I would classify myself as a fan of anime, but I would be exaggerating greatly to say that I’m a student of all that the vast Japanese art form has to offer. I’m well-versed in the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Mamoru Hosoda, have lots to say about Akira and Ghost in the Shell, and consider Cowboy Bebop one of the best TV shows in any medium. But I have several major blindspots. This is why, when it came time to review One Piece Film: Gold, having never seen a second of the 770 episodes of One Piece nor any of the previous 12 feature films, I was a bit apprehensive. Would I understand even one second of what was happening? Turned out… not really. But then again, it didn’t really matter! What you (and I) need to know is pretty much set up in the opening action scene: a crew of weird ragtag pirates, each with a different off-the-wall power or ability, sail the seas in search of treasure so that the rubber-appendaged young Captain Luffey can become the king of the pirates. They are chased by bounty hunters to a massive gold island that’s also a sailing vessel. This place is called Gran Tesoro, a huge, shimmering casino and gaming community catering only to the highest of rollers. After disrupting the show of the island’s ruler, Gild Tesoro, the Straw Hat Pirates are treated to opulence the likes of which they’ve never seen.
Unfortunately, this is all a ruse on the part of Tesoro and his gang of bosses, which include the literal embodiment of Lady Luck, who can grant and remove luckiness to suit her purpose, a weird floating nightmare who can move through any inorganic material, and a muscle-bound psycho who longs for pain to feel alive. The crew, given their unbelievable luck, get tricked into betting 10 times what they have and wind up losing it all, forcing them to join the ranks of the island’s indentured servants. How can they get out of this debt, and how can they overcome a foe who has dominion over all the gold in the world?
What makes the movie work for a complete newbie such as myself is that it reveals character through action and not through exposition, which has become the downfall of most “introductory” sci-fi/fantasy/action movies. The characters are all long established, so people who know nothing get to experience them entirely through doing what they’re good at, and their eccentric personalities speak for themselves. There’s very little needless dialogue or exposition, and instead we’re treated to a number of really impressive and frenetic action sequences, including a Mario Kart-style race, a straight-up Ocean’s Eleven heist, and a finale in which there’s lots of flying around and powers being used.
The story really resonates, especially after the year we’ve just had, in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s all about the fight between the haves and the have-nots, the oppression of the poor by the absurdly rich, and the way we all take enjoyment in watching the suffering of others. Tesoro is a wonderfully detestable villain who can physically control and manipulate gold; if he has gotten some of his tainted AU on you, you are powerless to fight against him. He plans to hold a public execution of arguably the most badass of the Straw Hat Pirates and relishes the crew’s public defeat with the chilling line, “The moment hope turns to despair! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the greatest entertainment in the world.” As with the best pieces of art, we see our real world reflected in the likes of One Piece Film: Gold and Tesoro. If we didn’t already like the Straw Hats, we appreciate their strife even more.
There were a few things in the film that I didn’t care for; in fact, these were the sort of things I dislike about a certain variety of anime in general, and the stuff that I’m sure is part and parcel to the One Piece brand. For one, characters’ penchant to scream the name of the various special moves they’re about to enact as they power them up. Additionally, the goofy art style of the comedic characters juxtaposed against the physics-defying anatomy of the female characters. Finally, the over-the-top slapstick of several characters that really overshadows the more dramatic moments. But, in the 13th film in a long-running series, I’d hardly expect these things to be completely absent, and they didn’t detract too much.
As a total newcomer to the franchise, I was overall very captivated and charmed by One Piece Film: Gold. It had action to spare, a totally relatable good-versus-evil storyline, and a cast of lovable rogues that each get a moment or two to shine, even if you might not remember their names all the time (thankfully, the movie opens with a roll call). One Piece fans will likely already want to check out the theatrical run of the movie in select theaters from January 10-17, but anyone who likes anime will find a lot to enjoy here. I did.
4 out of 5 delightfully confused burritos
Images: Toei Animation/FUNimation