One Piece is the best selling manga series in the world, beginning its run in 1997 and continuing publication to this day. Strong World, the tenth movie in the franchise’s history, came out in Japan in December 2009 but did not reach the U.S. as a Blu-ray/DVD combo until late 2013. Luckily for the continuity-conscious, this is a standalone film focused on the rubber-bodied pirate Luffy D. Monkey and his crew of brave, snarky pirates, the Straw Hats.
The Straw Hats encounter an evil, sword-legged pirate named Shiki, who has the power to make objects levitate. He kidnaps the young woman Nami and scatters everyone else in the group. He then retreats to a fortress where he organizes an attack on an area of the sea called East Blue using monstrously evolved animals. Shiki has also enslaved a village to sap its manpower and employs a clown among his evil lieutenants—don’t you want to see this guy get walloped?
There are plenty of targets for our heroes to pummel, whether they be wild beasts or Shiki’s forces. Anyone who has watched the DragonBall Z movies will feel right at home here, as the collective Good Guys assemble to unleash their super powers against the collective Bad Guys. However, One Piece deviates from a lot of shonen material in its sense of humor. As a genre, anime has always enjoyed a mixture of seriousness and goofiness, but some of the gags in this movie feel ripped out of Looney Tunes, which leads to interesting style mash-ups. For example, there is a scene in which a giant shark leaps out of the water and is consumed mid-air by a cloud of insects, leaving behind a giant, cartoonish skeleton. The next shot is the skeleton falling into the water in a delayed yet realistic fashion, creating a large splash. The physics of the movie’s gags and battles speak to its animation quality, which appears clear and fluid on the Blu-ray version I watched. The island vistas and battles’ special effects fill the screen with color and endlessly creative designs.
My favorite moments in the movie include a pun involving a motorcycle called a Crawley Davidson and a touching character moment at the end of the film that illustrates the strength of the team’s bonds when it faces a large threat. In contrast, the most unfortunate choices in this movie revolve around its treatment of women. Series creator and Strong World writer Eiichiro Oda has said that One Piece is strictly for boys, but that does not excuse the melon-sized breasts, insectoid waists, gaping cleavage, dialog about girls’ panties, or the camera’s leering gaze on women’s bodies. Fanservice may be par for the course in anime, but this movie is otherwise such a silly and pure-hearted adventure about friendship that the contrast is jarring. Oda has also said before that One Piece will not include romance in a story for boys. In that case, why are the boys, monsters, and villains allowed their screwball antics, while the girls are consistently treated as objects to be desired and rescued?
These issues will not likely disturb the average anime club, but they are worth comment amidst the battles and humorous asides of the Straw Hats, who are so numerous and fully formed that an attempt to describe them all would necessitate its own article. This movie rewards One Piece fans far more than brand-new viewers and is not a good starting point for the franchise. Extras on the disc include a behind-the-scenes look at the characters, including interviews with voice actors and cosplayers, with an emphasis on the character Brook.