What They Say:
The world’s boldest buccaneers set sail for the great Pirate Festival, where the Straw Hats join a mad-dash race to find Gol D. Roger’s treasure. There’s just one little problem. An old member of Roger’s crew has a sinister score to settle. All bets are off when the most iconic pirates of One Piece history band together for a swashbuckling showdown, the likes of which have never been seen!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As a project commemorating One Piece’s 2oth anniversary, Stampede had a lot of expectations to meet. One Piece has always been a top-tier series, and the previous three films, all written or executive produced by creator Eiichiro Oda himself, set a high bar to meet. Thankfully, Stampede more than lives up to the hype, delivering an action extravaganza beyond anything the series has seen since Marineford.
Right from the start, Stampede makes it clear that it’s going to be massive in scope. The montage as the Straw Hats arrive at the Pirate Festival features cameos from dozens of characters, big and small, from throughout the series. Many of them, like Hatchi and Miss Monday, only appear as cameos, but many more actually play a role in the film. There’s Smoker, Sabo, Crocodile, Mihawk, Perona, Sentomaru, and the entire Worst Generation, all of whom have a role to play in the film. The sheer number of characters featured means that if you have a favorite character, they’ll probably have a spotlight at some point. For any other movie, this many named characters would leave it too bloated to function, but this fits in perfectly with Stampede’s scale.
The first third or so of the movie is lighter fare, with the Straw Hats engaging in a free-for-all with the other pirates of the Worst Generation (as well as numerous others) as they compete to try and reach Gold Roger’s treasure first. This portion of the movie is really a series of highlights showcasing each character’s power in matchups we’re unlikely to encounter in the main series. It’s the kind of “what if x character fought y” that you usually only get to see in fighting game spinoffs, and it’s great. The fights are fluid, with characters and matchups rapidly shifting as they all try to outdo each other, all while highlighting a lot of lesser-used characters like Apoo and Urouge. Of course, this is only the prologue; the real meat of the story comes when Douglas Bullet makes his appearance, and what an appearance it is.
Bullet’s introduction is a perfect example of how to bring in an overwhelmingly powerful villain. As soon as he arrives, he picks a fight with nine of the Eleven Supernovas (excluding Zoro and Law) and outmatches all of them. Everyone is given a highlight, often using one of their signature attacks, only to be forced back by Bullet. He’s even able to go toe to toe with Luffy’s Snakeman without trouble. Combine that with his bulk and Buggy mentioning that he’s a former member of the Roger Pirates who was on par with Rayleigh, and Bullet’s firmly established as a serious threat.
From Bullet’s arrival onwards, the movie becomes a series of intense action scenes with barely a pause in between. Everyone, pirates and Marines alike, is fighting Bullet and each other, all while the island is engulfed in utter chaos. The only way to describe the size of everything, both the number of players involved and the scale of the attacks, is apocalyptic. These are Marineford level battles that continue on almost nonstop for the majority of the movie’s runtime. There’s not a dull moment to be had, and action junkies will more than get their fill here. Almost every major character in the series (as well as a few minor ones) is involved in some way, and Bullet is the perfect villain for such a situation. He’s powerful enough that he almost feels unbeatable, so having all these characters involved makes sense. There’s even a running gag of Wapol and Foxy showing up, only for nobody to care about them. Though there are some jokes involving those two, as well as numerous instances of Buggy being completely out of his depth, to lighten the mood, the vast majority of the film is battle after battle, building tension that doesn’t fade until the movie ends.
With so much going on, though, something has to give, and in Stampede’s case it’s depth. Every character gets a chance to shine at some point, but there’s relatively little development for anyone outside of that. Even the other Straw Hats are given a less significant role in the latter half in favor of highlighting so many different characters. As for the villains, Bullet and Buena Festa, the man who arranged the Festival, are relatively one-note characters. Bullet just wants to be the strongest person in the world, while Festa only cares about surpassing Roger’s fame. Bullet does have a little more to his backstory, but it’s only given in a brief summary without much detail or nuance to it, and it’s largely irrelevant to the film’s plot. That said, Stampede’s simplistic setup isn’t as big of an issue as it would be in another film. Stampede is very straightforward about its main priority being showcasing cool fights and big attacks, so Bullet fits in quite well. He’s an intimidating enough threat that the exact details of his character are less crucial, and the pacing is such that there’s scarcely a chance to even think about that in the face of all the fights going on. Part of what makes One Piece so great is that it has so many different elements that are equally strong on their own. Stampede largely eschews the heavy character drama of arcs like Water 7 and Enies Lobby in favor of pure spectacle, which it excels at. It’s hard to criticize it too heavily for what it doesn’t do, when it very clearly accomplishes its main goal as a pure action movie. You may not be moved to tears like the best of One Piece, but you’ll absolutely be cheering by the end.
Animation wise, Stampede’s look is more akin to the distinctive line work and stylized designs of Wano than the clean and smooth look of the previous few movies. That works in its favor, as the more striking designs fit perfectly with the epic battles going on, and allow for a lot of expressive facial animation. The fights themselves are kinetic and fast-paced, using tracking shots with CGI backgrounds to add even more momentum. The CG is good quality enough to not be distracting and is used sparingly compared to the traditional animation on display. All in all, Stampede’s animation lives up to the high standard set by its predecessors and fits the film to a T.
Stampede feels like the sort of film that’s made squarely for the fans. Fan-favorite characters abound, engaging in all sorts of battles we wouldn’t get to see in the main series, all the while trying to stop a villain who’s the very definition of A Big Deal. Though it doesn’t reach the same dramatic heights as Film Z, Stampede more than makes up for it in raw unadulterated action. When the credits finally roll, fans are likely to feel exhausted in the best possible way from everything going on. If Stampede’s goal is to give fans a huge celebration for One Piece’s 20th anniversary, then I’d say it succeeds with flying colors.