Reviewby Sam Leach,
One Piece Stampede
Sea-faring scoundrels from all over the world are gathering for the much anticipated Pirate Festival. The prize? A treasure that once belonged to the Pirate King himself, Gold Roger! A star studded cast shines brightly in the face of danger, especially as the festival swiftly evolves into a battleground between pirates, marines, and Douglas Bullet—a former member of Roger's crew and a man who may prove to be the Straw Hats' most formidable foe yet.
We may have zoomed passed the One Piece manga's twentieth anniversary a few years ago, but now it's the anime's turn to relish in celebration. One Piece Stampede is not a part of the One Piece "Film" series—movies that feature Eiichiro Oda in a more significant creative position—and is instead Toei's chance to pull from its own multi-decade history with the franchise. Stampede is a cameo-filled extravaganza of references and deep pulls. The number of characters and the bajillion pieces iconography used to decorate in the crowd shots don't always need to make logical sense, they just need to catch the watchful audience's eye.
“Oh my god, can you believe they brought THAT character back?!” is a phrase manga fans are already intimately familiar with, so the excitement of this movie's Super Smash Bros-styled crossover ambitions is mostly limited to filler and movie-original characters, the kind of faces you assumed Toei had forgotten about because the anime has changed so drastically from the early days that it's practically a completely different show. Does Carmen, the Loguetown filler lady who challenged Sanji to a cook-off, exist in the same universe as Billy, the electric duck from Strong World? Apparently! Divorced from the crowd shots, Stampede's central cast is a collection of Super Rookies and Warlords. Though, we've already seen those characters cross paths a number of times, so the novelty is not quite as fresh.
Style and presentation are unsurprisingly Stampede's greatest strengths. The new varied line width that emulates hand-drawn ink strokes looks as good as it does in the TV show's Wano arc, and the impressive animation for the fight scenes is sure to meet the audience's sky high expectations. There's a sequence early on in the movie with all the Worst Generation members teaming up against Douglas Bullet that's the most face-meltingly rad thing I've seen in ages. The movie is worth the price of admission for that fight alone. There's so much expression and inventiveness in the choreography and the intensity never lets up at any point throughout the run. The movie is thankfully never too overstimulating, like Dragon Ball Super: Broly could be at times, though my enthusiasm dampened a bit as the color pallet gradually desaturated and a giant CGI monster became the main centerpiece.
Stampede may not be a proper "Film" film, but it gestures at the recent slew of One Piece movies as much as it possibly can. In the same way the antagonists of Strong World, Z, and Gold are Greatest Hits amalgamations of the manga's most popular villains, Douglas Bullet and Buena Festa pointedly feel like an echo of those villains. Bullet is a former rival of Roger's (Shiki) who wants to destroy all of pirate-kind (Zed) and then assumes a mech-like final form while wrestling with his briefly hinted at dark past (Tesoro). At their best, the One Piece Films offer a greater perspective on the One Piece world, and that perspective follows you back to the manga. Stampede's villains superficially check all the same boxes, but they're frankly the weakest part of the movie. Bullet doesn't have anything interesting to say beyond thoughtless shouting about how much friendship sucks, and Festa doesn't add much despite being the supposed brains of the operation.
The movie doesn't need to be a deep thematic exploration, but it desperately needs more variety. The Pirate Festival is the not the main setting of the movie, but rather the inciting incident that brings this giant cast together, and even then the number of important characters dwindles quite a bit once the actual story kicks in. Going into Stampede I was eager to see something like a large scale Davy Back Fight—a multi-stage carnival where we got to see all our favorite characters in a series of colorful situations—but most of the movie takes place in a dusty brown desert. The climactic battle certainly offers plenty of spectacle, but it feels like a betrayal of the swashbuckling merriment that we start with.
This film is receiving a theatrical release in the United States, so naturally Funimation is providing an English dub track. I don't envy the amount of organizational hoop-jumping it must take to put a movie like Stampede together, especially with the insane number of voice actors coming together from across the country. Surprisingly, there are very few sneak peeks at characters who have yet to receive a dub voice in the series, since most of the principle characters have at least appeared in TV specials. There are, however, a number of re-castings that have taken place, such as Chris Rager taking over as Blackbeard in place of the late Cole Brown (a pretty interesting voice match—I was worried Mr. Satan's cadence would dominate the performance a little too much but the end result is pretty good) and Johnny Yong Bosch is snuggling comfortably into the role of Sabo. The standout performance of the movie goes to Daman Mills as Bullet, who is completely unrecognizable in the role. Mills' range includes a voice so inhumanly deep you'd swear they were pitching him down.
Outside of the jaw-dropping animation, One Piece Stampede feels like a half-reach. It's almost as good the One Piece Film movies, but it lacks their sensitivity and depth. It's almost a love-letter to the nerds who are gonna want to thumb through every frame of the movie and play spot-the-reference, but it doesn't stick to the crossover gimmick thoroughly enough. Its story is predictable, as if aimed more at casual fans, without enough new ideas for those of us who have been with the series for years. There's a good time at the movies to be had with Stampede, but I don't imagine its one that's going to stand out a few years from now.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Phenomenal animation, thrilling team-ups, stupidly dense with Easter eggs
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