The real question for this film is…why?
I thought it would make for quite a good idea. Going back to one of the more memorable One Piece arcs and giving it the big-screen, big-budget, bravura animation treatment. After all, Studio Pierrot’s films for their Jump properties often look far, far better than the weekly television show – the most recent Bleach film in particular – and as for just going over the material of the series but making it look nicer, well, that just about worked for Evangelion and Gurren Lagann.
But the trouble is…other than the very last scene – the highlight of the arc – in which Luffy and co hold up their arms to show the sign that links them to Vivi, it really doesn’t look very much better than the weekly series, and at some points far worse. Sure, there are some shots where whole armies are clashing, far beyond what got shown on the series, but mostly it’s jarring CG that doesn’t look right at all and is obviously the same thing copied over and over. There are some lovely fluid moments in the fights, but there were some impressive moments in the series, too, especially in the Sanji/Bon Kurei fight. Here, far too often characters go off-model. So if it doesn’t look much better than the weekly show, that just leaves the retelling of the story.
It doesn’t work. People who don’t know the story aren’t going to know what’s going on at all. It’s an attempt to cram a whole arc into a single film, which means not only do a lot of nice details get left out (Mr Prince, Usopp’s hilarious hammer bluff), but the fights get truncated into nonsensical little snippets that would be better left out or incidental. And the only thing really added is a tiny flash-back for Robin that we wouldn’t see in the series until a fair bit later.
Plus this has always been an arc I’ve found problematic. When I read the manga version back in January 2007 (which was a while after I’d seen the animated version), I wrote, ‘It’s often cited as the highlight of One Piece so far, and while I prefer it to Skypiea or Arlong Park, I really don’t think it’s a great arc. It’s just too sloppy, and I don’t buy that Crocodile’s big plan was to frame the king of a country, start a civil war, make sure a big fight happened in the square in front of the palace, reveal all his plans to the King, kill him and steal his secret weapon then blow up everyone in the square with a bomb, blame the King, seize power and go after the world. I mean, what? I think it’s mostly the bomb part that seems tacked-on. However, One Piece revels in using every cliché in the book to tug at the heartstrings, especially brave sacrifices, and I can’t deny that there’re some really great moments of sheer uplifting cheesiness.’
That still holds. Crocodile had all the cards, had the king captive and the whole kingdom fighting, and still decided he needed a big bomb and that the time to interrogate the king to find the hidden weapon was in the middle of the war, knowing his minions were fighting against powerful opponents. Especially when truncated to its bare bones, I don’t think that the overarching plot works that well – the only time I’ve ever had such a complaint when it comes to One Piece.
This probably ranks as the most pointless animated companion piece to a series I’ve seen yet. At least the next one, another retelling of an existing arc, adds a different flavour by reimagining it with characters who weren’t yet in the series.