One Piece Film: Red Takes the Pirate Franchise to New Musical Heights

One Piece Film: Red Takes the Pirate Franchise to New Musical Heights

Eiichiro Oda’s pirate manga One Piece has been around for a long time — longer than a good amount of its fanbase has been alive, even — but it feels like it’s only recently become a mainstream anime juggernaut. It has broken the Guinness world record for being the best-selling manga of all time, and its anime adaptation saw the release of its 1000th episode back in 2021, as well as the cast reveal for an upcoming live action series.

Suffice to say, One Piece is on a high right now, and that’ll continue for a good while following the release of its newest theatrical movie, One Piece Film: Red. Announced back in 2021 during a celebration of Episode 1000, the film was a part of the franchise’s overall 25th anniversary celebration earlier this year, and currently stands as both Japan’s highest-grossing film of the year, along with the highest-grossing One Piece movie in general. Perhaps as a result of that, it’s supposedly the first film in the franchise to have as much involvement from Oda as possible. If that’s the case, he picked a great time to get involved, because Red is an utter delight from start to finish.

A lot of what makes Red work is its central character, Uta. Voiced in Japanese by Kaori Nazuka and in English by Amanda Lee (or AmaLee, best known for covers of anime openings on YouTube), Uta is a pop star sensation that’s gone viral across the known world. At first, it seems like Luffy (Mayumi Tanaka/Colleen Clinkenbeard) and the crew have stumbled into gaining her friendship after saving her from a kidnapping attempt, but the film takes a swerve when it’s revealed early on that similar to Luffy, Uta is a surrogate child of the infamous pirate Red-Haired Shanks (Shūichi Ikeda/Brandon Potter).

That shared connection between them makes for some of Red’s strongest moments. Luffy’s often been positioned as an oddball in the world of One Piece, so it’s fun to see someone who’s on his level, and in some cases, even goofier than he is. Their friendship feels very real in both present day and flashbacks, and as easy as it would be for her to feel like a plot device, she feels like a natural extension of Oda’s world and fully formed character in her own right.

Image: Toei Animation
Image: Toei Animation

Like most pop stars of the present day, Uta’s presence can be overwhelming to the point of being too much. One Piece has such an incredibly large cast of characters, sure, that comes with the territory of being around 25 years. But while Red makes the right call honing in on what Uta means to both Luffy and the rest of the world who’ve connected with her singing voice, it makes nearly everyone else not in that category feel extraneous. Despite having sporadic appearances throughout the film, Shanks just barely manages to avoid this, but that’s not really a fate afforded to other characters.

Outside of Luffy, the other Straw Hats don’t really have much of anything to do except look great in the film’s plethora of action scenes — outside of the incredibly wild end battle, they get a fun fight sans Luffy during the second act, both of which offer some fun fan service for lovers of Zoro (Kazuya Nakai/Christopher Sabat), Nami (Akemi Okamura/Luci Christian), and the rest of the gang. I’m nowhere near caught up in the present events of either the One Piece manga or anime, but the non-film specific characters who appear, of which there are many, feel like they’re just here to be here rather than serve a plot or thematic purpose to the film.

As a result, the movie sometimes threatens to collapse under its own weight, and it’s an issue that gets exacerbated towards the middle portion when the plot truly takes shape. But by some sheer miracle, the film ultimately doesn’t fall apart, and manages to pull itself together for its climax.

Music is an important part of One Piece, primarily its various openings over the decades. But Uta’s existence in Red kicks things up a notch by turning the raucous pirate anime into a musical. Her concert, held on the secluded island of Elegia, feels like a blend of Coachella and the Super Bowl halftime show, and her opening number “New Genesis” is incredibly splashy and colourful in the way that pop songs just are. Sung by Japanese singer Ado, the songs themselves are consistently great, and for the most part, the visuals are able to match the lyrical energy of each tune. Nearly all of them will be an earworm for some time, and some of the final songs may end up being tearjerkers for viewers. If you’re someone who only recently heard of Ado (like myself), these songs perfectly showcase her range as a vocal performer.

Image: Toei Animation
Image: Toei Animation

The weekend of New York Comic-Con in October, promos for One Piece Film: Red took over Times Square. Those promos only lasted an hour, but their mere existence further drove home how big One Piece has become, and Red will easily help it get even bigger. It’s an utter delight of a film that’s the franchise firing on nearly all cylinders. Even when it sometimes gets lost in itself, it’s just fun and encapsulates why people have spent years following the Straw Hats on their grand adventures.

One Piece Film: Red releases in theatres in the West on November 3.

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