“One Piece” is a classic ongoing Japanese fantasy action manga series chronicling the adventures of the Straw Hat pirates as they journey across a ridiculous world in search of thrills and treasures. At the same time, “One Piece” is also one of the most profitable media franchises of all time, stretching across manga, anime, games and films. “One Piece: Stampede,” which was released Oct. 24, is the fourteenth feature film in the “One Piece” film series and serves as a commemoration of the animated series’ twentieth anniversary. Though a bit light in plot and rather poorly constructed, “Stampede” is sure to please established fans as a celebration of the series history with more than a few fun tricks up its sleeves.
Despite being so popular as to be the best-selling manga of all time, “One Piece” has earned a reputation for being impenetrable for new readers — primarily out of sheer length, as the manga’s chapter count is rapidly approaching a fourth digit. “Stampede” is no exception, proceeding with the assumption that the audience is already familiar with the series up to either chapter 902 of the manga or episode 877 of the anime, the end of the Whole Cake Island Arc. Pirates from across the world, including the Straw Hat crew, have gathered together for a grand festival and a chance to claim a mysterious treasure left behind by the former Pirate King, Gol D. Roger. However, the festival is quickly revealed to be a trap set up by Douglas Bullet, voiced by Tsutomu Isobe, a powerful Impel Down escapee looking to take the mantle of Pirate King by force. The Straw Hats must team up with allies and enemies alike to defeat Bullet and put a stop to his mad ambitions.
Previous “One Piece” films have struggled to fit the series’ long-form, lore-expansive storytelling style within the measured and comparatively cramped confines of a feature film, but “Stampede” seems to have done away with that concern, for the most part. The film’s named cast is massive, with over 50 characters from across the series gathered together, mostly in bit parts and cameos, necessitating a very simple and contrived plot. “Stampede” retains the explosive climaxes and melodrama that the series is accustomed to, but lacks the space to build up its usual emotional weight.
The film’s structure is also quite loose, jumping rapidly between scenes, locations and tones. This looseness creates numerous redundant dialogue sequences and damages the film’s ability to properly deliver twists, but it does have the advantage of giving clear indicators of which characters out of the huge cast are most important, what these characters know and want and what they are doing at any given time.
Visually, the film appears to be mimicking the new animation style soon to be employed in the “One Piece” anime series’ new season. The linework is noticeably thicker than the straight thin lines of previous films and at times adopts rougher, pen-like qualities that more closely mirror the manga’s artwork — whether or not this change constitutes an improvement is a matter of personal taste. The color palette is wonderfully varied, showcasing the immense range of designs and moods of “One Piece” character designs. The film also makes liberal use of dynamic perspective movements and 3D CGI modeling to convey a larger, more complete scale of the setting and the ridiculously exaggerated action sequences, though some die-hard fans may find these elements somewhat out-of-place.
As an anniversary celebration, “Stampede” does a great job of giving every character something to do, mostly by allowing them to pull out one or two signature moves in action sequences. They often don’t have much to do, and very little of the action is comprised of new material, but the execution is good enough to make every punch, slice and explosion feel worthwhile. At its worst, “Stampede” rehashes old ideas and scenes from other “One Piece” media into a highlight reel with more dynamic animation. At its best, “Stampede” combines established characters into fun new combinations not otherwise possible in the manga, allowing big personalities to clash and run wild.
“One Piece: Stampede” truly lives up to its name, in the sense that its a huge collection of characters rapidly charging forth without much sense of purpose or direction. It’s big, loud and dumb, but also powerful and exhilirating, words that stick to “One Piece” like herbs and spice on chicken. Though not necessarily a series high point, “One Piece: Stampede” is an absolute romp, sure to please fans and definitely a worthy celebration of a long series history.