DISCLAIMER: I will not be featuring any spoilers for the movie in this review, but I will be mentioning the premise as shown in the trailers and the general structure and qualities of the movie.
I flew all the way to Paris, France, to watch the premiere of One Piece Film RED at Europe’s biggest theater alongside 2800 One Piece fans having the time of their lives! Thank you so much to Mont Corvo for inviting me as a special guest to the red carpet of Film RED, it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had as a One Piece fan and something I definitely won’t forget.
But, now that I’ve seen the movie, the big question that is on everyone’s minds is: is it good? Is it bad? Could it even be… the greatest One Piece Film ever made? Potentially… yes, maybe, but I need to elaborate on those thoughts, so let me break it down.
So for One Piece Film RED Eiichiro Oda wanted to try something different: instead of having a film structured like a traditional One Piece arc, with the Straw Hats fighting a big baddie who is an old legend, this movie instead aims to be something more unique, more of a character drama of sorts. The star here is Uta, who is basically like Luffy’s sister in lieu of being the daughter of Shanks. She and Luffy grew up together in the past up until right before Chapter 1, where during an attack on an island, Shanks decided to leave Uta behind for a specific reason. What’s that reason? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out. And no, it’s not just Shanks being a deadbeat dad, there’s more to it. After being abandoned, Uta went on to develop her singing abilities to become the world’s most famous singer, with fans all across the globe. After all this time, she finally throws her first live concert on Elegia Island, where the Straw Hats attend and Luffy finally reunites with his long estranged sister, but something goes down and a conflict arises.
Now, at first when I heard that this premise would be centered around Luffy’s sister who happens to be Shanks’s daughter and a world famous singer in a One Piece idol movie with a design like this I would tell you this reeks of fanfiction, but somehow… somehow Oda makes it work. Despite this frankly bonkers premise, Film RED somehow feels like the most canon One Piece Film ever… and that’s because it technically is. Though the film’s actual events in the timeline obviously aren’t, Uta’s character and backstory are all canon and something I can compliment about Film RED is that alongside Strong World, it’s the closest an external piece of One Piece media has come to feeling like it’s straight from the manga. This is thanks to Oda providing a 17 page document outlining Uta’s past and the main setting and twists of the movie in incredible detail, leading to this experience feeling more closer to canon than some previous films, as characters feel and talk as they should naturally interact without ever feeling like filler.
THE TWISTS AND TURNS
Surprisingly, I was also shocked by the premise to see how very little about this movie they actually showed prior to release, which is appreciated, because outside of what happens in the first 10 minutes, you have no idea what comes after. There are so many surprised I would’ve never expected them to pull of that I was so glad they didn’t feel tempted to ruin in trailers, so even if you’ve been spoiled on a thing or two, trust me, there’s legitimately so much more to unpack in here that it’s still worth to watch this movie in theaters as unspoiled as you can.
This does however lead into a bit of a problem I had, because this mystery results in a particular twist fairly early on in the movie that, without spoiling it, pretty much flips the plot on its head and delivers a very different premise from what you likely first expected from the marketing. This feels like a double-edged blade, because on one hand, unlike previous films you really have no idea what you’re getting into with RED until you start watching, which will lead to a lot of surprises. But at the same time, some people might find out this is a very different film than what they expected and they might not resonate with some of the choices it makes because of how different it tries to be. Personally, I find the main twist to be a little bit forced and a missed opportunity for a more interesting story, but I did eventually warm up to it in due time.
Regardless, Film RED is certainly permeated with this spirit of trying to be more unique. If Stampede felt like a traditional celebration that tried to be One Piece in the safest way possible, RED reminds me a lot more of something like Movie 6, Baron Omatsuri. At times it feels unafraid to try a lot of things that aren’t what you would traditionally expect from One Piece. The movie all throughout explores a vast arrange of emotions, even some really melancholic ones, and did things I wasn’t expecting from a One Piece film.
However, at the same time, the movie still retains its One Piece essence. An issue some had with Baron Omatsuri is that despite its fantastic execution, some felt it strayed too far from the manga. Film RED instead tries to be unique without missing that One Piece feeling. This is on one hand a great strength, because it makes One Piece fans feel at home in what feels like a true canon-like experience, but at the same time it also results in the film being more predictable and generic in some aspects as it circles back into a more traditional Oda plot, which feels like it limits some of what the movie could’ve achieved. This makes the film feel less unique than it first seemed like it was setting out to be, and it personally squandered a lot of potential for what could’ve been a really fascinating character study into Uta’s personality in exchange for what felt like a frankly far more boring approach to the subject.
That’s not to say though that RED doesn’t try many new things though, the most prominent of them all being the fact that Toei and Oda made this the first One Piece musical by featuring a total of 7 songs that play all throughout the film. Something that did bother me with this premise is how much of a focal point Uta’s otherworldly singing was meant to be, but I was concerned that would be hard to believe without an appropriate actress. However, when I heard Uta’s singing voice for the first time, I legitimately felt like I was being transported to another world. If you don’t already know, Japan’s biggest rising popstar, Ado, was casted as Uta’s singing voice and they literally couldn’t have picked anyone better.
Her powerful voice skewers you with relentless emotions, with each of the songs representing a wide range of different emotions, from happy and inspiring, to sad and melancholic, or furious or borderline insane, which really help illustrate Uta’s emotional struggles across the film. This is also thanks to all the musical talent that came together to make this movie, from the likes of Vaundy, Mrs.GREENAPPLE, FAKE TYPE., and freaking Hiroyuki Sawano dropping some sick Attack on Titan-like beats, making a series of songs that legitimately stand alongside some of the best One Piece openings out there, certainly one of the highlights of the movie. I did feel though that the actual soundtrack paled by comparison and ended up being very forgettable compared to that of some previous films.
THE MUSIC SEQUENCES
Furthermore, while the songs themselves are no doubt an incredible selection, the way they are integrated into the film leads to mixed results. Though I really enjoyed many of the sequences, some others felt more like a glorified music video awkwardly jammed into the middle of the film, focusing more on cool visuals unrelated to the current scene. The best musical sequences were those that were intertwined with the actual story to help propagate the plot in emotional ways, which I feel should be the golden standard for anime musicals that the likes of Makoto Shinkai have helped pioneer, but only some in Film RED really feel like they actually compliment the story. Those that do work excellently, but those that don’t end up feeling a bit redundant and like they break up the pace of the movie.
It also doesn’t help that there are so many songs and it’s even worse because there’s a few that are repeated several times over too, which I feel might overstay their welcome for those not as invested in the idea of a One Piece musical. The CGI model used for Uta during some of the music sequences was also weirdly jarring, but it was the only blunder in what are otherwise stunningly animated 2D sequences.
Speaking of which, on the topic of presentation, from an animation standpoint RED far and wide succeeds as the best animated One Piece Film, without question. Some of the best animated scenes in the movie stand almost on par with the best fight scenes Onigashima has had to offer, and there are several of them. I was surprised to see just how much good stuff they hid from the trailers, so you’ll be very pleasantly surprised with some of the sakuga sequences. The last part of the movie particularly is nothing short of animation heaven, which makes those hype moments hit all the harder, especially if you’re experiencing them with other people. And though definitely nothing close to what the likes of Megumi Ishitani can do, Goro Taniguchi’s general direction was incredibly solid all-throughout, with certain scenes having impressive camerawork.
Really, in a lot of ways Film RED feels like it tries to sample the best elements of its previous entry, Stampede, without all the fat that came with it. For example, some felt that in that film there were just too many characters who simply showed up for a quick cameo but didn’t really get their chance to shine. By comparison, I was pleased to see that RED not only took this crossover idea but refined it again in a way that actually works. For once the Straw Hats aren’t the center of the movie (outside of Luffy), though don’t worry, they all still get plenty of shining moments, but I would’ve never thought that characters like Blueno or Koby would end up being major protagonists in a One Piece Film. Yet somehow, the narrative manages to tie them perfectly into the story, which adds a much more refreshing dynamic with the main cast compared to the tried and old formula of the Straw Hats facing a new threat like they do in every movie, without neglecting them of cool scenes either.
As for the main characters, I’ve already expressed how I felt about some missed potential regarding the approach of exploring Uta as a character, because I otherwise really enjoyed her for who she was. No doubt thanks to that Shanks influence, she pretty much feels like a female Luffy, but the different experiences they had with Shanks, one being inspired to follow after him, and the other one being betrayed left behind, definitely led them down very different paths, which makes for an interesting dynamic, despite being poorly approached like I mentioned.
As for Shanks, well I really don’t want to ruin any surprises, but the simplest way I can put it is that this movie automatically made me more invested in Shanks as a character than any scene after Chapter 1 ever has, which is an absolute win in my book, so that’s all I’ll say. The rest, I’ll leave for you to discover and enjoy.
Speaking of the man himself, something that the movie also builds up from Stampede is including canon information in the movie. Beyond Uta being canon, we get a lot of really juicy information, both in terms of big reveals, and a lot of really subtle comments that fuel certain previous theories. We don’t get anything single-handedly as big as the “Laugh Tale” reveal, but it makes up with a lot more scattered information on a bunch of different subjects that will no doubt play into the story.
That does tie into the third element that RED builds upon from Stampede, and it’s fanservice. This movie is jam-packed with fanservice, but it doesn’t feel tasteless or pandering, but more of an earned celebration of the 25 years the series has serialized. From a lot of really small cool references to the way it all builds up and culminates in the end, this feels like a reward for all One Piece fans that have stuck this long.
An issue with the film’s pacing is that a large part of the first two acts feels like it centers a lot on just setting up things and… quite simply trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in the story, but it all pays off because the final third of the movie is such an unbelievable adrenaline and emotional rush unlike almost anything I’ve ever experienced in One Piece. Legitimately it was up there with the climax of Luffy vs Kaido in terms of sheer hype and I don’t think I’ve ever screamed louder watching this series. It goes above and beyond to be the most hype-inducing climax in a One Piece movie, something that works brilliantly because the hype leaves you so emotionally vulnerable that the powerful scenes that follow after hit all the harder, in such an emotional rollercoaster that when the film finished and the credits rolled I was simply… speechless.
I stood there in my cinema seat for a few minutes and couldn’t even move because I felt a surge of emotions that impacted me like no other One Piece film ever has. I’ve had One Piece films that made me happier and maybe even liked more in general, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a One Piece movie that left me so emotionally speechless by the end as the tears simply flowed down my face.
Whether Film RED really will be your favorite One Piece Film or not really depends on how much you enjoy all the new things it tries and whether you think it strikes a good balance with them. By attempting to be different, Film RED also comes across certain risks, which sometimes pay off, and sometimes don’t, and its hesitation to fully commit to be different feels like it harms some of the potential it had, but in my eyes it came out to be not necessarily the best One Piece Film, but without a doubt its most unique and unforgettable.
Do you plan to also do a non-spoiler free review to be able to talk about more details, like you did for Stampede? I’d be curious to hear talk about the new canon informations the movie provides.
So what’s your top 3 One Piece movie?
I really enjoyed this movie and I would rewatch this again.