Anime Corner: One Piece: Stampede Review

Blog One Piece Stampede Review Title

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!

The Review

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.

The Verdict

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.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

 

Anime Corner: One Piece Film: Strong World Review

Blog One Piece Strong World Review Title

And a L-A-D-Y, Nami’s not shy!

What’s the Story?

After hearing reports of attacks on East Blue, the Straw Hat pirates set course for home, but along the way they run into the famed pirate Shiki, the Golden Lion. Once a fearsome pirate on the same level as Gol D. Roger, Shiki has spent the past twenty years in hiding, working on his ultimate revenge and now he’s ready to set his plans into motion. First though, he needs a top notch navigator and he’s set his sights on Nami! Trapped on a series of floating islands, the Straw Hats must battle their way through a horde of super powerful, super aggressive animals, as well as an army of pirates if they want to save their hometowns from utter destruction!

The Review

And we’re here at last, my favourite One Piece film out of all the ones produced so far (and no, it’s not just because this is the first film to be supervised by series creator, Eiichiro Oda, before anyone goes there. Also Stampede hasn’t come out in UK cinemas yet either, so bear that in mind). For me, this is the film that most captures what I love about One Piece. Yes, Adventure of Dead End probably gave me more consistent feels, and Baron Omatsuri was completely unique and beautiful, Film Z has the best villain and Gold is just fun, but this, Strong World, is One Piece distilled.

It’s a grand madcap adventure, full of heart, humour, action and a dizzying array of imagination. Whether it’s the Straw Hats battling it out with Shiki and his army of monster animals or just the banter that flies between them, I have an absolute blast watching this film. That’s something I really want to praise with this film, the writing and the humour especially. Most of that I’ll put down to the fact that Oda-sensei was responsible for the story this time around, though someone else is credited for the screenplay. It makes me wonder just how much changed, if anything, during the process of turning this into a script because the Straw Hats have never been written this well outside of the series. I find it hard to pick my favourite jokes, mostly being torn between Zoro’s ‘That wasn’t there before’ or Brook leaping in to save Robin and stealing Sanji’s thunder, or, frankly, any time Brook opens his mouth because he’s always hilarious.

Not that this film is purely just jokes, there’s plenty of action and a wealth of drama since a lot of the crew’s home towns are on the line. One of my favourite little scenes is when the local villagers apologise to the Straw Hats for being so happy about Shiki heading to East Blue, because it would give them a break, not realising that they were talking in front of people from East Blue. Admittedly it’s Nami that carries the lion’s share of the emotional baggage for the film, we see her home town in flashbacks and she keeps looking at the bracelet that her sister gave her while the others barely mention East Blue (though, again another bit of dialogue I love, there’s Zorro’s line about how if being from East Blue makes him worthless, what does that make the other guy?).

Nami does get a fair chunk of spotlight in this film and that’s another reason I like it so much, considering Nami is one of my favourite Straw Hats and she’s had very few times to shine in the series post-time skip. And yes, Nami is used for a lot of fanservice, but I’m willing to let it slide because at the same time it’s showing just how smart and cunning she can be. It’s not just her amazing navigational skill, but all the time she’s a prisoner of Shiki you can see her looking for ways to escape or to sabotage his operation, a lot of which works in the end, which I appreciate. Nami isn’t just some damsel in distress.

Let’s talk about the film’s villain though, Shiki. He’s the perfect mix for a One Piece villain, both an utter hilarious goofball and a despicable monster that you just can’t wait for Luffy to catch up to and given him the beat down he so richly deserves. For all the goofy comedy at the beginning of the film, Shiki has such a threatening presence throughout the film, especially when he shows off his powers, which are seriously overpowered. My hat goes off to his voice actor who walks the perfect line between comedy and intimidation. Also I love the fight scene in the middle of the movie where the majority of the Straw Hats team up to take on Shiki, we need to see more team up fights between the Straw Hats as they’re always spectacular when they happen.

Okay, enough gushing, let’s talk a little about some of this film’s problems, because however much I love it there are a couple of issues. For me, pacing is the biggest issue that this film has, this is the longest One Piece film to date and it’s doesn’t use that time as well as it could. The plot feels uneven, especially in the middle where we’ve got stretches of quieter moments interspersed by quick bouts of action. I love the scenes individually, but there’s just something off about the way they all hang together. The only thing I could put it down to is that the film doesn’t quiet know where to put its focus, or tries to focus on too many things at once, there’s the plight of East Blue, the villagers, Shiki’s army of arriving pirates, the animals, Nami’s situation. Maybe if this had been an arc in series it would have had more time to let things breath and even at almost two hours, the film feels like its glazing over aspects to keep the story going. Still, it’s not a massive issue, the fun I have with this film more than carries me through me it, but that might not be the case for everyone, just saying.

The Verdict

In the End, One Piece Film: Strong World is my favourite of the One Piece films produced so far (we’ll see what Stampede is like once that’s released). It’s packed full of great comedy, blistering action and a whole heap of heart, all of which is wrapped up in the usual inventive craziness of the One Piece world. This film feels like it has a scale and grandeur that most of the other films don’t. Nami carries most of the emotional weight of the story and gets a rare chance to show how tough and cunning she can really be. If you’ve not seen this film, make sure to check it out.

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Thank you for bearing with me while I indulged myself this December, back to regular reviews soon, though I have a special revisit planned for next week. See you all in the New Year!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Put a Tune to It: Western Songs for Anime

I got nominated for a tag by tcrow over at Crow’s World of Anime! I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve done any tags and this was an incredibly fun one to dig into. At first I thought I was going to have a hard time with this, depending on my mood my musical tastes can get very eclectic and there’s normally a lot of musicals involved, which won’t fit a lot of anime. Then I started actually thinking about it and my selections came to me within about an hour, but before we get to them, let’s do the housekeeping.

First this tag was originally set in motion by Dewbond over at Shallow Dives in Anime and here’s the rules!

  • Choose any number of western songs (any genre) that you think best sums up an anime or manga of any type or genre.
    • If you want to pick more than 1 from each section that’s fine. Or if you can’t think of one for a specific category that’s fine also.
  • Explain why you think your choices could work. Is it the lyrics? The tune and the beat? Or just the music video?
  • Link back to the original post so I can read people’s suggestions, I’d love to read everyone’s ideas.
  • Include Put a Tune to It in your tags so everyone including myself can find them all easily.
  • Nominate around 1-5 bloggers. My nominations will be at the bottom.

And so, without any further delay, let’s get this show on the road!

Halloween-Themed (Soul Eater)

Okay, we’ll start off with a pretty obvious one and the first thing that came into my head. This is Halloween by Marilyn Manson. Does this really need any explanation? I must have seen a dozen amvs with this set to snippets of Soul Eater or any anime with a halloween episode over the years. It just fits so well. Every time I hear this version of the song I automatically see Maka and Soul standing under that grinning crescent moon, Blair riding a pumpkin somewhere in the background.

Mecha (Gundam)

And we’ll follow that up with another song that I automatically associate with anime, Mr. Roboto by Styx. This one I can blame on the review site SF Debris, because his reviews of Gundam 0080 had this song set over the credits and its been fixed in my brain ever since. I love that beat as they sing the ‘domo arigato’ part, it works so well as a marching beat as a gundam or some other mecha is deployed for action. Plus the song is unmistakably 80s and I always think of the 80s when I think of mecha, that’s another common association in my brain.

Drama (Sound Euphonium)

Right, taking a step away from long-held associations, let’s pick something a bit more current (at least in the fact that I’ve only recently discovered this band), Brighter by Against The Current. This song is really for any series that has either a main character or a large portion of the cast who are a little unsure of themselves. They’re lacking in confidence, but as the series progresses as they begin to discover themselves bit by bit and let their passions ignite. For me this song really suits Kumiko from Sound Euphonium, specifically towards the end of the series when she’s decided that she wants to be truly special along with Reina and is ready to throw her all into the band’s performance.

Gangster (91 Days)

And now, something a little more offbeat (I knew I’d get one in here somewhere). Gangsta’s Paradise by Postmodern Jukebox ft. Robyn Adele Anderson. I love the Postmodern Jukebox, they often take more current songs and perform them in a more retro style and this happens to be one of my favourite covers they’ve done. Can’t you just smell the smokey atmosphere in some rundown speakeasy as you listen to this? It fits so well with 91 Days as well, considering that anime is set during prohibition, I can just see Angelo and Nero sitting and sharing a drink while this plays, all the while Angelo is slowly reaching for his gun.

Shonen (One Piece)

Okay, maybe the last two choices have been me trying to get songs I really like on to this list and, well, here’s another one (though in my defence I think this one really fits). Friendship Song by Brennley Brown (featured in Tangled the Series). Considering how many shonen series are all about the power of friendship and unbreakable bonds, this song is really just perfect. It’s intended to be about two friends, but I think it works just as well for a group, like say the Strawhat pirates. They can always rely on one another, they’ll always have one another’s backs and be there through the laughs and the tears, as the song says, ‘we fit together perfectly’.

Shonen (My Hero Academia)

Another common trend in shonen anime is that their main protagonists are often optimistic dreamers. They’ve got these big, impossible dreams and there’s no shortage of people ready to tell them how unattainable their goal is. Yet that won’t deter them, they have….High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco (did you see what I did there? Of course you did and I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one.) I can just see Midoriya charging forward as this plays, All for One or some other villain cackling away until Midoriya comes out of nowhere and smashes them out of the way and ready to declare ‘I am here!’

Epic Fantasy (Fate series)

Last one! Actually this one may be cheating a little bit because I first discovered this song in an amv using clips from Fate/Zero and Garden of Sinners fused together into the best amv I have ever seen (look for Steel Fenders amv on Youtube, I hope it’s still there). Ever since Iron by Woodkid has been linked to the fate series in my brain. From the first blast of those trumpets to that rising beat, this song is the very definition of epic to me. It fills my head with images of climatic battles, legends brought to life and just a sense of majesty that makes me want to grovel in my unworthiness (which is often how I feel about the fate series when it’s at its best). If you haven’t heard this song, then listen and thank me later.

Hmm….there’s not as much rock on this list as I thought there was going to be, or electro swing for that matter. Ah well, we’ll leave it here for now. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my choices, I certainly had a lot of fun putting this together and thanks Crow for nominating me!

As for who I’ll nominate, apologises if you’ve already been selected, but I’ll go with:

Scott

Ospreyshire

Jon Spencer

Irina

Karandi

Of course anyone else who is interested please join in.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Anime Corner: One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island Review

Blog One Piece Baron Omatsuri Review Title

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.

The Review

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.

The Verdict

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.

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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.

Anime Corner: One Piece: The Cursed Holy Sword Review

Better late than never! Sorry this post is going up so late, Christmas kind of got in the way tonight and like an idiot I forgot to schedule this post for release beforehand.

Blog One Piece Cursed Holy Sword Review Title

His Name’s Zoro, he’s just like a samurai!

What’s the Story?

Hearing about a legendary sword, Nami is convinced that there’s treasure to be had, but after Zoro goes missing the crew find themselves chased by Marines and quickly separated in the forest. While Luffy and Usopp confront the navy in a sinister dojo, Nami and the rest of the Straw Hats come across Zoro attacking a peaceful village, alongside the marines! Has Zoro betrayed his crew and friends purely because of a childhood promise? And what of the bloody history of the legendary sword? Surely it can’t be true, can it? When it comes down to it Zoro will have to face his friend, but is this one opponent the future World’s Greatest Swordsman has no chance against?

The Review

Sigh. While the myth about odd-numbered Star Trek films all being bad has engrained itself into popular culture, the same can also be said for the One Piece films (at least until we get to Episode of Alabasta, which I have mixed feelings on at best). The Cursed Holy Sword, for me at least, is one of the worst One Piece films ever produced. On a technical level it’s a fine film, the plot is simple yet makes sense, there’s plenty of fun and action (Zoro especially gets a couple of great sword fights), but as part of the One Piece franchise, this film fails spectacularly. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters and the world of One Piece that just permeates the whole film, so much so that I can’t help but think that the people who worked on this only had a passing knowledge of the franchise.

Let’s talk about the Straw Hats first and while on the surface their characterisation is fine, the way they talk to one another and interact is spot on for the most part, however there are just tiny little moments that bug me, because they don’t feel right. The first one that caught my attention was at the very beginning of the film, with Nami bringing up the legendary sword. Yes, Nami is obsessed with treasure and the mere mention of it will fill her eyes with Berries, but really? A sword? Nami is interested in a sword? It’s just the kind of thing she’d be dismissive of until someone mentioned it was entrusted with jewels or something, then she’d be interested. There’s Luffy as well and while he’s an utter goofball, he’s not stupid and I can’t see him running around a bunch of tunnels enjoying himself after losing a fight and being told that Zoro has left his crew. At that point I imagine him more ticked off and declaring that he’s going to punch the bad guy. Again, it just adds to the feeling that the team behind this film read a brief bio on each of the characters, but never actually got to know any of them.

That brings me to Zoro. Ugh. I really don’t like what this film does with my favourite pirate swordsman and it’s a shame, because the potential was there. A childhood friend of Zoro’s turns up and through circumstance pits him against his friends, there’s the potential for some real drama there and a decent exploration of Zoro (I do like the flashback scenes we get of Zoro and Saga), but again there’s that problem that he’s not really acting like himself. Yes, Zoro is a man of honour and will absolutely keep his word when it is given, but he would never just up and leave his crew without a word. This is the man who wouldn’t let Usopp rejoin the crew unless he apologised first, because as he rightly points out, how can you trust a crewmember that just ups and leaves? This is the man who took on all of Luffy’s pain and injuries after Thriller Bark. This is the man who will one day be the World’s Greatest Swordsman and will let nothing stand in his way! He. Does. Not. Just. Leave! I’m not quite sure how you’d make it work, but definitely not how this film tries to do it. The filler nature of the film doesn’t help either, as we know we’re never going to see most of these characters again and Zoro certainly isn’t leaving the crew.

Let’s talk about the setting of this film as well, because that gets it wrong too. One Piece, for all its fantastical elements, has its own logic to it and always learns more towards science (no matter how many strange fruits that give people special powers there are). In this film though we have magic, demonic possession and the power of prayer, which again feels so out of place. Luffy has been referred to as the natural enemy of God before and has a tendency to punch people who call themselves gods, and yet part of this film’s climax is down to a priestess praying to her gods to stop an evil sword! Honestly the setting of this film feels like some generic fantasy adventure that the Straw Hat pirates have just been pasted into by accident. This film just annoys me on so many levels and yet I do have to give it a bit of credit, Robin gets a prominent role as she gets to put her archaeologist skills to use and even gets to fight one of the bad guy’s named lieutenants (even Nami gets in on the action), which is happens so rarely in the main series that I’m almost willing to give this film a pass, almost.

The Verdict

In the end, One Piece: The Cursed Holy Sword is a serviceable film, as long as you’re not a die-hard One Piece fan. If you’re after a generic fantasy romp with some lively action and funny characters then this will pass the time just fine, but if you come to this wanting to see the Straw Hats in action then I suggest you move along. While these people may look like Straw Hats, that’s clearly not who they are and we shouldn’t treat them as such. I’m going to go read the manga and remind myself why I like this series so much.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: One Piece: Dead End Adventure Review

Blog One Piece Dead End Review Title

Yo-ho-ho, he took a bite of Gum Gum!

What’s the Story?

Strapped for cash and craving some adventure (as is always the way for our favourite fantastical pirate crew), the Straw Hat pirates learn of a secret race across the Grand Line with 300 million berries as the prize and can’t resist entering. However there’re plenty of deadly opponents between them and the goal, including giants, fishmen, the famous bounty hunter Shuraiya and worst of all is the former marine, General Gasparde. Add in to that a kid out to save his Grandpa, treacherous seas and a despicable plot to wipe out the competition and this adventure may just turn into a dead end after all. Luffy and the gang have their work cut out for them!

The Review:

Okay, an unusual place for me to start, but let’s talk about translations! Now I bought one of the One Piece movie collections in order to watch this film and while the subs on the other two films are perfectly fine, the subs for this film are pretty poor, especially when it comes to names (I mean this film is listed as ‘Adventure of Dead End’, which sounds pretty stupid). I’ve decided to go with the translations from the One Piece wiki for this review because those spellings make more sense to me (and ‘Dead End Adventure’ is a much better name), but I’ve never come across this before, at least not off an official release I mean they really couldn’t be bothered to put together a new set of subtitles for the DVD release, really? Anyway, translations aside, I really like this movie. Honestly, if you’ve never tried One Piece (and with over 90 volumes of manga and over 900 episodes of anime I can’t blame people for being scared off, or having no idea where to start), but to me this film is a pretty good sampler of the series. Sure the story isn’t really canon and you won’t learn all that much about the rich world of the series, but its got a good handle on the characters, there’s plenty of exciting action, wacky adventures and it knows where it’s heart is.

Let’s talk about heart first, starting with our favourite band of misfit pirates, the Straw Hats. What surprised me most about this film was the quiet moments with the crew and you get the sense that the people who worked on this film really know these characters. From Nami getting angry at Badger for giving up on life, to Sanji explaining to Badger that they’ve all had hard lives in their own way, but they keep living because they all believed that one day things would get better. Even Luffy’s silent rage at Gasparde, both for what he did to the other contestants in the race and just his general scumbag outlook on life, all of it is a perfect summation of the characters and while you can learn more details from the series, watching this film will give you all you need to get who these people are at their core. Also I appreciate that everyone gets a least a couple of things to do across the adventure, even if Luffy is the only one to fight a named enemy character, the crew wouldn’t have made it through the race without each of their own special abilities at one point or another, which I appreciate (it’s especially nice to see Robin doing something with her powers, which feels like such a rarity these days).

Moving on to our original characters for the film, honestly, I think this is where this film shines brightest because, Shuraiya, Badger and the old man may just be the best original supporting characters in any One Piece film, no, scratch that, the best original supporting characters in any anime film connected to a long running series. Let’s face it, anime films connected to a long running series always have a whiff of filler about them, the characters that show up in it are never going to be seen or mentioned again and are often their just to force us to care about whatever location our main characters have found themselves in. Thing is though, Shuraiya, Badger and the old man really do make me care. They’re brilliantly written characters with a great tragic back-story to tell that perfectly fits in with the film’s theme of living on despite how cruel the world can be. Shuraiya is a badass fighter and he even gets to take out Gasparde’s lieutenant in one heck of a brutal fight. Badger manages to be a kid character that isn’t completely annoying and the real emotional centre of the piece and I pretty much love the old man, especially at the end.

As for our villains, well, Gasparde is really the only one of note, but what a note he strikes. He’s menacing and threatening from the get go and completely despicable. His outlook on life and his fellow human beings had be screaming for Luffy to knock that grin off his face and it was so satisfying when he finally did (they also have a pretty brutal fight, it may just be the animation quality, but you really feel the weight of all the punches that land and boy to they look like they hurt). That does bring me to my only complaint with the film, it might just be a matter of the film having to keep itself short to fit into the run time, but you never really get a sense of the scale of the race. While I love the quieter moments in this film and the connections all the characters share, it does mean there’s very little time for the race. After the initial rush of excitement the Straw Hats only face off against one other crew and that only lasts a few minutes before we get to the big twist and then go barrelling into the final confrontation with Gasparde. It just feels like we needed a bit more action in the middle somewhere to see some of these other crews in action and that would have made the twist even more effective, but I am happy with what we got.

The Verdict:

In the end One Piece: Dead End Adventure is a simple, but still great adventure. It’s a film that really understands its characters and with some of the best original supporting characters I’ve seen in an anime film and a truly despicable villain, it knows how to get you invested. It’s a film that knows where its heart and its focus should be, even if that means the adventure of the title gets cut a little short to fit into the run time. Still if you’re looking to experience of some of those carefree pre-time skip days of One Piece, or just wondering if you want to check out the series proper, then this film is a good place to start.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Introducing One Piece-cember!

It’s that time of year again! December is finally upon us and, as anyone who’s followed me for more than a year will know, this is when I get indulgent (well, more indulgent). In the past I’ve dedicated this month to several franchises/series I love, looking at the likes of Scooby-Doo, Batman and Spider-Man, but this year I feel like keeping things in the animesphere. So, draw up your pirate flags, gather your crew and, if you’ve happened to eat any strange fruits of late, stay out of the water, ’cause we’re headed for One Piece!

20 years ago the very first episode of the One Piece anime aired in Japan, and though it was a few years later that I first saw that same episode (even if 4Kids had taken a hatchet to it), I’ve been a fan ever since. Luffy burst his way into my life and him and the rest of the Straw Hats have never left. Now I know One Piece isn’t perfect, it’s picked up its fair share of problems over two decades and it is an absolutely mammoth series to try and get into (one of it’s main problems). Yet, when the series is on its A-game it is a titan of emotional and intricate storytelling. The world-building alone is something to marvel at, with so many characters and locations and detail to weave between them all, this is the epitome of a living breathing world. Add on to that characters that I adore and root for, as well as a whole bunch of wild, madcap adventures across the high seas and is it any wonder I fell in love with this series?

So, with all that in mind, I’m going to be looking at four films from the One Piece catalogue and they are as follows,

6th December – One Piece: Dead End Adventure

13th December – One Piece: The Cursed Holy Sword

20th December – One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island

27th December – One Piece: Strong World

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this as much as I’m going to, so step aboard and let’s set sail for adventure!

 

 

First Impressions Summer 2019 Part 1

It’s that time again, Hammer Time! Sorry, no, that’s not right. It’s another season of anime, yes, that’s it, and that means First Impressions! Joking aside, I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about what a season has to offer, we’ve got magical girls piloting mechs, hot-footed fire fighters, and a couple of teenagers trying to rebuild the world through science! And that is only the tip of the iceberg, so let’s skip the rest of the preamble and get to it!

One Piece (Wano arc, Episode 892-)

The Strawhats are finally headed for the Land of Samurai, Wano! After barely escaping the terrifying Big Mom and scaling the stormy seas around the isolated country, Luffy is ready to reunite with the rest of his crew and take on the beastly Kaido. However the peaceful and colourful capitol isn’t all that it seems, Wano is a country full of tragedies and ruled by the Shogun, as well as Kaido and his Beast Pirates. Can Luffy and his crew help reignite the spirits of the samurai and stand up to one of the most powerful men in the New World?

I’ll just get to this straight away, I’m a huge One Piece fan, it’s my favourite Shonen series without question, but, to be honest, the anime is pretty terrible. It’s had its moments (I still love a lot of the early years) and I was first introduced to the series through the anime, but low quality animation and ice age slow pacing have always been its weaknesses, something that has only gotten worse over time. So, why have I started watching the anime again? Well, the times they are a changin’ and with a new team running the show (including Tatsuya Nagamine, the director of Dragonball Super: Broly) this may just be the best that the One Piece anime has ever been done. Honestly the look alone is a hundred levels above anything that has been done before for the series, from the bright and vibrant colours to the little details, like the ink strokes that outline each character. Add on to that that the action is more fluid and fast and the new additions to the soundtrack that filled with traditional Japanese instruments and you have a recipe for greatness. That brings me on to the Wano arc itself and the possibilities it has to offer, Wano has the makings of a mega arc and even moving at the speed that it is in the manga, there’s still so many moments that could be expanded on, fights that are moved off panel that we could see on screen. So far the anime looks like its going to stick to its usual pacing, but if it takes advantage of all the potential gaps to fill in, as it has done so far, then this could be the best arc in the whole One Piece anime and I recommend that everyone give it a shot.

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts

The continent of Patria has long been divided by a civil war, pushed to the edge the North makes a drastic decision, using forbidden technology to turn their soldiers into monsters called Incarnates. On the battlefield the Incarnates were gods, quickly turning the tide of the war, but their victories came at a terrible price. Slowly losing their minds to the beasts inside them, the Incarnates soon became a bigger threat than the South ever was. Now, former Captain of the Incarnates, Hank, sets out to fulfil a promise to his men, that only another Incarnate will kill an Incarnate. Accompanied by the daughter of a former comrade, Hank must battle his friends and maybe, just maybe, find the one who betrayed him back on the battlefield.

This anime is in the running for my surprise favourite of the season, I mean I saw the previews and read the synopsis and thought, ‘yeah, that sounds cool’, and the series is certainly that, but its so much more. I realised there’s something I’ve been missing in my anime, and while I love long-form storytelling, I’m also partial to a more episodic series as well. This series is pretty much the perfect episodic format for me, each episode we’re introduced to a new Incarnate, get to know their own tragic back stories and then watch them die, tragically because this series knows no other way. Now with a lesser series you’d struggle to care about a character you’ve just been introduced to, especially one that you know is going to die by episode’s end, but To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts manages to balance and pace things in such a way that you can’t help but be hit in the feels. True the animation isn’t the greatest and I was worried for a moment that Schaal was going to veer into annoying territory in episode 3, but she’s manage to avoid that so far. Still I’m in this for the characters and their stories so I’ll put up with anything at this point, definitely recommended.

Are You Lost?

Four high school girls wake up to find themselves shipwrecked with nothing in sight but a desert island a short swim away. No food, no water and no shelter…the girls are definitely in trouble, or at least they would be if one of them weren’t a survival expert. Trained from a young age, Homare knows all the tricks to surviving in the wilderness, from what to eat to how to build a working shower. So, let this season’s survival training begin! Now with added ecchi!

A short anime and a fairly fun one as it turns out. I’ve already been taking notes on the various survival tips in case I ever end up stranded on an island and the jokes, while mostly going along the same pattern, have made me chuckle. A lot of the humour comes from Homare suggesting ways for the girls to survive in her blunt, matter-of-fact way, usually eating insects or drinking blood and such, and the other girls all reacting with varying degrees of horror. It works, though I do wonder how long that type of humour will last before it gets stale, but the way the girl’s developing personalities also bounce off of one another is pretty fun. Outside of our survival expert, we’ve got the lazy one, the shy, studious one and the fantasist who desperately craves other people’s approval. It’s not amazing, but for a short little hit it’s fine.

If It’s for My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord

Dale is a well-known and highly skilled adventurer, despite being so young. One day, while on a job deep into the forest he comes across a young demon girl called Latina. With nowhere to take her and discovering the body of her previous guardian nearby, Dale can’t think of any option other than taking her home, a decision that is going to change his whole life. Doting on the little demon, Latina soon becomes the talk of the pub where Dale lives, endearing everyone to her because she’s just so darn cute. In fact she’s so cute that Dale doesn’t want to go to work anymore!

They say having kids changes you and, boy, is that true, especially in the case of Dale. The young adventurer has gone well and truly gaga over his adopted kid and it’s hard to blame him. Latina is an exceptionally cute kid and completely endearing, she lights up every scene she’s in. Dale on the other hand…I still can’t decide whether I like the guy or not. His exaggerated reactions to everything that Latina does, and especially when he misses her, can be fun…in small doses. The problem is that it’s pretty much Dale’s whole character at this point, we do get to see a few moments of him as an adventurer across the first three episodes and it does raise a few interesting points. Turns out Dale is a bit of a badass and has no qualms about outright assassinating people if that’s the job he’s paid to do, which is a good contrast to the fluffy lightness of the rest of the series. That little nugget aside though, cute is the word for this series and I suppose you’ve just to got to ask yourself whether that’s enough of an offset for Dale’s more annoying behaviour. As for me I’m not so sure, but I’ll give it another episode.

Dr. Stone

One day a green light fell across the world, turning every living human to stone. Since then several thousand years have past, but at last someone has managed to break free of their stone prison, Senku, the teenage genius. With the help of his muscular, if clueless, friend, Taiju, he plans to rebuild the world using science, but leapfrogging his way up the civilisation ladder isn’t going to be as easy as he thinks, especially when they awaken someone who has very different ideals about rebuilding the world than they do. The battle for the future of the world begins now.

Dr. Stone has a lot going for it (probably why Crunchyroll chose to promote it so much). For starters it looks great, lots of bright colours and great scenery, as well as some interesting character designs. Add on to that an interesting premise and a leaning towards using science and thinking its way out of problems and you have a recipe for an anime I’m going to love, at least on paper. I have to say that, so far, Dr. Stone has had a very slow start, things have certainly happened and the plot is progressing, but with all the promotion and hype I can’t help feeling this isn’t the ‘grab me by the throat’ roller coaster I was expecting, not that any of that is the shows fault. It’s a common problem with shonen series, the first arc is never the best, it’s often bogged down by set up and the story trying to find its feet. Once you get through an arc or two though, then a series can hit its stride. Whether you want to stick around for that long is up to you, but I’m hooked enough to give it some time.

Granbelm

Many years ago magic vanished from the world, most people forgetting it ever existed, but it’s still there, waiting for the one who will claim it and become the one true mage of the world. Kohinata Mangetsu is a fairly unremarkable high school student, she’s cheerful and always wants to help, but laments the fact that there’s nothing she’s really good at. She wishes for that one thing, the thing that will make her special. Then, on the night of a full moon, Mangetsu finds herself standing inside ruins instead of the school building, watching as giant mechanical dolls battle it out against one another. The battle for magic has begun.

This show has quickly become one of my favourites of the season, and considering the competition that is some feat. Honestly I’ve fallen more and more in love with this show after each episode, I mean it’s magical girls and giant robots, what is there not to love! It’s more than that though, I mean the battles are flashy and the mech designs are interesting and different and the characters are all very likeable so far (well, aside from the crazy redhead, I am waiting for her to get her comeuppance just so she can stop spewing her venom all over the screen). What I admire most about this series though is the pacing, so far the episodes have been packed with information, constantly moving forward without missing those quiet little moments that allow the show to breath and hasn’t felt rushed once. Loving this so far.

And we’ll leave it there for this week. Next Time! Teenagers lost in space, boys putting a band together and fire fighters who fight fire…with fire! See you then!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: One Piece Film Z Review

Blog One Piece Z Review Title

Destroy all pirates!

What’s the Story?

Z and his Neo Marines want to rid the world of pirates, and they’re willing to destroy the entire New World to do it. Not even the might of the Navy’s top admirals is enough to stop Z, so what chance does our favourite crew of whacky pirates and their stretchy captain have?

The Review

One Piece has to be my favourite shonen series. It has a bit of everything really, a cast of great characters, both funny and badass in equal measure, the ability to tell a huge variety of stories, most of which manage to get in at least one or two heart-warming moments, wild adventures, epic battles and enough mystery to keep me hooked. One Piece has been going forever now, and it still feels like there’s a lot of story left to be told, that just shows you how big the One Piece world is.

On the other hand, shonen movies I am less keen on. It’s not as if they’re horrible or anything, but they always have the distinct smell of filler about them. The stories they have are always inconsequential, never to be mentioned again, plus since I’m into ongoing stories, a standalone story at under two hours feels a bit rushed. Because of this it’s not very often that I watch shonen films, but One Piece Film Z feels a bit special.

For one thing, this feels like it’s a part of the One Piece universe, I know this will never be mentioned in the series, but there’s a huge scale to this story. The fate of the New World is on the line, and we get to see the entire Navy mobilised to stop the bad guys. We get guest appearances from pretty much every significant member of the Navy we’ve ever met (though not all of them get a line). We even get to see the Strawhat crew hang out with Kuzan (Aokiji) for a bit. But despite all of this, the star of this show is very clear, our villain, Z.

Z is a great villain. He’s powerful and imposing, with a great design. We get to see how much of a threat he is right from the start as he goes toe to toe with an admiral. We then spend the rest of the film learning his backstory, and what led him to his conclusion that the only way to rid the world of pirates, is to wipe them off the map entirely with his ‘Grand Reboot’ plan. You see Z was once an admiral, but he’s become disillusioned with the world and no longer believes that the Navy has what it takes to save the world from pirates.  It’s a powerful story, and while you can’t possibly agree with Z’s method, you can certainly understand his pain. At first I was fearful of the backstory, it started a touch stereotypically with Z losing his wife and child to a vengeful pirate, a tragedy true, but one we’ve seen a thousand times in stories like this, but that’s not what breaks Z. Once you realise just how much Z has lost, and how many times, you can completely believe that this man snapped.

The rest of the cast our handled pretty well, if not perfectly. Z only has two subordinates of note, who while they aren’t exactly developed; they have enough personality to raise them above your average cardboard cut-out villains. They have some interesting powers too. One has the power of the Grow Grow Fruit which can cause plants to grow rapidly. The other has the power of the Return Return Fruit, which can make a person 12 years younger. Neither power is exactly well-suited to battle, but they are used effectively (the Return Return powers lead to some fairly funny jokes with Brook).

The Strawhat crew are also handled well. Everyone gets something to do, even if it’s only something small like being the comic relief (though Franky does spend a lot of time off screen, but he is fixing the ship so I’ll let it pass). Everyone feels in character, and the banter and jokes flows between them naturally. We even get to see everyone take part in the various battles, though naturally the significant battles are handled by the holy trinity that is Luffy, Sanji and Zolo. With such a large amount of characters to fit into the story, it’s only natural that our leads have to lose some screentime, which is disappointing, but they never disappear for too long.

The animation is top quality (which is to be expected considering this has a film’s budget). Everything looks pretty, even the integration of the 3D elements is done well enough (it’s still obvious, but at least it’s not horrible). The fights feel intense and bombastic (as all One Piece battles should), though I do admit that some of the camera spinning goes a bit over the top. It definitely lends a sense of exhilaration to the fights, but there’s a point where you start to lose track of what’s going on and feel more seasick than excited. It just needs toning down a bit is all. The final battle between Luffy and Z is suitably epic, and a touch brutal. As the orchestra drops away to silence, leaving us only with the grunts and shouts as the two characters pummel one another into bloody oblivion. It’s only a short fight, but incredibly satisfying.

I know I’ve been gushing a fair bit, but this film isn’t without its problems. I feel the characters are where this story’s focus is, and not on the story itself. A good example of this is that Z’s plot to blow up the New World isn’t stopped by Luffy. No, it’s stopped by someone else, almost as if it was an afterthought. Luffy was only pounding on Z to get his hat back anyway (which while completely in character, robs the ending of some dramatic oomph). The story also takes a look at some pretty deep themes, like how in leading a life to fulfil your own dream, you inevitably crush the dreams of others. At one Point Z even asks Luffy if he’s willing to step over the bodies of his crew to reach his dream. But instead of this talk leading into the finale in some grand way, it just falls by the wayside, Luffy only giving the answer that he’ll do whatever he feels like. I think this story could have been something truly epic if it had tied these themes into its story.

The Verdict

While the story may end on a rather rushed and anticlimactic note, this film has its heart in its characters. The Strawhat crew are as great as ever, and they have a terrific adversary in Z. The animation is quality and the battles fantastic. I wouldn’t call this the greatest shonen film, but it’s certainly above the average film for this genre, and this really is a must-see for any One Piece fan. So what are you waiting for? Set sail for Film Z!

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.