Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates, the new film One Piece: Stampede is a love letter to the blockbuster anime franchise. And, while it may not be a life-changing experience, or even a great story, it delivers on its promises: adventure, battles and fan service.
The Straw Hat crew is going to Pirate Fest, a top-secret (but gigantic) festival held for only the greatest of pirates. Luffy and his friends are excited, expecting fights, parties, and a hunt for some of Gol D. Roger's treasure. But while half of the crew seems to suspect the event is a trap, Luffy is eager to go full speed ahead, regardless of the danger.
But with a multitude of high-bounty pirates attending, there are bound to be a few adversaries. After all, this is the first Pirate Fest in 20 years, and for this treasure hunt, anything goes. With countless rivals from One Piece history converging on this island, things are bound to get crazy, fast -- specially as Buena Festa, the man behind the festival, and his colossal henchman, Douglas Bullet, makes their moves on every pirate and marine.
One Piece: Stampede is receiving a theatrical release in North American following Funimation's success with Dragon Ball Super: Broly and My Hero Academia: Two Heroes. Those two are undeniably superior, but One Piece: Stampede isn't really a movie, per say; it's an adventure.
It's a loving tribute to the entire One Piece saga, complete with cameos by, and references to, numerous iconic characters. There are so many familiar faces that viewers will undoubtedly have to consult a wiki to refresh their memories about some of the more obscure characters from yesteryear. The film is unabashed fan service, with tons of character only popping up only for a moment.
One Piece: Stampede is a bit difficult to follow without first watching the two lead-in episodes of the anime series (episodes 895 and 896), which provides context for the madness that ensues. Needless to say, context isn't the film's greatest strength. Stampede isn't concerned so much with making sense as it is with adventure, action, treasure and cameos. Thirty minutes in, Stampede changes gears, and goes from a massive, wild party to an all-out war. Then, a half-hour after that, it changes again.
While there are way too many characters to keep track of, every single one gets at least a moment in the limelight. Everything that can go wild will go wild. One Piece has always been governed by a simple rule: if it's cool, it's in. Considering the cast of reappearing characters, from Buggy the Clown to Crocodile to Smoker, there's a lot of insane coolness in this film. All of it comes so fast and so hard that, if you aren't familiar with all of the characters, you'll be confused.
A bruiser, the villainous Bullet is of Gol D. Roger's former crew, able to take on entire armies of pirates by himself. In many respects, he's reminiscent of enemies like Broly from the original Dragon Ball Z movies: a sheer force of unrelenting power with no nuance. With all of the One Piece foes who appear in cameo, we're reminded of how many more interesting adversaries the franchise has to offer.
That lack of a compelling threat aligns with the vision behind the film. One Piece: Stampede isn't about deep themes; it never intends to deliver a complex narrative. It's here to offer some incredibly animated fights. You go to see Stampede because you want 100 minutes of raw action and fan service, and that's precisely what you get.
The animation is beautiful. Every character and every fight is overflowing with irreverent, goofy action. Despite the occasional use of CGI (especially in the final battle), the animation is still beautiful. The level of imagination instilled into every frame is a testament to One Piece's core appeal: wild adventure.
Look, this is a movie in which people sword-fight with meteors and uppercut mountain-sized mecha suits. Just just relax about plot, and enjoy the ride.
For a lot of Western fans, half of the appeal will be the new dub by Funimation. After a long period without Funimation dubbing new One Piece content, this film brings back the English cast. While all of the voice actors do their darnedest -- especially Colleen Clinkenbeard as Luffy and Sonny Strait as Usopp, who is always a joy in this role -- none of the performances is particularly "dramatic." But they are fun. However, if you don't like the dub, the subbed version is, as expected, wonderful.
So yes, the movie is ridiculous. Yes, the plot is thin. Yes, none of the characters have much more motivation than "Survive!" or "Adventure!" But Toei never intended to make a film with depth. Instead, the studio wanted to create a roller coaster for fans of One Piece, new and old. And it delivers.
Oh, and stay until after the credits for a little bonus scene.
One Piece: Stampede will receive limited release Oct. 24-31 in select theaters in North America. Visit the Funimation website to find participating locations.