It’s no exaggeration to say that 2009 was one of the best years One Piece has ever had. Manga sales more than doubled from the previous year (which was already a record high for the series), the story was just starting the epic Marineford Arc, and Strong World, the subject of this article, was released. Strong World wasn’t just another spinoff movie; the story was written by Eiichiro Oda himself, and featured a lead villain who had even been mentioned in the manga itself. There’ve been plenty of One Piece movies since, but even with so many excellent follow-ups, Strong World still stands out as a great movie in its own right.
Put simply, Strong World is about adventure. It’s the Straw Hats exploring a group of flying islands inhabited by strange creatures while fighting Shiki the Golden Lion, a famous pirate who once fought Gold Roger himself. With a premise like that, it becomes easy to get caught up in the film’s energy and just have fun watching the Straw Hats wander around and try to figure out where they are. I can’t emphasize enough how much personality and scale the setting adds to this; the geography alone is striking, with floating islands (held aloft by Shiki’s Float-Float Fruit power) of all sorts of climates with even floating rivers surrounding them. There’s also a scene of a giant bear suplexing an equally giant praying mantis, which is just as awesome as it sounds. Even before the story itself starts to kick in, Strong World is so much fun that it sucks you right in.
That’s not to say that the story itself is lacking, though. Strong World’s core plot revolves around the Straw Hats trying to rescue Nami from Shiki, who wants her to join his crew because of her skill as a navigator, and stop Shiki from destroying the East Blue as a declaration of war against the World Government. The parallels between the film and Arlong Park are obvious, particularly when Nami chooses to go with Shiki in an attempt to save the other Straw Hats and her home. There’s even a visual callback to the iconic walk to Arlong Park scene. I don’t mean any of that as a criticism, though; Arlong Park was the arc that first showed how great One Piece can be when it’s running on all cylinders, and anything that can draw out anywhere near that level of pathos is A-okay in my book.
As a Nami-focused film, Strong World once again reminds us exactly how strong of a person Nami is. Though she doesn’t have the same fighting ability as Luffy or Zoro, Nami makes up for that in other ways. She’s the kind of person who’s willing to take huge burdens on herself just to spare the people she cares about, even to the point of risking her life. Nami is willing to do what needs to be done to save the people she loves, regardless of whether they know it or not. That kind of determination is a strength in and of itself, and is part of what makes Nami such a compelling character when she gets to shine.
We saw that strength on display before in Arlong Park, but this time Nami knows she’s not completely alone (spoilers ahead). The final line from her farewell message, which we only get to hear at the end of the film, is on simple request: to come save her. From this line alone we can see how much Nami has grown by being part of the crew. She still shoulders a heavy burden to save her friends, but knows that they’ll come save her in turn. Even in a film where we know the status quo won’t change, her trust in her crew and their devotion to each other is just as moving as ever. One Piece has always excelled at tugging at heartstrings, and Strong World is no exception. (end of spoilers)
This being a One Piece movie, Strong World never strays too far from its main goal of being fun. Oda’s almost supernatural sense for when to let the drama breathe and when to lighten the mood with a joke is on full display here, and continues to be one of his greatest assets as a storyteller. The serious moments and battles are given just the right amount of time to have their impact without ever overstaying their welcome. Strong World is always ready with one of Brook’s skull jokes or Shiki’s many eccentricities (he regularly mistakes clouds for afros and a gorilla for close family members, for one) to keep things fun.
Shiki himself is another great addition to One Piece’s cast of villains, striking just the right balance between goofy and menacing. You can tell that right from his design; he’s a huge man with a steering wheel stuck in his head, bright gold hair, and swords for legs. And just to top it off, he can also fly. Silly as all those details sound, they kind of work when you put all of them together. The same goes for his character. Shiki is, quite simply, an evil bastard who is completely okay with being an evil bastard. He’s a straightforward pirate who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, regardless of who he hurts along the way. He’s energetic enough and cocky enough about it all that, even as simple as his personality is, he’s still a lot of fun to watch. He’s also smug enough about his own power that you really start wanting to see Luffy punch that grin off his face, which the film more than delivers on in its final battle. Luffy’s fight against Shiki is fast paced and dynamic in the way that all of the best shonen battles are. Even the fact that Luffy spends most of the fight riding a giant electric duck doesn’t diminish how cool it all is, particularly his final blow.
Whether you’re an old hat looking to enjoy one more pre-timeskip adventure or a new fan experiencing it all for the first time, Strong World is a great example of what makes One Piece so wonderful. It’s a creative adventure story with a lot of heart behind it and plenty of thrilling action to boot. Even now, with its successors upping the stakes with each entry, Strong World stands as one of the best shonen movies out there, and is just as much fun as it was ten years ago. If you love One Piece as much as I do, then you can’t go wrong with Strong World.