One Piece Film: Gold

Japan (2016) Dir. Hiroaki Miyamoto

The Straw Hats set sail for another theatrical adventure – their 13th – which is either a testament to the prolificacy of their creator Eiichiro Oda, or insatiability runs deep in One Piece fans. More likely, the bean counters at Toei Studios feel the company needs new ivory back scratchers and this is a safe bet to get more money out of the fans.

Whether this is true or not, we know what we’re getting from everyone’s favourite anime pirates and Gold shouldn’t disappoint the faithful. At just over two hours long, there is a lot of fun to be had here yet this also means having to accept a new one-off non-canon villain with a flimsy backstory to drive the action. And as usual, the action is bombastic, over the top, and very loud, and covers the first 30 minutes of the film.

Gold sees the Straw Hats arrive at Gran Tesoro, an autonomous entertainment island situated on a humungous ship ruled by Gild Tesoro, an apt name for a man whose power is the ability to manipulate, you guessed it, gold. Despite his gregarious, Vegas entertainer-esque personality, Tesoro is a vain despot, controlling everyone in the city having infused their bodies with gold dust which he can crush a person no matter the distance.

After making a typically low key entrance into the city (yeah right), the Straw Hats are welcomed by the casino’s foxy female concierge Baccarat (spotted a theme yet?) who gives them the VIP treatment due to their notoriety. They hit all the casino tables and even win a Whacky Races style car race, ending up with a fortune. This earns them the chance to play a dice game with Tesoro in the VIP lounge, but Luffy has had his luck sapped from him via Baccarat’s Devil Fruit power and they lose.

Because their winnings ran into billions, Tesoro demands the Straw Hats pay it back but they refuse after finding out about the ruse, thinking they can fight their way out as usual – except Tesoro reveals the Goldust trick and petrifies Zoro as a gold statue. He then gives the Straw Hats 24 hours to get the money or Zoro will be subject to a public execution since Gran Tesoro is all about the entertainment.

Las Vegas is infamous as a city of excess, greed, and glamour, therefore I’m surprised it has taken this long for Oda to lampoon it as part of this long running saga (the anime would be 18 years old when this film was made). But we are here now and no surprise, they feel right at home, even if they are outlaw pirates with eye watering bounties on their heads, now in debt to a gilded sociopathic overlord.

In order to rescue Zoro, an outrageous and perilous plan only Luffy and co. would be daft enough to try is required to find the money ASAP. Unusually, the plan comes from an external source, sexy cabaret singer Carina, and former partner of Nami’s from years ago. Nami is still angry at how their partnership ended but puts her feelings aside to work with Carina, recognising the benefit of her inside knowledge. But can Carina be trusted?

One thing One Piece does well is tap into the emotional investment of the Straw Hats when on a mission which in turn permeates over to the fans, but this is achieved over a long run of TV episodes or manga chapters; two hours doesn’t afford them such luxuries, as evident in this film. That said, using orphaned children to delineate the effects of the oppression of the villain is an easy shortcut to getting the audience onside, and Edo isn’t shy about using it again here.

Quite often, you have an antagonist whose sheer unremitting insidiousness is enough to be a worthy foil for the heroes and Tesoro falls into that category. However, this only takes him so far; a rapid flashback montage of Tesoro’s life implying a poignant journey from victim to megalomaniac looks more interesting than the Nami-Carina backstory which got a full recap. Thus, the potential for the audience to favour redemption over death in Tesoro’s case is missed, denying the story a morally driven conclusion.

Not that I think many fans will feel the same or care, with this being an individual story with no bearing on the main series narrative, but it would be nice to have such layers of emotional ambiguity in this non-canon adjuncts to give audiences a greater reason for wanting to watch these films beyond their existence within the universe of a popular franchise.

Fortunately, Tesoro isn’t totally one-dimensional, his lackey support cast are on hand to do most of the incidental work, and a slew of familiar faces from the past show up to add further trouble for the Straw Hats. The climax threatens to be an overloaded affair with a cast of thousands, but eventually is streamlined to Luffy vs. Tesoro, after everyone has their moment to shine.

Usually, a theatrical release means a bigger budget and better animation than the TV series, and even with many films already in the One Piece catalogue, this is one of the better looking ones. There is a more prominent use of CGI to give the action sequences a cinematic feel with characters flying about, whilst the location is quite a spectacle in its own right, an overload of lights, glitz, and opulence. The cast sport more elaborate (or skimpy the women’s case) attire per the Vegas-inspired setting, and the gold motif means a heavy bright yellow presence in the colour palette.

Yes, Gold is unashamedly One Piece by the numbers which would normally be a negative but with a franchise this consistently good, it is a positive. Some areas could have been improved upon regarding the story and the characters’ histories, suggesting this could have been a canon arc for the TV series. Still good fun though!

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