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‘One Piece Film: Red Review’: A Spectacle of a Film That Pushes What’s Possible in Shounen

5/5 Hunks of Barbecue Meat

The Straw Hat Pirates cheer on Uta's performance in One Piece Film: Red

I can count on one hand the the amount of times a piece of media has made me cry from joy. In the first five minutes, no less. Sure, One Piece is the kind of series that inspires intense love and dedication from its fandom. And, especially considering One Piece‘s 25th anniversary is this year, there was an aura ahead of One Piece Film: Red which oozed that it was something special. In turn, it’s breaking box office records in Japan.

And yet, here I was, watching Uta sing “Shin Jidai (New Genesis)” as an Opening Musical Number in the truest sense, complete with show-stopping visuals and dance moves. Cut to Luffy eating some barbecue. Cut again to Usopp (dressed immaculately like a member of KISS) and Chopper losing their shit. Just like I was. Leading up to this moment were weeks of anticipation, weighted the knowledge that, because I happened to be traveling to Japan at The Right Time, I would be the first of my friends and colleges to see this film. Soon, in the Toho Cinema in Hibiya, I was grinning so widely that my eyes had to do something about it, too.

That sense of spectacle never stops in One Piece Film: Red. And it gets going immediately — perhaps to its detriment, because the opening sequence in Gold, in which they take the opportunity to introduce the Straw Hats, remains the (ahem) Gold Standard in my book. One Piece, and shounen in general, has always been big and grandiose. But Red does something a little different with that grandiosity. Sure, there are plenty of fights. But the plot is such that fighting won’t solve much. So the remaining portions of grandiosity are imbued in the musical numbers of Uta, Shank’s daughter and an ascending diva.

Make no mistake: One Piece Film: Red is a musical. We’re talking a true, all-out musical, with awkward lines leading into the songs and everything. There are seven songs crafted for the film to be performed by Uta, whose real-life singing voice is JPop sensation Ado. Some are truncated in the film, some are not. But all seven of these songs are really fucking good. Because Uta is a take on idol culture, many of these numbers have an almost music video feel, and I caught at least one reference to a One Piece OP. They are unabashedly Big, and it’s glorious to behold. Again, “spectacle” is truly the word of the day.

The fact that Red is a musical is going to prove divisive once it finally hits the States. I’ve already seen a couple fans get cranky about it. My hot take is that anyone who has a strict sense on What Shounen Should Be is going to hate Red, or at least the musical aspect of it. But that’s quite key to the film. Those game for a sense of fresh air are likely to love it. Which, I believe, is most people: I saw the film on a Friday and Saturday three weeks after its release, and both theaters were essentially full. (On Saturday, I had to sit very close to the screen.) So I highly suggest you tune out these naysayers.

Even if you venture beyond the stunning musical numbers, Red still has plenty to offer. The animation overall is stunning and rides the current series high, in line with highest highs we’ve gotten in the Wano Kuni arc. There’s CGI, but its use is much less glaring than in Stampede. It helps that the use of CGI is mostly relegated to otherworldly objects, too.

Like Stampede, Red finds opportunities to bring in some random, fan-favorite characters. Unlike Stampede, there’s actually reason for them to be there. The attendees of Uta’s festival fall into three categories: people who want to kidnap a pop icon for the ransom money, people who are plain ol’ fans, and a few undercover government types. The involvement of the Big Mom pirates is the most forced, but they mostly-believably fall into the first category (and, hell, I enjoy me some Brulee). The second category, though, is truly a joy. Because of fucking course Bartolomeo is a fan boy. You love to see it. And the third category means that we actually get to hang out with Koby for the first time in ages. Wins all around.

Eventually, of course, the Navy gets involved, too. They are real bastards in this one. You love to see it.

Additionally, I think Uta is, hands-down, the best character ever introduced in a One Piece film. And I’m saying this as something who was initially a skeptic. Red really sold me on her. Uta is a complicated character, and she’s as fully-formed as nearly two hours of film will allow. Her desire for a “new era” (shin jidai in Japanese, the title of the song “New Genesis”) where “everyone is happy for eternity” has its roots in some serious trauma. But that also doesn’t remove her from guilt.

You want me to say more, right? Alas, Red is the kind of film where I cannot tell you anything about what happens after the first fifteen-ish minutes without incurring major spoilers. For the cerebral nature of its twists, fan outlets like Library of Ohara have said that its plot shares more in common with Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island than more recent One Piece films. I think that’s spot-on. It’s great news for me, because, prior to Red, Baron Omatsuri was my favorite One Piece film.

The nature of the plot means that I feel I shouldn’t comment upon it beyond what you already probably know: the Straw Hats attend a big music festival thrown on by an ascendent pop idol named Uta. The festival takes place on the island of Elegia, where, many years ago, the entire kingdom was destroyed in a single night. You know a little more about that if you’ve seen the anime companion episodes, but my mouth is zipped shut for further elaboration. The film is solid enough to still be good if you come in with spoilers, but it’s fun as hell to watch the fabric unfold when you don’t know what’s going on.

Even though the film is not canonical (Uta’s existence is), it does a fantastic job of capturing where the series is right now. Like episode 1015 of the anime, One Piece Film: Red showcases how far Luffy has come in a way that will make fans very emotional. Red is one of the One Piece films that can be enjoyed by long-time fans and series newcomers alike (there is a quick spoiler for Luffy’s general standing, post-Whole Cake Island), but fans will get some serious Feels that will fly right over the head of newcomers.

Speaking of the series spoilers in the film: there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it major manga spoiler in Red that the anime hasn’t gotten to yet. But it’s incredibly coy. Those sneaky, beautiful bastards really got us.

Also, I got this far without really talking about Shanks. Kind of hard to, though, because of the spoiler wall. I’ll just say: wow, what an alluring man.

In short, Red is everything you want from a One Piece film. My qualms with it are exceedingly small (Uta sure likes to take breaks during her concerts, huh?) and are very typical of the kind of “sure, I guess that can happen” vibe of shounen films. But thanks to director Goro Taniguchi (of Code Geass fame, and the first director in series history to come from outside Toei’s umbrella), some absolutely banger songs courtesy of Ado and her collaborators, and The Shanks Factor, Red is more than the typical One Piece film.

The 5/5 rating I gave isn’t to say Red is a perfect film. It is to say that the excitement it generates means that I have not felt this giddy about a movie since I was a kid. Red is nothing less than a gift to One Piece fans. It seems that’s a widely shared sentiment. Again, I’ll gesture to the full theater in Japan three weeks after its release.

Watching the legacy of Red will be fascinating — not just for One Piece, but for shounen as a whole. Having a musical shounen film pushes the genre. After all, musicals are definitely not conceived as “macho,” or even as having the “male skew” suggested by the roots of the shounen genre. But we’ve known for ages that women like One Piece and shounen in general as much as men do. I saw women and men coming out in equal measure, together and separately, to see this film — and for probably a repeat viewing, too.

In the name of giving fans something really special, in the name of spectacle, Taniguchi and the Red team have expanded upon what shounen can be. A New Genesis, if you would.

Image credit: Toei Animation

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Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.