The Straw Hat Pirates are back in One Piece Film: Red, their latest cinematic outing that comes on the heels of 2016's One Piece Film: Gold and 2019's One Piece: Stampede. The format is slightly different, as this new entry in the franchise is essentially a musical. Incorporating a bunch of pop songs directly into the story gives everything a fresh vibe. At the same time, the qualities that have drawn fans around the world to One Piece remain in full effect. This is certainly the characters' most ambitious theatrical effort to date.
A pop singer named Uta has taken the world by storm. (Think of a somehow even more popular Taylor Swift.) Far from being just a singer, she aspires to be a unifier. Recognizing the devastation, loss, and misery caused by the pirate wars, she sings upbeat, inspirational songs designed to inspire and uplift her listeners, bringing joy to their lives. Uta, who has never made a public appearance, holds a major concert on an island that is designed to be her big coming out. Among the attendees are old pal Luffy and the Straw Hats.
Uta's performance kicks off a series of shocking revelations, beginning with the fact that she's the daughter of Shanks, leader of the Red Hair Pirates and longtime associate of Luffy's. (That's not a spoiler; the fact is freely given away in the official trailer.) It quickly becomes clear to the Straw Hats that, while Uta's motives are admirable, something about the concert is fishy. What they discover has startling implications.
One Piece Film: Red has the most ambitious story of the series so far. Without giving away any of the specifics, it deals with several weighty themes, notably the way good intentions can go horribly wrong. The plot is set in a world where most people have suffered. Uta has a desire to help those people, yet the method she chooses opens up problems that threaten to undermine her goal. I like the maturity of that idea, and the movie goes in-depth with it, leading to genuine drama that will hook One Piece diehards and relative newcomers alike.
The picture is also visually complex. Uta's songs advance the action onscreen, fueling each new development. They're presented as bright, stylish extravaganzas, with musical notes flying through the air, pyrotechnics going off, and the singer magically swooping over her audience like a bird. Director Goro Taniguchi makes these sequences eye-popping, packing them with intricate detail and filling the screen with literally dozens of colors, all at once. And since the tunes are undeniably catchy, you feel a jolt of adrenaline every time Uta takes the stage.
All the drama in One Piece Film: Red leads to the requisite battle royal at the end. As is the case here, these melees tend to be a bit on the incomprehensible side, with heroes' powers represented by bolts of energy and explosions that take up the entire frame, often obscuring the characters themselves. It's par for the course in anime, although I do wish this particular movie had found – as the recent Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero did – a more original way of presenting it.
Beyond that minor issue, One Piece Film: Red is a bold, entertaining chapter in the Straw Hat Pirates saga.
out of four
One Piece Film: Red is rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive material, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.