Viva la Straw Hats!
What’s the Story?
While out traversing the ocean of the New World, the Straw Hat pirates come across a grand sight. Gran Tesoro, a ship as big as an island, covered in gold and pulled by two giant turtles, this is the self-proclaimed ‘entertainment city’ where anyone can win big in one of its many casinos. Of course big wins also mean big losses and for those unfortunate enough to be duped in the streets of Gran Tesoro a grim fate awaits. When the Straw Hats first arrive they’re given the royal treatment, but pretty soon they’re in masses of debt and Zoro is captured, due to be executed the following day! Can the Straw Hats pull off a daring heist and get back everything they’ve lost? Or is this golden opportunity really just more fool’s gold? With the Navy closing in and CP0 on the scene, things are looking dire and this may be one gamble the Straw Hats can’t win, not that that is going to stop them trying!
It’s an exciting time to be a One Piece fan right now. At the time of writing this the Wano arc is hitting an absolute fever pitch with some revelations that have turned the whole series on its head (and I love that after decades of reading this series it can still blow my mind like that). Then there’s the trailer for the next film, One Piece Film: Red, which just dropped with some very juicy reveals that have me bouncing up and down with excitement. On top of that we have episode 1015, which sets a whole new standard for anime (seriously you should all check it out, it has some of the best animated sequences I have ever seen). So, Allow me to indulge myself as I look back at a One Piece movie that I haven’t really talked about before (partly because the DVD has only just been released in the UK, which is a whole rant I could go off on about how poor anime distribution is over here, but I’ll save that for another time).
Anyway, ever since One Piece Film: Strong World, the series’ creator Eiichiro Oda has been a lot more involved in the films and you can feel the palpable difference between more recent films and what came before. In these films there’s a much stronger connection to the wider world of One Piece. There are references to past adventures, cameos hidden all over the place and a sense that key players in the world politics have a stake in the film’s events (even if the films are still largely filler). That can be a bit of a detriment to these more recent films, for a long-term fan like me it’s a lot of fun, but there are several scenes and characters I imagine will be completely lost on newer viewers. Don’t start your One Piece experience here is what I’m saying, but if you must just ignore that stuff and focus on the core story because that you can enjoy without any real context.
At it’s heart, this is a heist film. That’s another thing I really enjoy about all the more recent One Piece films, each one tries to do something a little different. Now the Straw Hats aren’t exactly known for their stellar planning and strategising, let’s face it any plan that involves Monley D. Luffy will quickly go off the rails, but it’s fun to see them all prepping a con like this. It also allows several of the other Straw Hats to get the spotlight for a change. Normally in these films’ limited runtime it’s just Luffy, Zoro and Sanji that get all the coolest moments, with Nami doing some dramatic heavy-lifting if the film needs an emotional core and there isn’t a kid character around (though there’s pretty much always a kid around somewhere). Here, while Nami does get the emotional scenes of the film, she’s also leading the con since she has a background in robbing from pirates. Franky gets paired up with Luffy for a large chunk of the runtime and those two really need to spend more time together in the series because I do enjoy their dynamic. Usopp, the legend that he is, even gets to take down one of the bad guy’s lieutenants and Robin assists Sanji in taking out another one. It feels like a genuine team effort for once and not just the ‘Monster Trio’ hogging all the action.
That brings me to the film’s villain and, honestly, I think he could have been the greatest villain the films have had, if only he wasn’t confined to a film’s runtime. His backstory is tragic with a capital T, the kind that One Piece excels at. When you know it you see how this young, idealistic man got twisted into this greedy, sadistic, broken human being who is hurting so badly and the only thing he knows how to do is hurt others to make them feel like he does. It’s fantastic and plays into so many of the larger themes of One Piece, but so much of that backstory is presented in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ montage that it robs the scene of the emotional devastation this villain needs. I don’t know how I’d change it, maybe cut out one of the earlier sequences like the race at the beginning and just give us a whole flashback sequence to really let all the information sink in. It’s a shame, because with a change like that this film really could have been pure gold.
In the end, One Piece Film: Gold is a lot of fun. It’s not the friendliest to One Piece newbies, with a multitude of cameos and references, but if you know this crew then it will be a delight. It’s great to see the cast go on a different kind of adventure, this one primarily being a heist, with so many of the other crew members getting the spotlight. Heck, this film gets bonus point just for having other Straw Hats fight the bad guy’s lieutenants that aren’t just the ‘Monster Trio’. The villain, while great, could have been so much more if the film dedicated more time to his origins and the tragedy there. That could have taken this film to another level, but as it stands this is another fun adventure with the Straw Hat pirates, filled with heart, spectacle and a whole lot of laughs.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.