Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for post-timeskip One Piece and the movie should not be watched until after the Fishman Island Arc.
Most shonen spinoff movies fall into one of two categories: recaps of previous arcs or moderately entertaining side-stories that aren’t as good as the original. That doesn’t make them bad, but they rarely impress. One Piece Film Z is a rare exception to that rule.
The story of Film Z is pretty straightforward: a former Marine Admiral named Z (pronounced “Zed”) who’s gone rogue steals a weapon called the Dyna Stones from the Marines with the goal of using them to destroy the New World. His reasoning is that doing so would also destroy the One Piece, which is the primary motivation for most pirates, even if it would also kill all the civilians living in the New World. The Straw Hats get involved when they discover him floating at sea after a battle and rescue him. Z seems friendly at first, but attacks them when he discovers that they’re pirates. His crew arrives and quickly overpowers them. One member uses Devil Fruit abilities to make Nami, Chopper, Robin and Brook 12 years younger (although it has no affect on Brook) before they manage to escape. The Straw Hats then set off to find Z and restore their de-aged crewmates.
The basic concept isn’t anything too special. A villain stealing a McGuffin to try and do some villain-y thing is pretty typical for shonen movies. What makes Film Z special is how well it’s executed. It occasionally has some repetitive exposition and the story slows down a bit near the middle, but it mostly avoids getting too bogged down in details and keeps things moving. Luffy himself is also unusual. Unlike most heroes, Luffy doesn’t care about saving the world or anything like that; he just cares about getting his friends back to normal and getting back at Z for defeating him in their first fight., which keeps things more grounded and makes him more fun to watch. This extends to the other Straw Hats as well. The movie starts out with all of them at sea on the Thousand Sunny just goofing around and arguing. The way the Straw Hats bounce off each other has always been one of the best parts of One Piece. Their personalities complement each other well and the crew as a whole has a lot of chemistry that makes them entertaining to watch. The movie gets darker as it goes on, but never completely loses its humor and sense of fun. Even the climactic fights have goofy jokes like Luffy carrying a giant hunk of meat on his back as a snack and Sanji using an ability called “Sexy Fire.”
Although the Straw Hats are the main characters, the real star of the movie is Z himself. Z’s hatred of pirates isn’t motivated by some abstract idea of justice as much as by a personal grudge. Pirates took almost everything from him and his hatred of them is understandable and even somewhat justified. That doesn’t make Z’s actions right, but it makes him more sympathetic. The movie even takes the time to delve into his background and his career in the Marines, which makes him less like a throw-away villain and more like a fully fleshed out character. It also makes it easier to understand why so many Marines respected him while he was still one of them. In comparison, his subordinates Ain and Binz don’t have much personality beyond being loyal to Z and are mostly just in the movie to give Zoro and Sanji opponents.
The movie also draws some parallels between Z and Luffy. Their actions are completely different, of course, but their ways of going through life aren’t. They’re both chasing crazy dreams and aren’t afraid to crush the dreams of enemies who stand in their way. It’s implied that Z understands this on some level and also knows that he’ll eventually have to face up to the consequences of his actions. By the end of the movie, you’re almost rooting for Z.
Of course, it wouldn’t be One Piece without plenty of cool fights as well. Luffy, Zoro and Sanji are the only ones who get one on one fights, but all the Straw Hats get a chance to fight and show off their post-timeskip abilities and it’s always cool. The direction in the fight scenes is excellent and uses a lot of CGI-enhanced camera movement to keep the fights intense. The final battle between Luffy and Z is noteworthy in that it doesn’t have a lot of named attacks being thrown around and is mostly a Haki-enhanced fist fight, which makes it even more brutal.
The animation in Film Z is what fans wish the rest of One Piece looked like. Colors are bright, characters stay on model and action scenes always impress. There’s a fair amount of CGI in the action scenes, but it’s mostly used for backgrounds and enhancing the 2D animation instead of replacing it all together. Distance shots occasionally lose detail, but it’s nothing significant. The attention to detail is also impressive. A lot of the background Marines are actually minor characters who appeared at various points throughout the main series (mostly Enies Lobby and Marineford). It’s a small detail, but having the background characters be familiar adds a nice sense of connection to the main series. The music is mostly original tracks for the movie, but fits in well with the series and is generally good quality. Ocean Guide, a song sung by characters a few times throughout the movie, is the most memorable song and is just great. It adds a sense of solemnity whenever it’s used and is worth listening to on it’s own. It’s also the rare case where a dubbed song sounds as good as the original Japanese version. The dub for Film Z is about the same quality as the dub of the main series: consistently good and excellent when it needs to be. There are some points where the Japanese is better, but the dub is good enough that both are viable options. Jeremy Schwartz gives a good performance as Z, especially since he hasn’t been in much anime before.
Overall, One Piece Film Z is exactly shonen movies should be. It tells a self-contained story that still manages to match the general quality of the main series. Z’s a great character and the movie manages to balance action, comedy and character development similar to the main series. It’s not quite as good as the best of One Piece, but it’s still a really good movie.
One Piece and One Piece Film Z are both available from Funimation and on RightStuf.
Final Score: 9/10