The past few years have been great for anime films. In the past, lots of production companies would capitalize on the popularity of a new anime series by rushing out a film to tide fans over between seasons. It resulted in a plethora of filler nonsense that neither contributed to the canon of a series nor to any understanding of the main characters. With the release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, that trend changed.
Not only did fans get a completely canonical film that pushed the story forward, but they also got some of the best animation the series had ever seen. Things continued to improve, as well, with the release of Ressurection F and Super: Broly, the latter being a particular highlight. Other series, such as Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia, were also given solid big-screen adaptations that accurately captured the tone and style of their respective source material while pushing things forward in terms of animation.
Sadly, the trend had to end. This year, in particular, has seen quite a few anime film stinkers, not the least of which was Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. What set One Piece Film: Red apart from the pack was the inclusion of director Goro Taniguchi. Taniguchi was the first director to bring One Piece to life on the screen with an OVA back in 1998. After 24 years, he was returning to the series to make the ultimate film for fans.
Sadly, he hasn’t exactly succeeded in making an interesting movie.
One Piece Film: Red
Director: Goro Taniguchi
Release Date: August 6, 2022 (Japan), November 4, 2022 (USA)
Unlike some of the films mentioned above, One Piece Film: Red goes back to the old-school style of anime films by being non-canonical… sort of. One Piece is a tricky series to nail down because of how massive it really is. Spanning over 1,000 anime episodes at this point (Film: Red was actually announced to commemorate the 1,000th episode airing), the numerous films often introduce canon elements while not directly affecting the proceedings of the series. Case in point, Film: Red introduces new character Uta (Kaori Nazuka), a girl with special singing powers that will become integral to the series in the near future.
The premise for One Piece Film: Red is that Luffy (Mayumi Tanaka) and his friends are attending the concert for worldwide pop sensation Uta. Having recently broken onto the scene by streaming her singing and taking the world by storm, she is holding her first live concert to thousands of adoring fans with the intent of bringing about a new age. She has a disdain for pirates and wants to rid the world of crime, agony, sadness, and despair by ending the piracy age.
That’s already a big problem for Luffy and co. as Luffy’s entire motive throughout One Piece is to become the King of Pirates. We’re briefly told this in the film, but it should be noted right now that if you have no familiarity with One Piece as a concept, Film: Red will not make sense to you. Even as a casual fan with knowledge of some characters, I was often completely flabbergasted at how many characters appear in this story and contribute exactly nothing to the plot.
Anyway, as Uta’s show goes on, we learn a rather interesting wrinkle about her past: she and Luffy grew up in the same town. They were both proteges of the legendary pirate Shanks (Shuichi Ikeda), but Uta is also Shanks’ daughter. Luffy admires Shanks and aspires to be just like him, so he and Uta have a storied past and are practically brother and sister. Sadly, they lost touch over time, but Uta is dismayed to learn Luffy is a pirate.
After asking him to give up his swashbuckling life, Luffy refuses and the main plot kicks into gear. Uta doesn’t want to just abolish the age of piracy, she wants everyone in the world to live in a delusional bubble where no harm can ever happen. Her aspirations are nice, but she wants the entire audience to give up their lives and live in ignorant bliss for the rest of eternity. There are some other layers to that, but they come as late story twists, so I’ll spare you the details.
The biggest problem with One Piece Film: Red is that instead of showing a lot of these details, we’re given mountains of exposition to get us up to speed. The film even begins with a prolonged narration sequence that quickly recaps most of the series, but it becomes a real shame when Luffy explains his and Uta’s life and we aren’t shown how they hung out. When the time does come to get that flashback, there is still an abundance of exposition layered on top that ruins what could have been a very touching moment.
As things progress, there are also the requisite fan service nods to practically every character from One Piece’s history. Characters who have nothing to do with the plot, such as Fujitora, Big Mom, and Kizaru, occupy random scenes and give no insight into Luffy and Uta’s struggles. By the one-hour point, you feel like the movie is overstuffed to the point that it should maybe have been a separate arc in its own right. So many different enemies and frenemies and allies are introduced that mean nothing that it bloats out what should have been a rather simple story about friendship, trauma, and self-doubt.
When boiling down the film to its most essential elements, the main characters are Luffy, Uta, and Shanks. Those three are given a compelling narrative about breaking out into the world and forging your own path to victory. While Uta gets seduced by a misunderstanding of the past and turns to “evil,” Luffy represents the polar opposite and tries to bring her back to the light. It would have been an exceptionally good story had the film focused on that instead of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix.
Case in point, the soundtrack for Film: Red is really good. While I wasn’t quite sure about Uta’s first song as it is maybe a bit too J-poppy for me, her diminishing mental state gives way to harder and heavier songs that are just bursting with emotion by the film’s conclusion. One rather melancholic song in the middle also gets a reprise at the end that just might bring a tear to your eye… at least if you can make it to the ending.
For some odd reason, One Piece: Film Red is a gargantuan anime movie. Clocking in at nearly two hours long, you will probably feel every minute of that runtime by the time things wrap up. It doesn’t help that something of a false ending occurs at the 75-minute mark, which made me think the story was finished. With another 40 minutes to go, I had to brace myself for more unnecessary fluff, exposition, and nonsensical character additions.
At least in terms of action, Film: Red does deliver. This isn’t on the same level as something like Dragon Ball Super: Broly, but there is a lot of traditional hand-drawn art alongside CG here that looks solid on the big screen. Again, if you’re not familiar with One Piece, the film does absolutely nothing to clue you into why characters are growing large or biting their thumbs and transforming, but I appreciate not needing recaps of literally every detail. I just wish the story took that same hint because the description of Shanks and Uta’s past gets ruined when you don’t simply see it play out.
Towards the finale, however, we finally do get a moment where the narration shuts up and the movie gives us a gut punch of a flashback. There are moments of serenity within Film: Red that shows Taniguchi at least understands what makes this franchise so appealing to fans.
I suppose being a big event to celebrate 25 years of One Piece, it was maybe inevitable that Film: Red would suffer from trying to please everyone. I want to stress that I don’t believe it is a bad movie, but it absolutely fails to make an impression beyond existing. Die-hard fans will get more out of this, no question, but it makes me sad that we seem to be regressing when it comes to anime film adaptations.
The best part of films like Super: Broly and Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train is that they excised all the needless dialogue and went straight into the core plot. I suppose both are simpler than One Piece Film: Red, but then you can boil down this plot to a simple explanation. Twists and turns that add new revelations don’t need to be accompanied by paragraphs of exposition and characters explaining how they feel versus showing us.
That is ultimately what dragged the experience down for me. Maybe a rewatch will reveal something I missed, but I don’t know if I can stomach another hour and 55 minutes of this. At the very least, it does make me wonder how Uta’s future in the franchise will be introduced. She creates an interesting dynamic for Luffy that should create a rather dramatic arc for the anime.