Singing on Rocky Waters: ‘One Piece Film: Red Review’

After months of anticipation, international fans of One Piece finally got to sit in theaters to watch the newest film in the “One Piece” manga franchise.

“One Piece Film: Red,” directed by Goro Taniguchi, produced by series creator Eiichiro Oda, and animated by Toei Animation. For U.S. fans, it took a while for the movie to arrive.

“One Piece Film: Red” was announced Nov. 21, 2021. The world premiere was held in the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo, Japan on July 22, 2022, and later the film saw its first theatrical release throughout Japan on Aug. 6, 2022, to celebrate the series’ 25th year anniversary. Various international locations would soon see limited showings of the film in theaters, with the film hitting U.S. theaters Nov. 4, 2022, as well as being distributed by streaming service Crunchyroll, which is also where the film is available to view. The film is rated by MPAA as PG-13 for violence, suggestive material and language.

It’s obvious that “One Piece Film: Red” was going to be extremely successful by virtue of being associated with “One Piece.” Despite achieving the 10th highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, I was still skeptical when walking into the movie theater personally as a fan of “One Piece” myself. Was the long wait for an official release going to be worth my time? Well, the answer I got when walking out was “well, yes and no.”

I think context is necessary before going in depth. “One Piece” is a series that is notoriously massive in both scope and scale. First published in the manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump on July 22, 1997, the series follows a boy named Monkey D. Luffy. (who in the movie is voiced by Mayumi Tanaka in Japanese and Colleen Clinkenbeard in English).We follow his adventures across the world as he amasses friends to join his pirate crew, The Straw Hat Pirates, as they go on to search for the ultimate treasure known as “The One Piece” so Luffy can become the next “King of the Pirates.”

At the time of writing, “One Piece” currently has 1,065 manga chapters and 1,039 anime episodes. Yet despite the humongous length of the series, a lot of unanswered questions still remain about the world. One of those questions is the identity of Red-Haired Shanks.

Shanks (voiced by Shūichi Ikeda in Japanese and Brandon Potter in English) is a fan-favorite character in the series because he’s arguably the one character that kicked off One Piece to begin with by inspiring Luffy to become a pirate in the first place.
Despite this, the truth is that we don’t really know much about Shanks at all. He very rarely shows up in the series, and when he does it’s only at the most crucial moments, and even then, we are only just hinted at the nature of his true power. Shanks’ impact on the world of One Piece in all the appearances he has made in the series cannot be understated.

So, when it was announced Shanks would be appearing in the new “One Piece” movie, it’s obvious why fans were excited. A lot of the promotional material featured Shanks very prominently with the main draw is that this was going to be a Shanks-centered movie. This was a big deal, even if the movie turned out non-canon, it was anticipated the movie would give a least some new insights on Shanks himself, and with series creator Eiichiro Oda overseeing the project, it could’ve been an exciting opportunity to give One Piece fans something special.

Unfortunately, despite Shanks being one of the main focuses in a lot of the marketing, the movie isn’t really about Shanks. The movie instead focuses on the Straw Hat Pirates going to a new island called Elegia to attend a concert by a world-famous singer known as Uta, (voiced by Kaori Nazuka in Japanese and Amanda Lee in English) who Luffy recognizes, as it’s revealed early on that she is Shanks’ daughter. It’s shown that these two just knew each other the whole time as kids.

When the two meet, Uta talks to him about how much she hates pirates because when she was left by Shanks at the age of 12 on the island of Elegia, she became world-famous for her singing voice, where she learned from her fans the suffering the pirates were inflicting on them throughout the world. This convinces her to create a concert that lasts forever with her powers, and she thinks that the fans who do attend this concert will forever live in a world of peace and happiness, kicking off the main conflict.

The concert set up of the movie, to my surprise, makes the movie a musical. There are eight songs total and Uta has a third performer to do the singing voice and its Japanese singer Ado. To give credit, I ended up enjoying most of the music here. Ado has a very talented singing voice, and all the songs had a lot of J-Pop energy to them to make Uta stand out from the “One Piece” cast, as bizarre as it was hearing the voices change from one performer to the next.

However, Uta’s changing voice is not the only thing I found inconsistent here. At times I felt the movie forgot its source material when it came to the writing. One case being Luffy himself. I felt like Luffy took a backseat the whole time and let situations get worse.

Luffy has always been known to act on whatever feels right on instinct, yet it felt like he wasn’t taking full initiative. Another moment is that early on it shows that The World Government was spying on her and concluded that she was dangerous. But you’d think they would pull the plug on her operation while she was forcing mass amounts of people to attend her concert? Stuff like this felt really contrived and these moments really took me out of the plot at times.

Even the animation from Toei is prone to inconsistency here. It will often range from genuine movie-quality action to shots where the studio obviously had to cut corners, with some of the worse being where in some action scenes they failed to frame the fighting.

There is an attempt to do some ambitious stuff here with it though. The best parts are the wide variety of color usage and shots showing off Elegia look gorgeous and flexs the worldbuilding the series is known for.

At one point there was a scene where Uta was motion captured for dancing. It’s a bit out of place because of how obviously it was motion captured, but I respect the attempt at doing some things new here, something I think fans would get a kick out of.

The actual Shanks part of the movie felt incredibly underwhelming. He ends up appearing around a third of the way through, but the movie itself refuses to do anything interesting with the character. Even if the scenes he does appear I found to be the best in the entire film, we don’t learn anything new about him. His scenes are purposefully meant not to reveal anything that Eiichiro Oda wants to save for the manga. He and Luffy end up fighting together and the two don’t even talk to each other, which is incredibly disappointing. To be honest, it always felt like Shanks was there to be like the other characters that appear.

You see, the movie features many characters that appear throughout the entire series. Fan favorites from numerous storylines the manga has finished but show up here in a very non-canon fashion that ends up fighting alongside.
However, this is something that only the most diehard “One Piece” fans can truly get the most out of, and the film often relies on these fan service moments to make it seem like a giant celebration of the series as a whole. The characters themselves might not say or do much, but at least they’re there and that’s what matters, right? Even if that makes their appearances and the movie, feel vapid as a result.

And hey, if all you might be looking out of this film is a huge reunion of “One Piece”’s giant cast in this wacky one-and-a-half-hour romp, “One Piece Film: Red” has plenty of that.

I can say as a fan of the series I had plenty of moments where I was having fun despite my issues. It is a competently made anime action/musical film with cool moments and fun music, one that I can say “One Piece” fans can casually enjoy even if the movie is really skippable.

But there’s a part of me that really wishes it was more daring, that it would do something interesting with the source material, especially given how much the film wanted you to believe Uta was as important to Luffy as Shanks is to him.
It feels like a wasted opportunity to have another one of these films play it safe and focus on being a summer movie flick that might end up turning out to be non-canon in the long run anyways, and that’s unfortunate given the special legacy of this series.

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