The 25th anniversary of “One Piece” has been a spectacular ride for fans of the series. The manga has entered its final saga, the anime has been firing on all cylinders, and now we cap the year off with the long-awaited release of One Piece Film: Red. I recently saw the film in IMAX with the Japanese voice cast, and simply put, I have a lot of thoughts. I’ll discuss the film’s presentation and my general impressions before diving into a more spoiler-filled discussion on Uta, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the film.
The film is notable for a number of reasons. It is directed by Goro Taniguchi, who previously directed the “One Piece” OVA, the first animated adaptation of the manga. The film is said to have featured more input from Eiichiro Oda than any other film in the franchise, which is significant considering Oda previously wrote the story for the film Strong World. If all of this wasn’t enough, the film introduces a new character, Uta, who is said to be the daughter of Shanks, one of the series’s most enigmatic characters. To top it all off, the film is something of a musical experience, with pop artist Ado performing seven songs as Uta. All of this together makes Film: Red one of the most unique and exciting “One Piece” media projects to date.
From an audio and visual perspective, the film is spectacular. Ado’s turn as the pop idol Uta is incredibly fun and is incorporated organically into the film’s action and story. Ado’s range is demonstrated as she performs anthemic pop bangers, swooning ballads, dark rock tracks, and more. The way that her music is used to explore her character, propel the plot, and set the tone for the film’s major action set pieces is impressive. I personally have been listening to the soundtrack since it started dropping as singles earlier this year and you might say it was my “Sound of the Summer.” The only downside to the strength of the Uta pieces is that they make the rest of the film’s soundtrack feel somewhat drab and forgettable by comparison.
The film looks great as well, with a near endless assault of vibrant color, fluid animation, and imaginative creations. While the animators clearly put a lot of work into the film’s battle sequences, a similar amount of care is given to Uta’s concert performances. In these segments, the blending of 2D and 3D animation is almost seamless. The animators employ a number of artistic styles and animation techniques throughout the film, heightening the effectiveness of several key moments.
There are certainly moments where the animation exhibits a few issues. Sometimes the action becomes difficult to follow due to extreme close-ups on characters moving at very high speed. The general concert goers often feel stiff and lifeless, even in moments where they play a key role in the film. Wide static shots often feature main characters drawn with alarmingly poor detail. Even some close up shots feel underwhelming, particularly a rather goofy prolonged shot of a major character in a pivotal moment near the end of the film. Nevertheless, I would say that the strengths of the animation greatly outweigh the negatives.
The film’s plot is among the best of any of the modern “One Piece” films. Uta is now one of my favorite “One Piece” characters, slotting into the story like she has been here since chapter 1. Her character and motives are instantly likable and relatable. Her rapport with Luffy is a delight, which is important as this is essentially the crux of the film. While the rest of the Straw Hats are present throughout the film and each gets a few good moments, this is very much a Luffy, Uta, and Shanks story. Of course, it wouldn’t be a “One Piece” movie without a number of cameos, and that is certainly the case here. Thankfully, most of the extended cast makes sense in the context of the film and integrates organically into the plot.
Like most “One Piece” films, the plot begins with a bang, sags a bit in the middle, and comes back with a vengeance in the third act. The film moves at a breakneck pace, continually throwing new information at the viewer. At times it can be very difficult to follow, but repeat viewings show some surprisingly careful foreshadowing and teases that lay the groundwork for some of the film’s big twists and turns.Continued below
Before diving into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that this film is an absolute treat for a “One Piece” fan. It is a fantastic celebration of the series and the past 25 years of stories. There is something for nearly any fan to enjoy, be it the music, the fights, the cameos, or the big surprises. If you care for a number rating but are avoiding spoilers, skip on down to the bottom now.
This movie stands and falls with Uta. Everything is built around her and, as such, the best and worst parts of the movie stem from her as well. The basic idea of Uta is fantastic. The idea of family and legacy is an integral part of the story and world of “One Piece.” Uta provides more found family connections for both Shanks and Luffy, while also acting as a glimpse into Shank’s own origins. She also slots into the story much more naturally than her fellow ret-con sibling, Sabo. I like Uta so much that it’s a bit of a shame that she was used for a film, rather than the manga.
The film uses Uta to explore so many interesting ideas, some of which would not really fit within the context of the manga. As you might expect about a film starring the long lost daughter of a pirate emperor, the film explores themes of dysfunctional parent/child relationships and childhood trauma. More surprisingly, Film: Red primarily uses Uta to explore ideas related to social media, such as parasocial relationships and information siloing, and infantile desires for escapism as a cure for the world’s ills.
After finding a video transponder shell, Uta engages with a world that she has been cut off from for the majority of her life. Her response to this is the joy of a newfound abundance of relationships. She is able to engage with a near infinite amount of people and she finds that she is able to bring them joy. However, through her interactions with these strangers, she also encounters their pain. She learns about a world that she has no experience with through their eyes and their voices. While she responds with empathy, she gets an incomplete picture. She comes to the wrong conclusions and acts in a selfish and violent manner. She views the world with a child’s eyes and tries to enact a child’s sense of justice. This actually plays particularly well with the themes of “One Piece,” particularly when she is confronted with the moral failings of the Navy and the World Government.
Uta’s actions are relatable and well intentioned. She seeks to heal the hurt that she sees in the world. It just so happens that the perpetrator of this hurt is the same one that hurt her; pirates. With this, she enters a self-destructive loop fueled by confirmation bias until she tries to create a perfect world where everyone can literally never log-off. If that doesn’t sound like an allegory for every single day on Twitter, I’m not sure what is. Of course, a 2 hour anime film aimed at an all ages audience is not going to address these themes with nuance and depth. This film is not some great critique of the social media age. However, as with the manga, I appreciate the creator’s work and statement they seem to be making, muddied as it may be at times.
Speaking of muddy, the film continuously goes out of its way to undermine Uta’s history, her agency and her motivations with a series of unnecessary plot devices and revelations. The primary issue here is with the film’s “real” villain, Tot Musica. Without delving deeper into what exactly Tot Musica is, the major issue is that it both fails as an explanation for Uta’s separation from Shanks and strips her of her agency for actions later in the film. More than that, it’s a needlessly convoluted concept that only barely fits in the world of “One Piece.” I would argue that the movie would be a lot stronger if it could be reworked without “Tot Musica.”
While Tot Musica doesn’t work as a plot device, it does make a hell of a final boss. The final sequence involving the Straw Hats in the dream world and the Red Haired Pirates in the real world is an absolute blast. The climax of the fight is a visual tour de force, beautifully intercut with a flashback to Shank’s discovery of Uta. We even get our first look at Luffy’s new form in animation, if that sort of thing tickles your fancy.Continued below
Despite its shortcomings, I think most of the emotional underpinnings of Film: Redsucceed, particularly in the final act. Going in, it’s easy to see this film as yet another example of “One Piece” dead-beat dad syndrome. The film tries to tackle this head on with several flawed fathers trying to make amends. Hell, even Yasopp gets in on the action. Some men will literally form psychic bonds with their estranged sons across different realities rather than get therapy. The movie beats you over the head with the idea that these men are “ok actually” thanks to their good intentions. In one scene late in the movie, Usopp goes to great lengths to extoll the virtues of Gordon, Uta’s second adoptive father, who makes a number of mind-numbingly bad decisions of the course of 12 years/2 hours. Although Shanks returns for Uta in her hour of need, all of this could have been prevented if he had just had a conversation with her. You don’t exactly have to hand it to either of them. Uta is the result of parents who did not meet or consider her needs.
I came across a quote recently that sums up the movie’s conflict well; “adulthood is about taking responsibility for your life and giving yourself what a parent couldn’t.” In the end, Uta accepts responsibility for her actions, accepts the imperfect love of her father, and in doing so, finds a semblance of peace. Unfortunately, the metatextual nature of her existence as a villain for a “One Piece” film necessitates that this self-actualization must be followed by death. The final scenes with Uta and Shanks are some of the most powerful scenes in the series for me, and will likely define my view of Shanks far beyond whatever impending revelations the manga has in store. I can imagine a version of Uta that continues on as the singer of the Red Haired Pirates. Maybe we’ll even get to see her again in the manga.
In closing, chibi Bepo is good, chibi Sunny is great, chibi Blueno is, somehow, the best.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – One Piece Film: Red is a delightful adventure that any fan should enjoy. A few unfortunate plot contrivances hold back the overall experience, but the strength of the music, animation, and characters win out.