Reviewby Sam Leach,
One Piece Film Gold
The Straw Hats have made their way to Gran Tesoro, the famous traveling city of gold that serves as a rule-free zone for pirates, marines, and anybody else looking for a good time. At first, things seem alive and inviting as the crew enjoy all the games and entertainment, until the casino's owner, Gild Tesoro, takes Roronoa Zoro hostage in a gambling ruse gone south for our heroes. Now it's up to Luffy and the crew to play against the rules, with the help of the ambiguously aligned Carina, if they ever want to stand a chance of seeing their swordsman again and make it out of Gran Tesoro intact.
If there's one thing that Toei Animation irrefutably puts a ton of effort into, it's the theatrical One Piece movies. Ever since Strong World, these films have had manga author Eiichiro Oda playing the role of at least Executive Producer (and in the case of Strong World, screenwriter among other contributions), and there have been several years in between the release of each, as opposed to the annual schedule that the One Piece movies were on prior. There are a few special touches that make these recent movies stand out: exceptionally above average production and art direction, and various elements that will be significant to long time fans. They're certainly designed to be accessible to casual One Piece fans as well, but time has proven these movies to be incredibly considerate of hardcore readers of the manga.
Of this “Film Trilogy” of movies (Strong World, Film Z, and now Film Gold), Gold is the first to dash all fantasies of being potentially canon to the manga. I've always thought of these as supplemental stories that shouldn't be considered part of the manga's plotline beyond maybe a few backstory details, but you could've always pretended that they took place between x arc and y saga. However, since the crew hasn't been whole in almost four years in the manga, simply having all nine members present in a story that's distinctly supposed to take place after the Dressrosa arc complicates that. There's no discussions of canonicity to be had here.
Right up front, Film Gold demonstrates its greatest strength with fantastic production values and style, showing off within its first few minutes. The film begins in media res as Tesoro welcomes the Straw Hats to his humble golden city, said to harbor 20% of the world's money in one place. There are two incredible sequences back-to-back, first with Gild Tesoro and his partner Carina dancing and singing together in an extravagant Vegas-style performance, and then the Straw Hats fighting off a pirate crew of disposable schmucks in a montage meant to highlight each of the crew members, their personalities, unique fighting styles, and bounties. This rundown montage was also used effectively in Strong World, but here the action and animation has been cranked to their limits. This opening montage is easily one of the most entertaining sequences in any of the One Piece movies.
Story-wise, the characters that are given the most depth are Nami, Carina, and Tesoro himself. As per the theme of gold, all three of the characters have an intimate relationship with wealth (or at least the pursuit of it), with Nami and Carina being famous thieves and Tesoro hinted as having a rough childhood of poverty, intensely juxtaposed against him being the richest man alive today. Nami's character arc, not quite as meaningful as the one from Strong World, revolves around her trust in Carina, a fellow thief who wronged her in the past. Carina is technically working for Tesoro, but it's all just a trick to steal his fortune. Or is it? There's a lot of playing around with expectations there, as both sides of heroes and villain sketch out their own games of deception and double-crossing in the name of personal gain and entertainment.
This thematic spine is easily the weakest part of the movie, since the character arcs and big surprising turnarounds land, but incredibly softly. Nami and Carina's inevitable emotional send-off, and the Straw Hats' big turn of fortune that happens just before the final battle, don't feel as earned as I would have liked. This is a movie that almost has both substance and style, a claim that I would absolutely make of its predecessor, Film Z, but ultimately it's mostly just (very cool) style. Tesoro himself feels like the series' attempt to extend the presence of Donquixote Doflamingo to a broader audience, with his masochistic obsession with hurting people for his own peace of mind, as well as an interest in extravagant living, though the fact that this is a two hour movie thankfully forces his tragic motivation to be more clear and concise.
These recent One Piece films seem to make an effort to capture the series where it is at a given time. Strong World featured a “pure” adventure at a time when the manga was going through big changes. Film Z was an empathetic look at the marines, shortly after that organization had fractured due to extreme differences in beliefs. Film Gold doesn't dig quite that deep as far as I can tell, though hindsight may end up surprising me, but there is a relationship between Tesoro and the World Government, as well as the infamous Celestial Dragons. Doflamingo also had a connection to the Government, and there is the upcoming Reverie in the manga, so I'm curious to know if there are any thematic seeds being planted in this movie as the manga reveals more about those characters. I would love to come back to this movie later and realize something new about Tesoro's humanity once we're given more perspective.
This particular theatrical screening of Film Gold was presented with Funimation's English dub for the series. Since this movie, like the one before it, takes place a significantly long time after the most recent dubbed content, it's always novel to see the English voices coming out of the Straw Hats' post-time-skip designs. The TV show's dub should be reaching the time skip soon, so that gap is finally shrinking, but this movie does provide us with the casting of a few noteworthy characters who won't be appearing in the show's dub for quite a while. Most significantly, this is our first time hearing Vic Mignogna as Luffy's older brother Sabo. It's a casting choice that gave me pause initially, but ultimately it made a lot of sense given the actor's pedigree.
The movie-specific cast is also solid. Gild Tesoro is played by Keith Silverstein (Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter) and Carina is voiced by Michele Knotz. Silverstein specifically feels like a glove-fit for his character, capable of being smooth and confident, but also an insecure slimeball. Knotz also carries her role well, though our introduction to both of their characters is through singing, and in that regard Knotz was noticeably weaker. The Blu-ray release for this movie includes as Featurette called “Place Your Bets on the Straw Hats” that features the voice cast of Luffy's crew (sans Patrick Seitz) playing a mock gambling game, complete with a deliberately cheap set and costumes to match the Vegas theme of the movie. The game gets chaotic, but it's a lot of fun to see something a little more creative than a commentary. Also, Colleen Clinkenbeard's enthusiasm for the movie is adorable.
One Piece Film Gold isn't a typical One Piece experience in tone or music (the soundtrack ranges from Vegas jazz to straight-up Ennio Morricone homages), but it's a One Piece movie in structure, more so than any of the preceding ones. If we're comparing it to a traditional story arc, it's got a strong start, slower middle, a sequence where the villain's “spell” is undone and the Straw Hats inadvertently save a whole community of strangers, and then a thorough and bombastic climactic battle. A solid thirty to forty minutes is dedicated to the Straw Hats vs. Tesoro's crew with all the ups and downs and trading of the upper hand that you've come to expect. If there's one criticism I've had of the last few One Piece movies, it's that the final battles felt too tight and fast to really capture the essence of the series, but that's not the case here.
Film Gold probably won't convert any non-fans over to the world of One Piece, but there's still plenty to like regardless. Those first few seconds of the movie, where we follow Tesoro's golden shoes as he snaps to himself and the music builds up his grand introduction, are hypnotic and really sell what these One Piece movies have to offer in terms of personality and size.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Looks great throughout and even better during action scenes, plenty of runtime dedicated to the final battle, strong and unique soundtrack, lots of attractive men and women in tight leather outfits
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