ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 24th July 2015, by David West

One Piece Film: Z

Sailing the high seas of the New World, Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates find an unconscious form floating on a piece of debris. At Chopper’s urging they bring him on board and nurse his wounds. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished – the man they rescued from a salty demise is Z, founder of the Neo-Marines and a man who burns with an all-consuming hatred for pirates. Worse yet, Z fights with a mechanical arm he calls Battle Smasher that is made from Sea Prism Stone, a substance that negates the powers of Devil Fruit users like Luffy. Given a sound thrashing by Z and his fleet of Neo-Marines, the Straw Hat Pirates have to flee with their tails between their legs to escape utter destruction. But Z makes one fatal mistake when he takes Luffy’s precious hat with him. No one takes Luffy’s hat and gets away with it. No one.

One Piece Film: Z is the twelfth feature outing for Luffy, and the first one set in the New World, after the crew has left the Grand Line behind. It is certainly a big budget affair by One Piece standards. It was produced in association with the fashion label Armani, so cue the Straw Hat Pirates getting gussied up in some fancy new threads. That’s kind of amazing and also bonkers. How many cartoon characters get designer label makeovers? The closing titles feature Avril Lavigne performing covers of Nickelback’s How You Remind Me and Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation. Whether that’s a bonus or not probably depends on your enthusiasm for Canadian songstresses, but it makes it clear this is one anime feature with some serious clout behind it. The production values are notably higher than the ongoing series. Battle scenes are busy with detailed animation and great swathes of nameless lackeys to be clobbered. Z’s opening assault upon the Marines, with bodies flying through the air with every blow, instantly recalls games like Dynasty Warriors and the One Piece: Pirate Warriors series.

The script by Osamu Suzuki has to juggle quite a lot of information and characters, but there are all the usual One Piece elements present and correct. On the latter front, there’s the ubiquitous plot device of Luffy fighting his way through a swathe of opponents and confronting the end of level boss figure just to reclaim his beloved hat. And of course the Straw Hat Pirates have to rebound from an early defeat, lick their wounds, and rise to the challenge posed by their powerful new opponents. Regarding the former, it makes a nice change to see Luffy’s opponent given plenty of time to develop their backstory and personality. When the story begins, it takes a while for Z’s role to become clear as there is no preamble to the first appearance of his Neo-Marines (or Neo-Navy in the subtitles), and since Z fights both the regular Marines and pirates with equal zest, he doesn’t fit quite so neatly into the hero / villain paradigm as most of Luffy’s foes. As gradually becomes clear, Z has good reason for hating all pirates and plotting their eradication, but of course the series’ sympathies always lie with Luffy in the end.

That’s a little bit of a problem here. Luffy never blinks in the animation. His fixed, wide-eyed stare and tiny, contracted pupils make him look demented – or out of his mind on drugs – and it doesn’t help matters that many of his personality traits fit the profile of a psychopath to a tee. He’s constantly boasting, impulsive, has a huge ego (“I’m going to be King Of The Pirates!”), he’s a juvenile delinquent, displays no empathy for the people he beats up or who die fighting the Straw Hat Pirates, needs constant excitement, and relishes his status as a wanted criminal. It’s doubtful that was Eiichiro Oda’s intent when creating the character, but it’s disturbing just how precisely Luffy fits the specifications, and the screenplay here offers plenty of evidence to bear out that unflattering diagnosis. Z’s plan to wipe out piracy could simultaneously kill everyone in the New World and that’s why the Marines want to stop him, but Luffy explicitly states he is not interested in any of that stuff. He just wants his hat back. Yikes.

There’s also a strong streak of nihilism running through the film. The emotionally and physically scarred Z risks destroying everything in his quest for revenge. It’s difficult to know how the creators intend viewers to read Z’s final fate as he embraces the inevitably of his own annihilation with relish. That’s an unsettling message, the sort of idea that appealed to historical hardliners like Yukio Mishima, who killed himself by cutting his stomach open after a failed attempt to launch a coup, and the same mind-set that produced suicidal kamikaze attacks in World War II. Self-destruction is the act of the fanatic, not something to be admired or applauded.

Director Tatsuya Nagamine doesn’t shy away from the fanservice possibilities afforded by the female characters – there are repeated lingering shots of Nami’s generous bust as she sunbathes in a bikini. Nami’s fans may be disappointed to learn that due to the powers of one of Z’s lieutenants, a lithe Neo-Marine called Ain, she is reverse-aged back to a child, temporarily depriving viewers of her bountiful assets. Take heart though. In the grand finale, the equally well-endowed Nico Robin charges into battle in what appears to be her finest lingerie. As you do.

One Piece has never shied away from fierce fight scenes, but this latest movie beats with a heart of darkness thanks to the depiction of Z and his hunger for destruction, not to mention the more disturbing aspects of Luffy’s warped personality (blink for crying out loud! It’s unsettling!!) But it’s action-packed, loud and full of bosoms and explosions.
SCORE: 3/5
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