Our thanks to FUNimation for providing us with a theatrical screener before the wider release of One Piece: Gold on January 10th! Due to the nature of the review, screenshots are limited.
Fresh off the Straw Hats’ hard-fought victory against Doflamingo, and following the TV special Heart of Gold, the infamous pirate crew finds themselves stumbling into the large and luxurious ship/island known as Gran Tesoro. Essentially an oversized casino/resort, the beautiful buildings and extravagant architecture of Gran Tesoro hides a population oppressed and manipulated by a power-hungry dictator named Gild Tesoro. After Luffy and the crew are tangled up in his web of entrapment, and with Zoro’s life on the line, the crew organizes an elaborate heist in order to save their crew-mate and free the island from the shackles of oppression!
With One Piece: Gold being the 13th film in the franchise, and the series itself now going into its 18th year, one would expect the series to be feeling quite stale. If the adventures of the Straw Hat pirates ever does get boring, you certainly won’t find any indication of that in Gold. Eiichiro Oda continues to impress with his storytelling abilities as he deftly weaves in storylines from previous arcs, some more than 5 years old at this point, to establish an even fuller and interesting world. You’ll come across some familiar faces in Gold, as well as glean a bit more insight on Nami’s backstory.
The overarching plot is pretty standard One Piece fare: the crew stumbles upon an island that’s not quite as it seems: on the surface people seem to be enjoying the opulent lifestyle and having all kinds of fun, but a second look reveals thousands of people essentially being held hostage by Gild Tesoro and his goons. While the story remains familiar, the stakes have increased dramatically since the early days of the Straw Hat pirates: a realization fitting for a movie centered on gambling. Luffy isn’t just battling fellow Devils Fruit users, they now have “awakened” abilities that make them even more dangerous. Almost every enemy is able to use Haki at this point, and we’re generally reminded just how tough it is to survive in the New World, which has given the Straw Hat pirates no end of grief over the past few years.
Luckily, they’re all well prepared for the fight that lies ahead. I was thrilled to see some of Luffy’s latest moves, a few of which only recently unveiled in his climactic battle against Doflamingo, brought to life brilliantly with the noticeably larger budget. The crew all get a chance to shine, though Zoro’s performances are a bit more reserved due to the fact he’s doing his best impression of Han Solo from Episode V for most of the movie…
In addition to the powerful enemies that stand in their way, the world of One Piece has also been elevated. Throughout Gold we see how Celestial Dragons, the World Government, the Marines, Cipher Pol and other organizations are all pulling their respective strings to try and bring about change and shape the trajectory of the world with their own agenda. While this could seem like a sobering realization for the viewer, it actually highlights the influence that Luffy and his crew continue to have on the world at large. A welcome reminder as the main series is moving into the Big Mom arc – which will ultimately pit Luffy against one of the Four Emperors of the New World.
These evolved elements of the One Piece universe help to make a familiar storyline stand out. Gild Tesoro’s backstory seemed particularly interesting – but unfortunately the movie fails to document his backstory properly. We get some peeks behind the curtain, but his rise to wealth and fame and the development of his ruthless attitude are kept from us. This is probably the biggest weakness of the film in terms of the story. A story as interesting as Tesoro’s deserves a bit more time to be covered thoroughly, and seeing it brought to life in Gold could have been a real treat.
One last thing to discuss: the dub. I’ve been a loyal One Piece fan for the better part of 8 years (give or take), and I’ve always watched it subtitled. The screener I received, and the wider release that Funimation will be rolling out beginning January 10th, is an English dub. It is, unfortunately, a bad one. Luffy’s characterization in particular stood out as too one dimensional. Sure, he’s not all that sharp, and has largely survived this long due to sheer stubbornness, but there’s still a level of maturity there, especially post-timeskip Luffy. His brother dead, having been separated from his crew for 2 years, recently rediscovering his other “blood brother” Sabo…there have been many critical plot points of development for Luffy. The voice that brings him to life in Gold doesn’t bring all of those experiences along, and the result is an uninspired dub.
There was one standout performance within the dub: Gild Tesoro. His characterization as a powerful man in search of proper entertainment came out perfectly. Once you understand some of his motivations (again, a brief peek behind the curtain is all we get), you could go back and understand his behavior even better. A great performance that helps to temper an otherwise underwhelming dub.
Overall, Gold is a blast. With sharp animation quality, a solid plot, and action packed fight scenes, the latest One Piece film is a real treasure. If you’re a fan of the series I definitely wouldn’t miss it!
You can find tickets for One Piece: Gold on FunimationFilms!