His name is Luffy, That’s Monkey D. Luffy, Gonna be King of the Pirates!
What’s the Story?
After receiving a mysterious invitation to Omatsuri island, which promises spas, beautiful women and dream-come-true food, the Straw Hat pirates head there to check it out. Unfortunately when they arrive Baron Omatsuri, the ruler of the island, challenges them to bizarre challenge after bizarre challenge, from catching giant goldfish to a ring toss race along the town’s canals. But not everything is as it seems on the island, who is the mysterious moustached man watching Luffy from the shadows, why does everyone have a plant sticking out of their heads and, most concerning at all, why are the Straw Hats suddenly at one another’s throats? The secret of this island is darker and crueler than anything they’ve come across before and unless Luffy finds a way to pull his crew together, he’s going to lose them forever.
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (yes, that Mamoru Hosoda!), this is a One Piece story unlike any other in the franchise and I very much love it (in fact it may just be my favourite Hosoda film to date, there, I said it). Sorry to go full-on gush straight away and I can clearly see the parts of the film that might turn some people off, but for me, I was mesmerised by this film. From the style and the design of everything to the dark, haunting story it’s telling, I just wanted to drink it all in. My beloved Straw Hat pirates have wandered into a twisted nightmare realm and I can’t do anything but watch as they’re torn apart one by one. Argh! This is an anime film! It’s supposed to be filler! Why am I so concerned for the Straw Hats? Why do I get the feeling that this time it actually could be the end of them! Ahhhhhhh!
The feels is one of the strengths of this film, but we’ll come back to that later. Let’s start with the animation and the directing. Now anyone who’s seen a Mamoru Hosoda film before will know the animation style and it does take a few minutes to get used to seeing the Straw Hats drawn this way, they do look good though and the animation lends itself to the frantic style of the movie. Add on to that the energetic directing that bounces back and forth with the crew’s banter and this is a film that makes you sit up and pay attention, which just makes all the ominous warnings about how bad things are going to get all the more chilling. There’s an unsettling air to Omatsuri island even while the crew are getting caught up in crazy antics after crazy antics, you can’t help but notice the growing sense of dread, especially as the crew start to break apart.
That’s the thing about this film and the reason I love it so much (even if I wouldn’t want to see this done all the time). It takes the Straw Hats and their tight bonds of friendship that make up the vast majority of Shonen series and it delights in tearing them apart before your very eyes. Yes the Straw Hats often argue, with all of their lively personalities its hard for them not to clash, but you never doubt that when it comes down to it, they’ll be there for one another, except this time they’re not. This time their differences grate on one another until they split apart and once they decide to go alone, they’re done for. It’s heartbreaking to watch and yet completely understandable at the same time, they’re still friends deep down, but sometimes friends can really get on your nerves and the Baron uses that to his full advantage.
That brings me to Luffy and, really, this film has to be one of his greatest trials. It fully exposes his weaknesses as a Captain and I do genuinely believe that Luffy is a good Captain, just not this time. Yeah he’s wilful and never thinks things through, yes he’s not a very good sailor and would be dead a thousand times over without his crew to back him up, but he is a good Captain for one simple reason, he has good instincts. I know that may sound a bit silly, but it genuinely is Luffy’s greatest strength, he can see right to the core of a problem and knows exactly how to fix it. The best example I’ve got is the Alabasta arc where Vivi’s coming up with plans to end the rebellion and Luffy just sees right through it to the fact that if he beats Crocodile, this all ends, and yes he loses against Crocodile, but how does the arc end? All of Vivi’s plans have backfired and it’s down to Luffy to send Crocodile flying. Luffy can always spot an end boss and he always knows what the right thing to do is, however crazy it appears to everyone else.
That being said, in this film Luffy’s instincts fail him, he’s used to seeing his friends argument, but he fails to notice the subtle undercurrent that this time things are more serious. Luffy’s utter rage at the loss of his friends at the end of the film isn’t just at the Baron, but at himself as well. He should have noticed, he should have done something and if it wasn’t for the action of one brave dad, he’d have lost his friends forever.
Finally, let’s talk about the Baron. While he may not look all that imposing or threatening, the Baron is my second favourite villain ever produced by the One Piece films (my favourite is Zephyr from One Piece Film Z I you’re interested). The Baron is utterly ruthless and cruel and you just can’t wait for Luffy to slug him one, but at the same time you feel sorry for the guy. Spoiler Alert, he lost his entire crew in one devastating storm and the grief has driven him mad, though I’m sure the parasitic Lily Carnation wasn’t any help. Now he lives with facsimiles of his friends in an almost dream world, feeding the Lily other pirates in order to keep the illusion going and delighting in tearing apart strong groups of friends so that they feel the same pain he did. That…that is just messed up.
All in all, One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island is one of my favourite One Piece films. It’s something totally different from the rest of the franchise and that’s what makes it such a great experience. It exposes the weaknesses of the crew and their captain, taking on a dark tale of grief, madness and pain, all wrapped up in fast-paced, wacky and unsettling adventure. For the first time in one of these films I felt like the Straw Hats might not actually make it out the other side and that is an achievement in itself. Whether you’re a fan of One Piece or not, be sure to check this out.
That’s it for this week, so I hope everyone has a very merry christmas and I’ll see you back here in a week for the end of One Piece-cember as we pay a visit to the Strong World.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.