The movie adaptation of long-running Shonen Jump shows tend to follow a strict formula. They usually feature a standalone story occurring outside the main series continuity so that fans can watch them more or less at any time. They also usually feature a technical upgrade, with more impressive animation than the tight schedule of an ongoing television anime allows.
These One Piece movies are therefore pretty standard fare for Shonen Jump. The features were released between 2006 and 2008 meaning that they are significantly more recent than the most recent collection of the TV series released in the UK (which aired in 2004). However due to their standalone nature they can still be enjoyed by fans who are watching the series at the UK pace without any significant issues.
The first movie – Mega Mecha Soldier of Karakuri Castle – is a completely original story that sees the crew of the Going Merry journey to Mecha Island, lured by the promise of treasure. Things turn out to be rather different from what they expected when they encounter Lord Ratchet, the Island’s leader and a genius inventor. The crew finds themselves up against Ratchet’s numerous inventions, including mecha suits, aircraft and various weapons that make him a surprisingly formidable foe.
The second movie The Desert Princess and The Pirates is a retelling of the much-loved Alabasta arc. Luffy and his crew head to the desert kingdom of Alabasta to help Princess Vivi stop the revolution that is being orchestrated by the malevolent Baroque Works organisation for their own twisted purposes. It retells the story from the manga and anime with brand spanking new animation. It also changes the order of events, and has a few other differences from the original in order to make the story better suited to a shorter running time.
The third movie – The Episode of Chopper Plus The Mysterious Winter Blossom – is another retelling, this time of the Drum Island arc where the crew first encounter Chopper. Again this tells the story with fresh animation, but makes even more significant changes to the original TV version. Several characters who were not part of the show at the time are involved this time around, and it significantly rejigs and reorders events too.
Visually, the films are something of a mixed bag. Although the creative team are clearly going for a higher-quality theatrical sheen, this is somewhat undermined by deficiencies elsewhere. Chiefly it’s the character designs which look a little wonky and frequently off-model. They look mostly like the characters we know and love but there’s something that feels just a little off, and it can be highly distracting. As a result, the characters actually look worse than in the TV version.
Beyond that (pretty major) caveat, the movies are pretty good-looking, with some lovely background work and impressive set-pieces. There are few places where the use of CG doesn’t quite gel, but for the most part it works and there are some arresting visuals here.
The latter two movies manage to recreate some of their best moments well, both in terms of action (which is as great as ever) and in terms of some of the more emotionally satisfying moments. It’s also fun to get to see characters we left behind long ago once again. However, it’s undeniable that they lose something in the process, as compressing arcs that ran for dozens of episodes into under two hours means something’s got to give.
This is particularly true in the case of Alabasta which feels particularly rushed. It makes up for it somewhat by having a much more theatrical, epic feel than the other movies here. It’s not hard to see why this was the first movie US dubbers FUNimation chose to pick up.
The first movie, however, by sticking to an original story feels better suited to it’s 90-minute runtime. It’s an enjoyable story with some fun characters that feel perfectly in keeping with the series. It’s got a neat twist in the tale too – even if it’s been done before.
Overall, this an enjoyable set for big-time One Piece fans. It’s far from essential – and pretty much incomprehensible for newcomers – and not as good as the series, but if you can’t get enough of Monkey D. Luffy and his pirate pals, then this is a worthwhile purchase.