One Piece Film Z Review: Simple Does It
My wife and I went to a special screening of One Piece Film Z a few days ago. While we were waiting in line I couldn’t help but compare the One Piece line to the Iron Man 3 line. This was a special screening that wasn’t highly publicized, while it was the height of the Iron Man craze. I was sure all the people lined up to see Monkey D. Luffy instead of Tony Stark were quite the fans of the series, and my guess was proven right when I noticed a teenage girl ahead of us – she was wearing Trafalgar Law’s hat.
One Piece Film Z was touted as the most anticipated anime film of the decade. While I might contend the claim, it is true that this One Piece film has been a decade in the making – not literally, but figuratively. It’s been over ten years since the One Piece series began and the Strawhat crew has only recently begun their conquest of the New World, the last part of the Grand Line. Film Z is the first movie that occurs in the New World and the first to showcase the Strawhat pirate crew in full force (after a fashion) after the two year time skip. Furthermore, the movie was also spearheaded by Eichiro Oda, the mangaka of the series. I’m sure the teenage Law ahead of us had the same high expectations as I did.
The plot for the movie is simple: a disgruntled former Marine Admiral creates his own force of soldiers called the Neo Marines in an effort to end the Great Pirate Age by destroying One Piece, Gol D. Roger’s legendary treasure. He intends to do this by using top secret weapons-grade stones called Dyna stones that react to oxygen and external forces by exploding in a grand fireball that can effectively turn islands to ash. He targets the three “End Point” islands of the New World, integral points of the Grand Line where underground magma flows converge, and the destruction of which would cause catastrophic upheaval of the underground magma belt and the utter devastation of the Grand Line.
With the entire Grand Line gone, the former Marine Admiral Zephyr – who now calls himself Z (Zed) – will have also destroyed One Piece and ended the grand era of pirates, successfully eliminating the single most powerful lure to piracy. Somehow, Luffy finds himself smack in the middle of Z’s vendetta, as usual, and the entire Strawhat crew wages a small war to stop him.
The events of Film Z occur sometime after the Fishman Island arc and before the Punk Hazard arc, probably right after the canon episodes of the anime where Luffy encounters and defeats one of Z’s commanders (those few episodes were awful, by the way). When Z’s Neo Marine forces attack the End Point island protecting the Dyna stones and successfully infiltrate it, the Marines respond by sending Admiral Kizaru. Z and Kizaru exchange a few blows that end with Z detonating one of the Dyna stones, destroying the entire island. Floating offshore, Z is picked up by the Strawhats, who tend to his wounds until he wakes up, whereupon all three of the Strawhats’ monster trio – Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji – notice how powerful their guest is probably through their Haki. After Z finds out that Luffy leads a pirate crew, he attacks, and a small skirmish ensues as the rest of Z’s forces converge on his location. The Strawhats are taken by surprise and Luffy falls prey to Z’s special weapon meant to disable devil fruit ability users, and soon enough, they were forced to retreat lest they be sunk.
With the Strawhats temporarily out of action, the Marines heads meet and a plan of action is undertaken to stop Z while he proceeds with his plan to destroy the second End Point island. The recently resigned Kuzan Aokiji offers some information to the Strawhats regarding Z, and a small group headed by Luffy manages to fight Z’s forces again before the island is destroyed, leading to Luffy’s second defeat at the hands of the former admiral. This time, Z takes Luffy’s Strawhat with him to the third End Point. So far everything is par to standard One Piece plot advancement where Luffy is defeated a few times before getting serious and the Strawhats in general are at a disadvantage (a few members have been reduced in age thanks to a devil fruit user and the Thousand Sunny is still undergoing repairs). Things get real, however, when Luffy wakes up to find his Strawhat gone.
The Marines mobilize in full force as the third End Point is at stake, and Aokiji leads the Strawhats straight to Z’s Neo-Marines. The crew lays waste to the Neo Marines as Zoro and Sanji take care of Z’s top leaders and Franky and Franky Shogun take on and destroy a number of modified Pacifista on his own. Luffy and Z duke it out, and soon the duel downgrades into an armament Haki imbued fist fight ala Yusuke Urameshi versus Chu from YuYu Hakusho. Luffy wins out by a small margin, and Z accepts his defeat. Luffy takes his Strawhat but before they could leave, the Marine forces led by Kizaru surround them. Z decides to take them on his own as Aokiji encircles them in a wall of ice, also freezing the remaining Dyna Stones. Z dies on the battlefield.
While I was disappointed to find the plot so simple (the current arc of the manga is quite complex, and I wanted to see a bit more of this complexity reflect in the film), I was impressed by its execution. The film fleshed out the antagonist well, presenting a slight backstory along with the opening sequence (which was quite well done) and offering more glimpses of his past through stories told by those who knew him. Unlike other antagonists of the One Piece world, however, Z was not a disgusting creature (think Caesar Clown or Arlong). Marine Admiral Zephyr was betrayed by a principle he believed in so much he lost his family for it, and he took to extreme measures to see his final mission through. Another good point for the plot was it stayed true to classic One Piece standard – from the progression of events to Luffy’s intent: he couldn’t care less about the New World being destroyed, he just wants to win and take his Strawhat back. He states it plainly: he’s there because he wants to be Pirate King and he can’t do that if he loses to Z.
The animation styles were classic, some appeared cell-shaded, and not a lot of CGI was involved. I would have liked some fancy CGI but I suppose it would not have gone well. The fight scenes did not disappoint – even Sanji and Zoro’s fights, despite their being several levels stronger than their opponents, were well animated and executed. If I had one qualm about the fights it’s probably that these two didn’t have worthy opponents. I would have liked to see more out of Luffy, however, and his fight against Z seemed somewhat contrived and restrained. Franky proved to be quite the asset again, dealing with modified Pacifista as if they were fodder.
More importantly, the fight sequences in the film gave fans some insight on how strong the Strawhats currently are. In the manga and the anime, not a single one of the Strawhats has fought seriously since the time skip. It’s becoming hard to gauge how strong Luffy is now, but the film answered that: he can go head to head with a retired Marine Admiral and win. There’s no doubt as to Franky’s strength too and Zoro and Sanji’s sensory Haki prowess. The rest of the crew – even Nami – can dispatch hundreds of soldiers each without breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately the film had limited time to unravel the plot, and the plot itself had to be straightforward enough to fit into one film. The film itself added little to the entire series aside from showcasing the strength of the Strawhats, and perhaps giving some insight into what actions the mysterious Aokiji would take in case of such a dire situation (Aokiji seems to be being set up for a major role in the manga). The storytelling was a touch dramatic and quite cinematic, though I cringed somewhat when I found out it was Aokiji singing that soulful, creepy ode to the fallen. Was the film worth ten years? Perhaps not, but it was well worth the trip to the cinemas. [by G Dino]