I won't be watching the 480 episodes and counting of the One Piece TV series, but I own the first 24 books of the original manga. They're good. The art is energetic, with wild goofy action and some hilarious facial expressions, while the characters and plotting are memorable too.
Don't just believe me, though. It's also the best-selling manga ever published by Weekly Shounen Jump, with its latest tankoubon volume (#60) setting all-time records for both the highest initial print run of any book in Japan (manga or otherwise) and for its sales in its opening week. Its anime spin-offs include a TV series that's been running without a break since 1999, ten animated feature films, two OVAs and five television specials. This thing is an industry. Unsurprisingly though I've heard that both the anime and manga have been dragged out too long, the proper reply to which is "no kidding, Sherlock".
As for the story, it's a shounen series with lots of fighting, but the important thing is that it's got a light touch, a fantasy setting and a sense of humour. It's a pirate adventure. The main character is Monkey D. Luffy, the leader of a pirate band who wants to be the Pirate King and probably will. He once ate a Devil's Fruit and it turned him into a Rubber Human. Luffy hardly even notices if he's shot in the head, thrown off a cliff or trampled by elephants, while his physical strength and deranged combat style would make him a headache for Superman. What really makes him awesome though is his personality. He's a happy-go-lucky simpleton who's amazed by the simplest things and generally reacts like a child, so for instance in this film we'll see him go berserk for food. He's unstoppable when angered, but he's also a goofball who's pretty much guaranteed to screw up somewhere.
In other words, he's the soul of the show. Imagine Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four, but better. If Richards's secret weapon is his brain, Luffy's is his lack of one.
So you've got a "stand up and cheer" hero who can turn on a dime from idiot slapstick comedy to defender of the innocent. What's more, he has friends. Roronoa Zoro is a samurai so skilled that he's nearly as intimidating in combat as Luffy, despite being human. Nami is a thieving selfish bitch, although there are (strange) people out there who like her. Usopp is a congenital liar... and that's it. That's the round-up for this movie. It's still early days in the series, so there's no Sanji, Tony Tony Chopper (fan favourite), Nico Robin, Franky or Brook. However I'm happy with this, since more than four regulars might have been pushing it in a 51-minute "movie".
So that's the set-up. That's all I knew going in. What about the movie?
It didn't start well. The animation looked cheap, although apparently it's more expensive than the TV series, and the house style appears to be to try to capture the manga's energy by going too fast. There's some comedy bickering among the regulars which will make you think you're watching a bad kiddie cartoon. The scene they're playing is fundamentally sound and before long was making me laugh anyway, but I don't think it's being given the time it needs to breathe and feel three-dimensional. It's like watching comedy routines, not characters. This is my least favourite thing about the anime version, although every so often this style does score a hit. The high-speed introduction of Zoro was funny, for instance. "This is Zoro." "Oh."
It gets more interesting once the plot gets going, though. It's almost a good thing that this is only a 51-minute movie, since that means it's basically a big TV episode rather than a proper film. Anime tends to struggle with the latter. Episodes though it knows how to handle. Here we've got some earth-shaking villains, two of whom must be about thirty feet tall and equipped with superpowers. There's a proud little boy who wants to become someone important, not like his oden-cooking grandfather. Finally we've got Woonan, a legendary pirate who stole all the gold in the world and may or may not still be alive.
All this is good. What I love about anime is its earnestness, its ability to wring surprisingly strong emotion even from insane or ridiculous story set-ups. That happens here. There's some backstory and a lesson to be learned, which isn't particularly sophisticated but is still more powerful than you'd expect in silly action nonsense like this. I liked it. It's good. People reveal things about themselves and other people learn. Then you've got the way Luffy will stand up to protect the little people even if it means looking like an idiot, as for instance in the scene here where he eats the crushed oden. This movie has heart.
The regulars it's doing pretty well, even if I'm not wild about all of them. 1. Nami gets to be Nami, which is good for all those Nami fans out there. Personally speaking, I'd say the good thing about the character is that although she's unpleasant, at least the story is aware of this and is giving her story roles that involve refusing to help the others, chasing after the gold and so on. She's living up to her billing, basically. She's doing her job within the show's format and she's well designed for that. 2. Usopp I like better than Nami, but he's still a twat. 3. Zoro is so cool that he fights a giant even while chained up and holding his sword in his teeth. He's one of my favourite characters too, by the way, despite being basically a guy with a sword. 4. Luffy is being Luffy. That's high praise.
Small tangent. If you're thinking of watching One Piece in English, be careful what version you buy. 4Kids Entertainment produced an English dub so heavily edited that 143 Japanese episodes ended up becoming only 104. Cigarettes became lollipops and a black character's skin was lightened. DO NOT WATCH THIS. Funimation Entertainment have since taken over the licence and are releasing unedited DVD box sets with an all-new dub.
Overall, I liked it. All things considered, it's good anime. Its problems are that it can sometimes feel childish, while I'm not wild about the voice acting. However once you've got past Usopp's antics and the bad comedy with a super-deformed angry Nami, there's a lot here to like. Some of its characters are cool, it can be surprisingly emotional and it has Luffy going berserk in pursuit of... food. You know, I think I'll be watching more One Piece. I don't have the 250 spare hours I'd need to plough through the TV episodes, though.