Monday 14 November 2016

One Piece Film: Gold (2016) - Movie Review

One Piece is up there with the likes of Naruto, Bleach and more recently Toriko as one of the biggest titles in Japanese manga. Of course, ask your average Westerner about it and they will likely recount the horror stories of what 4Kids Entertainment did the series. Now, I don’t have nearly as much issue with that version of the show (I’d even say that the much-maligned theme song is pretty catchy in its own right) but then again I don’t have as much experience with the title as a whole. I’ve read a volume or two of the manga and I thought it was decent enough but it never really grabbed in the way that other series like Death Note and Toriko did. Oh trust me, the new Death Note movie review is coming up soon but, for right now, we’re dealing with the latest iteration of the One Piece anime… and going from this alone, I think it’d be worth it to go through those volumes again.

The plot: While sailing the high seas in search of the legendary One Piece, the greatest pirate treasure trove in the world, Monkey D. Luffy and his band of pirates find their way onto Gran Tesoro, a colossal pirate ship that counts as its own independent country. It is captained/ruled over by Gild, an ambitious performer who seems to have won over everyone he comes into contact with. As the Straw Hats enjoy the hospitality of Gran Tesoro, they stumble upon the darker inner workings of the ship and, if they aren’t careful, they will be stuck on board forever.

The animation here is fairly solid, which does a lot better than it would normally considering it manages to work with One Piece’s usual approach to character design. Namely, it manages to go further than any 90’s comic book artist ever could in terms of showing great exaggerations of the human form. Amidst impossibly long legs and just plain ridiculous concepts (which should be a given, considering this is the world of anime we’re talking about here), grand-daddy production house Toei melds these elements together to create a legitimate design aesthetic (yes, I know that word gets overused, even around here) that helps to channel the insane story details within. Without giving too much away in terms of set pieces, let’s just say that the guy who captains a ship big enough to count as its own city is the starting point for the lunacy and it only gets weirder from there.

We’re dealing with a sub this time around, and while I’d argue that the writing isn’t translated terribly well in places (and needlessly repeats whole lines of dialogue), it still checks out overall. When the story is already full of quite eccentric characters just in terms of visage, writer Tsutomu Kuroiwa made the sensible move of matching them with equally entrancing dialogue. The dynamics between the Straw Hats are very fun, furthering my intent to check out the rest of the anime at some point, and even considering this is my first encounter with most of the cast (save for Luffy, Zoro and Nami), their individual characters come across very strongly. And then there’s Gild, who right from the literal first frame of the film is an amazing sight to behold. Serving as this weird cross-section between King Midas and Johnny Bravo, he not only works as a villain in his own right but also works remarkably well alongside the Straw Hats. When you have a cast of main characters that are this super-powered from the offset, setting up a worthy adversary could have proved a challenge. And then Gild comes into the picture and… wow, he is more than worthy.

For as much that takes place within the narrative, from the introduction to the ship to the discovery of its inner workings to the bickering between characters to the shark-jumping finale, this is a surprisingly well-paced story. It never feels like it’s dragging its heels to meet the running time and all the events that take place land on a fairly even climb to the final battle. At its core, the film largely takes the form of a super-powered heist caper… and between this and Ant-Man, I can only hope that this sub-genre sticks around because I love seeing stories like this. It may run into areas of characters being overly emphasized over others, namely Nami and her character arc involving femme fatale Carina, but it still feels like every character gets their chance to shine. And speaking of shine and all things garish, the film ends up using the solid-gold pirate ship/Vegas on the water as a setting for a story that takes many pot shots at materialism and the green-eyed intent behind the villains’ plans. It goes the way of Sausage Party, in that it is rather obvious and extremely blunt, but it fits in with the tone of the rest of the film. I mean, if this film was going to try its hand at some form of satire and/or commentary, it makes sense that it would be as noticeable as the glaring golden sheen of the setting.

Holy hell, this soundtrack is good! This should be obvious from the opening show tune sequence, showing off the film’s tone, villain and musical sensibilities all in one fell swoop. With its emphasis on neo-swing brass and big band jazz orchestration, it feels like a Venn diagram where Lupin The Third and Cowboy Bebop meet. Yeah, I know comparing any form of music to the grand mistress Yoko Kanno is akin to blasphemy, and admittedly this doesn’t have the same iconic flair to it that made Tank or Space Lion as memorable as they are, but this nouveau Vegas motif works wonders both as a standalone soundtrack and as a backdrop for Gran Tesoro.

All in all, a dizzyingly fun ride from start to finish with the occasional energy drain that comes with it. The acting is good, the soundtrack is awesome, the writing is madcap with plenty of smarts to it and the overall story, if I’m being honest, has officially converted me to the series.

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