Yes, I’m reviewing anime again. Yes, I’m reviewing One Piece: Strong World. No, I’m not Jacob. No, I haven’t seen the majority of One Piece episodes. But that shouldn’t matter; a movie should be able to stand on its own and not rely on the viewer’s knowledge of the series on which it was based. Does Strong World succeed in that sense?
Sort of. The story’s immediate plot is self-contained and is made quite clear: Our main characters, the Straw Hats, encounter their latest foe, a Jamaican-accented, cruel Shiki, who kidnaps Nami, the Straw Hats’ navigator, after he was impressed with how easily she was able to sense a devastating sea storm. It’s up to Straw Hats leader Monkey D. Luffy and the rest of his crew to get her back, along with the various animals that Shiki has kidnapped for genetic experimentation. All of those nefarious activities are linked to Shiki’s plans for world conquest, and he is especially bent on invading Luffy’s hometown.
You won’t have to know the TV series inside and out to follow the plot. What won’t be so clear to newcomers are the backstories of the Straw Hats. The movie gives us basic facets of their personalities (e.g.: Brook is the ship’s musician and asks women to see their panties; Sanji likes the ladies), but aside from Luffy and Nami, there isn’t a whole lot of insight here into what makes the characters tick. This is especially true of Nico Robin, who blends into the background of many scenes. I guess that’s to be expected when this is the tenth film in this franchise, but it’s still not very newbie friendly.
Despite the handicap of only having seen roughly 40-50 episodes of One Piece‘s six hundred, I enjoyed the movie even though some of its characters (like Brook) were new to me. One of the reasons is on a superficial level: the action sequences are quite good and always engaging to watch, especially because of the higher quality animation than the TV series. The varied jungle and snowy settings are also a plus, with some out-of-this-world locales and fantastic, mutated creatures that the Straw Hats have to face. But luckily, the movie also engaged me on a character level. I greatly enjoyed the Luffy/Nami relationship, which is put through turmoil due to a misunderstanding but has a sweet conclusion that makes you go “Awwww.” There was also a nicely-done subplot with some oppressed villagers that the Straw Hats come across, and who are under Shiki’s watch at all times. The villagers sport wings, an unusual appendage for humans, and these come into play in the finale. In particular, there’s a well-done moment when Luffy reassures a guilt-tripped kid that she’s not the true monster, but Shiki is. Scenes like that further reinforce Luffy’s personality, a guy who, despite ostensibly carrying the moniker of a profession which is known for pillaging and plundering, knows justice and has a heart (certainly not your typical adjectives when describing a pirate). Finally, I was surprised to find myself laughing in a few scenes. How refreshing to be able to find anime funny again! No, it wasn’t side-splitting, but credit where credit is due.
The English dub cast does a fine job as usual; Luffy gets a little screechy when he screams, but otherwise he’s well-cast and has great line reads by Colleen Clinkenbeard. This was my first time hearing Ian Sinclair as Brook, who had that sense of elegance you wouldn’t expect from a walking skeleton. Scott McNeil voices the bad guy, Shiki, and I didn’t realize that until after the movie was over, to give you an idea of his range. Now I feel like watching the movie again, just to see if I can hear Ken Masters from the Street Fighter U.S. TV series in his inflections.
The only special feature on the Blu-ray/DVD combo set, besides the expected promos and FUNimation trailers, is a 20-minute featurette on the addition of the new character, Brook, to the One Piece universe. Some fans from a One Piece con are briefly interviewed, but the main focus is on Mike McFarland (ADR director) and Ian Sinclair (dub voice for Brook), with Brina Palencia (Chopper) also throwing in her thoughts. It’s not often you see specially-made featurettes on anime DVDs that aren’t featurettes originally made in Japan, and I wouldn’t balk at seeing more of them. Hint hint!
While it didn’t redefine cinema or anything, One Piece: Strong World was a genuinely enjoyable action movie, with a good mixture of comedy, drama, and action. It may be a tad head-scratching for newbies at first (“Why can Luffy stretch his limbs like that??”), but luckily there are enough elements here to make the film stand on its own as well.