It's the second One Piece movie, set between episodes 53 and 54 of the anime, i.e. between the Loguetown and Warship Island story arcs. It was released in a double bill with Digimon Adventure 02: Diaboromon Strikes Back, but in addition it was also shown with a six-minute short called Jango's Dance Carnival
. I liked it, but it's slightly stupid.
There's a formula to these things. 1. The regular cast, 2. an equal number of villains, 3. plucky heroic guest stars, 4. a freaky setting that violates the laws of nature and 5. saintly long-suffering bystanders. We'll take these in order.
1. This time there are five regulars: Roronoa Zoro the samurai, Nami the scumbag, Usopp the liar, Monkey D. Luffy the rubber lunatic and now also Sanji the cook who can kick through stone walls. Next year's movie would have Tony Tony Chopper, but he's not here yet. Anyway, Luffy is still the most entertaining of the regular cast, with his funniest cock-up here being the one where he drops a bomb on his friends. Zoro is still cool, but surprisingly Sanji actually manages to out-cool him. I suppose the production team felt they had to do right by the new boy. He takes the worst beating of the five and as a result is made to look the most heroic, with his feet getting all but shredded and yet he still goes on kicking. Meanwhile Usopp isn't sidelined and I even managed not to hate Nami, so I'd have to say everyone's good. They're funny and badass. They don't take things seriously and they made me laugh, but they're also a fighting force that could take down a sizeable team of comic-book superheroes.
2. The villains are pretty cool. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide who's going to go mano a mano with which of the regulars in the final showdown. They're the Trump Siblings, who as is traditional with pirates in the One Piece universe have chosen a decorative theme. Theirs is playing cards. Anyway, these guys are great, easily powerful enough to pose a threat to the heroes and being the slave-driving dictators of Clockwork Island to boot. These five siblings, complete with trump-themed names, are:
Bear King, who's eaten a Devil Fruit and is now indestructible and the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He wants to marry Nami. Don't even try to imagine it.
Honey Queen, whose superpower involves being sexy and naked. This is better than it sounds, despite the fact that this is anime (i.e. a cartoon), since a children's film has to draw the line somewhere and so Honey Queen is a lot sexier for not simply getting full-frontal shots. She can also turn her body into gas.
Pin Joker, who's a swordsman and keeps mangling Japanese sayings in a manner that doesn't translate into English.
Skunk One (i.e. "ace"), who's a disgusting little creature with gas attacks.
Boo Jack, who's fat and can turn himself into a ten-ton wrecking ball with spikes. He also carries bombs.
3. The plucky heroic guest stars I have a problem with, though. Well, it's not the characters themselves, but what they are. They're the Thief Brothers, Borodo and Akisu. They want to become the greatest thieves in the world and boast that there's nothing they can't steal. Now in fairness I have a similar problem with the fact that this is a pirate manga and the whole point of it is that we're meant to be cheering on Luffy's Straw Hat Pirates, but at least there we also have lots of evil pirates with whom Luffy and his gang are being contrasted. It's not just that "pirates are cool". There are still real-life pirates, of course, including but not limited to Somalia and the Strait of Malacca, and these people are about as bad as you can get short of genocide or war crimes. In other words, I've always been poised to hate One Piece on ethical grounds, but Eiichiro Oda keeps winning me over.
This movie however appears to have no qualms at all about theft. Thieves have pursued a legitimate career choice. Stealing is a morally neutral activity. The analogies between the Thief Brothers and Luffy's backstory are taken so far as to be almost silly, e.g. Borodo's missing arm.
That said, Borodo and Akisu are fine as characters. Disregarding their profession, I liked them. They have character development and emotional depth, which is always good to see even if it perhaps doesn't quite reach the heights of the very best anime (or even some other One Piece movies). When little Akisu challenges Bear King, for instance, the moment doesn't have the power it should because you don't really believe anything bad's going to happen to him as a result. However that's nit-picking and overall they're still strong, memorable characters. Even when you can see the story's revelations coming in advance, they're still powerful when they finally get here.
However I mentioned stupidity. Neither Thief Brother seems to have his brain engaged when it comes to getting people out of the Crushing Roof Trap, while Akisu's backstory is ridiculous. It's obvious from a mile off, to the point where I was wondering if the plot twist would be that they didn't go there after all, but even so you have to laugh at what his mother did to him as a baby. The chances of him surviving that were surely about one in ten thousand. If you told that sequence of events to a court, they'd imprison her for attempted infanticide. There's also the question of the stolen Merry Widow being all the way up at the top of Clockwork Island, which raises certain questions, e.g. "how" and "why". Even if the Trump Siblings were capable of doing that, which they probably are except that it wasn't necessarily them, what's the point?
4. The freaky setting is a delight. Seriously, Eiichiro Oda's disregard for the laws of physics is one of my favourite things about One Piece. It makes for a universe with character. Clockwork Island is a man-made island balanced on top of a screw with the proportions of a drinking straw, but about half a mile high. It contains Indiana Jones deathtraps.
5. The people of Clockwork Island have been the Trump Siblings' slaves for many years. They're part of that silly backstory I was talking about, but they're good too. There's a power that comes from moral strength and these people have it.
I also like the ending a lot. I hadn't been expecting them to go that far, but it's satisfying and interesting when they do.
A word about the fansubs on my copy though, which I found irritating. Every so often they'll leave a Japanese word untranslated. Fansubs will do that. Now you could argue that this has educational value with a word like "nakama", plus of course I don't think it's obvious which English word I'd choose to translate it. However when you've got someone watching who didn't need the subtitles and yet even I had to look up "toge-togeshii" afterwards to understand what was said at one particular point, then I think we can safely say that those subtitles aren't doing their job. It's unprofessional. However in fairness they're not professionals.
Overall, this comes across as a pretty good One Piece adventure, but with some idiot plotting and a question mark over its moral message. It looks great. It even has naked women. It's deceptively good animation of authentically Oda-style character designs, making it always energetic and attractive. The showdowns are perhaps a bit easier and less desperate than they might have been, but I like the way that the Trump Siblings had been whittling down the Straw Hat Pirates one by one before we get there. It's certainly an impressive showcase for our heroes, both in terms of fun character work and in making them look badass. (Blood is shed when Zoro uses his swords, for a start. I don't know how often you see that on the TV show.)
It's good. I enjoyed it. I'm definitely up for the next one.