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It’s been so many years since One Piece began as just an innocent story about a boy on an adventure to become the King of Pirates. Since then, we’ve had tens of arcs, hundreds of new characters, plenty of conspiracies, and even a time skip in which the characters change their appearances completely. Having started with the One Piece manga a long time ago, both Toshi Nakamura and I have fond feelings toward the series, but something seems to be missing as of late. After seeing the actors and director on stage at the premiere for the film, Toshi and I watched the film for ourselves. It was a full two hours, but strangely enough, we were itching for more.

Toshi: We just saw the One Piece movie One Piece Film Gold. The last movie was four years ago, so it’s been a while. I think they put them out once per year before, so I think this is the longest we’ve gone without a film.

The Plot

Toshi: First, let’s go over what it’s about.

Sarah: Basically, Luffy and his crew come upon a place, Gran Tesoro, and it’s a manmade island. It’s been recognized as its own nation by the government.

Toshi: It’s also officially a neutral ground.

Sarah: Yeah, so pirates can’t touch marines and marines can’t touch pirates. No idea about those guys with the fish bowl hats… The Celestial Dragons.

Toshi: It’s basically a floating island where money rules and that’s where the Straw Hat pirates encounter a new enemy named Tesoro. I think it’s safe to say since the title of the movie is Film Gold, but he has the power to control gold.

Sarah: At first, they’re welcomed to the island but they learn that Tesoro’s actually the enemy and Gran Tesoro is actually a place where the losers are the ones who are tricked and there are no consequences for those doing the tricking. So, Luffy and his friends have to find a way to fight back against him for various reasons.

The Animation

Toshi: As we’ve said, it’s been four years since the last movie and it’s weird to say that it shows, but it does; the movie doesn’t feel rushed. For a while, there had been one movie a year, but this one feels very painstakingly put together. The animation quality is great. They use CG sparingly in just the right ways so that it’s not overbearing.

Sarah: Something I noticed is that the CG they did use is very smooth; it’s not choppy and as someone who’s not a huge fan of CG, I really appreciated it.

The Story

Sarah: Of course, they introduced a brand new cast of characters. New enemies, new allies… They did this with One Piece Film Z and I was hoping they would do this in Gold–and they did–but they also bring in characters from the main storyline. Most if not all of the films before Z were very self-contained; they were little side stories that were completely inconsequential. And because they were self-contained, the stories had no impact on the greater picture. They had no impact on the characters and expanded nothing. Because of this, they felt very disconnected. But this one feels like a real part of the world. Characters you think were gone for good come back and make an appearance. It made me feel very at home and comfortable.

Sarah: I had been reading One Piece for a while until I kind of fell off the train, but something that made me happy as an early One Piece reader was to see characters that we haven’t seen in a while. I’m not saying who, but it’s very nostalgic and it connects to the New World. Like, “Oh, so they’re in the New World, too. I see.” It adds an additional layer to the story.

Toshi: Actually, the director himself said that when he talked to the creator Mr. Oda, Mr. Oda’s one request of him was to make a movie that can’t be done in the manga; do something that’s impossible to do in the manga. It really felt like he was trying to do that–he was breaking away from the format that the manga had set out to this point. Honestly, I would be interested if this affects the way Mr. Oda writes the manga itself because they do some very unconventional things, things that aren’t what you would expect. It becomes a conflict where your fists can’t solve everything.

Sarah: That’s true. They use a lot more logic to fight against their enemy. I usually can pick up things that are going to happen and you normally can’t trick me, but in a movie that’s about tricking people, they managed to trick me at least four times and I really commend them for that.

The Characters

Toshi: The cast of characters was amazing. Because it’s a movie, they only had two hours, but they added so many characters and I wanted to know all their backstories. There were some characters that you know have something going on and they give you little glimpses, but they still don’t have enough time to give them the full background treatment. There’s so much potential. I sort of wish that this was an entire arc.

Sarah: It was so interesting to have so many characters showing up and I wanted to know their backgrounds. Especially Carina. I’m not going to go very deep into who she is, but she’s an old friend of Nami’s. They go way back. We get to see a little bit of them interacting in the past and might I just say that it was very nostalgic to see Nami with short hair. Anyway, I would have liked to see a little bit more of her just because she was a good character. I really enjoyed seeing her on screen and was interested in what her motivations were.

Toshi: Even the bad guy… Honestly, I loved his backstory and I really, really wish they could have expanded on it more.

Sarah: Not to mention that they conveyed his backstory in such a short amount of time.

Toshi: Right from early on, they give you hints that there is something to him. He’s got baggage. With the limited time that they had, they conveyed that perfectly. I mean, it’s two hours long. I was expecting one hour or an hour and a half at the most, but it goes a full two hours and makes use of that time.

Sarah: I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any longer, though. My butt was starting to hurt. But it did well with what it had and I had a lot of fun.

The Guests

Sarah: Now, moving on to something I care a lot about: the voice cast. Before this movie even premiered in theaters, there was kind of a buzz around its casting. They kept announcing celebrities as cast members in the magazines, and there are a lot of them in the film. And usually, people say, “Ew, celebrities.” I mean, they announced the villains first and then went so far as to announce the voices of the turtles and the owls and other really insignificant roles that made you think, “Isn’t this going a little too far?” But what was great about the film–the turtles and owls were adorable by the way–is that you couldn’t really tell that they were voiced by celebrities. They did a good job of blending in.

Toshi: It was not in your face. Even some big-name actors had very small roles, but not necessarily inconsequential. Important, but not overbearing. It wasn’t a “Hey, it’s this guy!” kind of thing.

Sarah: Let’s move onto the casting for the main villains and heroes. Something interesting you might not have known about Carina’s actress Hikari Mitsushima is that she performed the second opening theme song of the One Piece anime as the idol group Folder5. That means it’s been a full fifteen years since the last time she was involved with One Piece directly. It was a very nice nod to the classic One Piece to have someone related to the anime from so long ago come back as a guest character. I had actually wondered why she wasn’t performing the theme song, but there is a point where she does sing an insert song, and she does have a good singing voice. I applaud the casting director for choosing someone who can sing to play, well, a singer. In the case of the other characters like lucky girl Baccarat and Tanaka-san–a guy who can walk through walls–they were fantastic!

Toshi: They didn’t overstay their welcome. Another weakness of the previous movies has been that the enemies become inconsequential–just set pieces. They really didn’t feel that way here… They had weight. Their characters had weight. Even if you didn’t get all of their backstories, it felt like they had a place in the overall world.

Who’s it for?

Toshi: This movie is going to be released in 33 countries outside of Japan. How do you think it’s going to do?

Sarah: It depends on where it’s screened, of course, but I think that it will do well with the fans. Fans will not be disappointed. But, it’s not a hard place to jump in if you don’t know much about One Piece.

Toshi: I think you’re right. They give you enough hints so you think, “Oh, who’s this guy?” As we said, there are characters who have shown up in the past that make an appearance and it makes you wonder, “What was this guy in the main series?” It makes me want to go back and read past volumes of One Piece.

Sarah: I think that even if you haven’t read One Piece, it can be a stand-alone thing. It’s like a hamburger. It’s really nice, hearty fun.

Toshi: I would say that’s a perfect analogy. It’s the main part of the meal but there’s still the rest of the meal around it.

Sarah: In the past, I’ve used the analogy of comparing really stupid anime to soda: it’s sweet, it’s empty calories, and it will probably cause diabetes. But with the hamburger, you’ve got the lettuce, the onions, and of course the meat. It all makes you feel full when you’re done.

One Piece Film Gold opened in Japanese theaters on July 23, and will premiere in 33 countries outside of Japan–you can find our list of countries here.

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