By Bob Garver
NOTE: This film is available in both “Subbed” (Japanese spoken with English subtitles) and “Dubbed” (English spoken with no subtitles) versions. This review is based on the Subbed version.
This past weekend was a slow, awkward one at the domestic box office. With surefire hit “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opening next weekend, not many new releases were eager to step up and do well for exactly one weekend before getting obliterated. “Black Adam” continued its reign in the #1 spot, while horror movies fell like rocks into Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treat bag now that Halloween is over. Things were so bad that niche anime “One Piece Film: Red” was able to come in at a relatively strong #2. Unlike that “Dragon Ball” movie from a few months ago, I had never even heard of this franchise before I learned its movie was getting a wide release. And unlike that “Jujutsu Kaisen” movie from earlier this year, I’m not particularly happy to have been introduced to it.
The film takes place in a world overrun by pirates. The government and military have vowed to wipe out the pirates, but otherwise they do nothing to help victimized civilians. Pop star Uta has heard the pleas of the masses and has agreed to perform a free concert to give everyone a reprieve from pirates and misery. Good-hearted pirate Luffy and his crew attend the concert, and it turns out that Uta and Luffy grew up together, mentored by wise pirate “Red-Haired” Shanks. Uta is happy to see Luffy again after all these years, but she’s not happy that he’s still a pirate, good or otherwise. Moreover, she has a plan to make sure that everybody gets to enjoy the concert forever and never have to worry about pirates, corruption, work, school, or sadness ever again. Of course, anybody who wants to shield the world from life like that is going to be a villain.
Uta’s plan is basically to trap the population in a sort of dream world while their unconscious bodies wither and die. It’s up to Luffy and his crew, and later Shanks, to stop her. The government might also intervene by blowing up the entire concert, but hopefully it won’t come to that. Maybe Uta can be convinced to snap out of her derangement herself, as we learn more about her motivations and tragic past. One thing’s for sure, whatever happens, we’ll get lots of that confusing anime-style fighting where impacts and damage are assigned seemingly at random.
There were things I liked about “One Piece Film: Red.” Uta is a sympathetic character and her songs are beautiful. Villain songs are usually my favorites in Disney musicals, and here we get at least two, maybe more if you retroactively count early ones before Uta’s heel turn is official. And some of the comedy works, in that manic-anime-energy sort of way.
But then there’s the biggest detriment to the film, which is that it’s just so darn confusing. The cast is top-heavy on characters, Uta’s plan is convoluted, and the action is near-impossible to follow. I couldn’t even tell if a certain character was alive or dead at the end. Nor do I have any idea why the film is called “One Piece Film: Red.” I assume the “Red” refers to Shanks and his hair, and it is undeniably a film, but otherwise I haven’t the foggiest. Yes, I’m coming into this movie without a lick of knowledge about “One Piece Film” lore, and established fans will probably get more out of this movie than I did, but I can’t say that I found this to be an effective entry point into this series. There’s an effort being made here, but for a non-fan like me, there’s a headache-y quality that the film never quite manages to shake.
“One Piece Film: Red” is rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive material and language. Its running time is 115 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.