usual comfort of my home, just made said reveals all the more impactful than if they came from a manga chapter, magnified by the adrenaline I already had from watching this movie.
And that’s what make Stampede so good. It might not have the aspects of a traditional arc that some of the older movies have and might not feel like so much of a classic adventure. Yet it does something completely different, being a movie focused on fanservice, epic moments and mindblowing reveals. The movie is a high-octane ride that had me hopping on my seat at every new exciting moment, constantly trying to one-up itself and succeeding at doing so. It might lack some of the traditional charm of some previous movies, but in the aspects it does well, it exceeds the already unbelievable expectations.
It’s an absolute love letter to fans that capitalizes on the series’s long history as a celebration of its beautiful legacy. Aside from a couple minor issues I have with it, this is a movie designed to cause fans to fall in love with it, from its monstrously powerful villain, its many references and characters and all the mindblowing reveals Oda snuck in. It’s a movie made for the fans and one that rewards our love for the series. It’s a beautiful rollercoaster from beginning to end that capitalizes on the aspects of the series that always get us so hyped. From start (which opens with a certain voice that will make any fan grin from ear to ear) to the very end (closing off with quite a plot twist and major foreshadowing), the movie never stops being a rush of emotions until it is truly over.
While I think that ultimately Strong World will still remain my favorite, as I think it lends that traditional One Piece arc feel so well (all thanks to the fact that Oda actually wrote it) on top of personal bias, I still feel it’s pointless to rank Stampede because what it sets out to do is something completely unique and different from all other previous films. It’s meant to not be a traditional film, but a love letter that capitalizes on hype, sheer excitement and thrills, making a film that might not be as narratively structured as others, yet insanely more enjoyable thanks to that. From the moment I entered the theater till the moment the credits rolled, I felt an indescribable stampede of emotions that had me with the biggest grin on my face as I shook in my seat in excitement. Having experienced this movie, above all else, made me feel so glad to be a One Piece fan. And that’s what makes it so special.