Snipers are there for support!
What’s the Story?
Welcome to the Pirate Fest! Master of Festivities, Buena Festa, has set up the ultimate gathering of pirates from across the Grand Line. It’s pretty much the worst of the worst all in one place to fight, drink and…enter in beauty contests (?) to their heart’s content! Of course pirates want more than a good party, there has to be some treasure involved somewhere and Festa has got his hands on something truly special, Gol D. Roger’s treasure! No, it’s not the legendary One Piece, but apparently it’s just as good and whichever pirate manages to get a hold of it will have the power to change the world! Not everything is as it seems though, Buena Festa wants more a festival, he wants to kickstart a whole new era and just what is Douglas Bullet, a former member of Roger’s crew, doing on the island? When the Navy shows up as well things quickly turn from a treasure hunt into a no holds barred battle royale for survival!
I’ll warn you now, if you’re not a fan of One Piece then this is not the film to convert you. It is a film so steeped in the lore and the length and breadth of the One Piece world that I don’t really know what someone unfamiliar with the series will get out of it (outside of some gorgeous animation and amazing fight sequences). There’s so many characters and cameos and references to things from throughout the series’ history that I’m surprised the film doesn’t collapse in on itself. As a fan of One Piece since childhood I loved it, I cheered every time a familiar character popped up, or when we got to see the Straw Hats take on new, yet familiar, opponents (Sanji vs. Smoker!). Honestly I wish we could have seen a bit more of some of these match ups (Zoro vs. Fujitora!), but that would probably require another hour being added on to the film and wreck the pacing, which thinking about it I wouldn’t have minded that much. This whole film is basically a gigantic shot of fanservice to the centre of my brain and I adore it! Which brings me to my problem. As a fan I just want to go through all the little scenes and moments that were so amazing to me and gush endlessly about them, but the more analytic part of my brain can’t help but admit, there are problems with this film.
Let’s start with the story, obviously with such a massive cast of characters taking part we can’t have the story be too complicated, things would just get messy really quickly that way. Stampede decides to avoid this problem by having the barest of bare bones plots, the entire film is basically a continually evolving fight scene. We start with the members of the Worst Generation squaring off against one another, then Bullet comes in and decimates them and anyone else who gets in his way all in the build up to the big title fight were pirates, Navy, Warlords of the Sea and revolutionaries team up to take down Bullet once and for all. There are also lots of smaller fights interspersed between the struggle against Bullet but most of those only last a few minutes. It’s an exciting and action-packed extravaganza, but more than once I caught myself wondering if this was a Dragonball film. Part of what I love so much about One Piece, outside of the characters, is that it continually manages to tell heartfelt and heart-wrenching stories and while there were moments like that in this film (I’ll get to them in a minute), I felt like I wanted more.
I can’t help but put a lot of these feelings down to the antagonists of this film, which is a common complaint I have with the majority of villains in the One Piece films. Here’s the thing, Bullet could have been one of the greatest villains in the films’ history if we were shown his back story rather than just told it. Bullet is a man who was betrayed by his friends and superiors, a man who believed that the only person he could rely on was himself. That is until he was bested by Gol D. Roger and found someone to follow, but when Roger was executed he became lost, falling back into his thinking that only his own strength mattered. It puts him at greats odds with Luffy who fights for his friends and, in my opinion, all the best shonen fights are between two sides who have opposing ideologies. However, we’re only told Bullet’s backstory and catch flashes of it in a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sequences. Imagine if the film had opened with Bullet’s capture? The man raging about the death of Roger and going into a wild frenzy, that would have gotten me so much more invested in his character than some flashback sequence to when Blackbeard broke everyone but him out of Impel Down.
Let’s talk about those heart-wrenching moments though, because those are what really make this film so special to me. As usual the majority of the Straws Hats get regulated to the background in this film, Luffy is obviously the star of the show and Zoro and Sanji get some nice fights, but the rest are only given a few moments to show of their various attacks (I was impressed by the screen time Robin got considering she usually fades into the background, but really? You set up a Crocodile vs. Robin fight and skip out on it?! Why? I want to see that!). However, the MVP for this film has to go to Usopp. Generally speaking he is one of the weakest members of the crew and it’s even pointed out in the film that he’s also a bit of a coward, but when it comes down to it you can count on your man Usopp! It ties in nicely with the ideological clash with Bullet who stomps on Usopp in seconds flat and then tells Luffy point blank to get rid of such a useless burden. Yet it’s thanks to Usopp’s surprise attack that Bullet it taken down in the end, giving Luffy the opening he needs to pummel the guy. The scenes with Usopp really tug at the heartstrings, you can see how scared and outmatched he is and yet he doesn’t give up and that final take down is such a satisfying moment thanks to Usopp. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually wish the film gave me more scenes with Usopp and less of the fanservice.
All in all, One Piece Stampede is a brilliant film for fans. If you love One Piece and you haven’t seen this film then what are you doing? Find a way to watch it right now! However if you’re not a One Piece fan then you’ll probably enjoy the spectacle of the vibrant and action-packed animation and the Usopp scenes might tug at your heartstrings for a bit, but I don’t know how much it’ll mean to someone who doesn’t at least have a passing recognition of all of these characters (and there are a lot of characters). Personally I loved it despite its flaws and I’ll be buying it just as soon as it comes out on DVD. I just hope it doesn’t take as long to come out as it did for it to arrive in UK cinemas.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.