one piece film z movie 640x399 One Piece Film Z    a vertical slice that hits all the high notes [Movie Review]

You do not need to be an active follower of Eiichirou Oda’s One Piece manga and anime series to have a blast with One Piece Film Z. 

Not only does Toei Animation’s latest anime movie introduces amply the franchise’s world and key characters to first-time viewers, but the movie is really about the life story of Zephyr (who calls himself “Z” now, pronounced as “Zed”), a new character who was only recently introduced to the anime series as a lead-in to the self-sufficient film.

Formally a top marine admiral, Z now bears deeply seeded hatred for the Marines. Despite having been a loyalist and trusted comrade in the Marines Corp, for a very sane and logical reason that will be revealed at the 108-minute flick’s halfway point, Z was eventually left disenchanted with the force and chose to leave along with his left and right-hand assistants: Ain and Binz.

Like Zephyr himself, both Ain and Binz are new characters whose powers will be explained shortly after the start of the movie. Ain’s ability (the female character you see in the image below), in particular, poses a peculiar problem to four members of the Straw Hats Pirates crew – Nami, Robin, Chopper, and Brooks – that serves as a running gag throughout the film.

ain and binz One Piece Film Z    a vertical slice that hits all the high notes [Movie Review]

Together, the three and their crew are now the Marines’ top threat to eliminate, and at the start of the movie we see Z and his men storming into a marine base to steal a controlled weapon: DynaStone, an explosive resource so powerful that it can destroy entire islands.

But Z doesn’t just hate the Marines. He strongly hates pirates too – more so than his former allies, in fact. Back when he was serving in the force, one of them pirates did cut off his left arm, after all, which led to marine scientists replacing it with a gigantic bionic arm made out of seastone – the same sort of material the Marines use to make jail cells and handcuffs.

Seastone apparently emits the same energy wavelength that the ocean does, and so Devil Fruit users are weak to this stuff, as evidenced in the movie when protagonist Monkey D. Luffy attempts to rescue Z, whom the Straw Hats pirates find drifting in the middle of the ocean.

When Luffy, the user of the Gomu Gomu no Mi Devil Fruit which makes his body elastic like rubber, stretches out his arm to grab ahold of Z’s bionic attachment and to reel him in with, our hero feels his life energy getting sucked out of him, as if he were left to drown in the ocean.

Coupled with his many years of experience fighting treacherous pirates, Z’s seastone bionic arm makes him a formidable adversary for our hero Luffy. After Luffy and gang nurse Z backs to health, an epic battle breaks out aboard the crew’s Thousand Sunny ship. The Straw Hat Pirates suffer a quick defeat, but manages to make a narrow escape in time.

In the battle’s aftermath, Tony Tony Chopper (the crew’s doctor and lovable human-reindeer hybrid) blames himself for wanting to stick to his principles as a doctor and nurse Z back to health, even though everyone suspected Z to be a dangerous adversary, since he’s wielding a seastone weapon. The crew tells Chopper not to think that way, and that as pirates who do whatever the hell they want, it is important for them to stick to their principles.

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Besides, unbeknownst to the Straw Hat Pirates, had they not encountered Z, then the entire world of One Piece, as fans know it, might just end, should the almighty Marines fail to put a halt to Z’s ambitions.

Without giving any plot details away, let’s just say that it is actually Luffy and gang’s great fortune to have suffered defeat under the hands of Z.

It is also Singapore’s great fortune to have One Piece Film Z shown here in our cinemas. For One Piece Film Z is the rare type of anime movie that doesn’t simply pander to its target audience’s tastes, but is actually intelligent and funny enough that even adults and non-fans will find themselves laughing out loud, instead of groaning at terribly lame puns or cheesy plot twists.

Any friends or family members that you drag into watching this film with you will come out of it thinking differently about anime, if they weren’t already fond of it to begin with.

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They’ll especially love Tony Tony Chopper’s child-like naivete (at one point Chopper attaches his milk bottle to his left paw in an attempt to mimic Z), and Brook the re-animated skeleton’s role as comic relief: in one scene where our heroes head off to the hot springs, Brook comments that he’s been soaking in the hot springs for so long that “his bones are leaking” (in Japanese he says, literally,  “soup is coming out of me”).

There’s plenty of action and fanservice here too. Luffy and his Straw Hats Pirates undergo through no less than two wardrobe changes (three sets of costumes). Marines characters who do not have speaking roles appear in the background during various scenes at the navy’s HQ.

one piece film z One Piece Film Z    a vertical slice that hits all the high notes [Movie Review]

Also, the One Piece anime and manga series are known for the often creative ways that intense battles are portrayed, and Toei Animation does not disappoint here.

Battles in other Shounen Manga shows can often be distilled down to the following boring premise: characters A and B spam each other with all of their special attacks, in order of increasing power, until one of them gets blown away.

Personally, I’ve felt that that’s never been the case with the One Piece series, in which characters often fight while making terrific use of their environments and rely on good ol’  hand-to-hand combat (or sword-to-sword, gun-to-gun, etc), before bringing out their special attacks only in situations that truly call for it. In that sense, One Piece Film Z doesn’t disappoint as well.

There are also a few touching and awe-inspiring moments in One Piece Film Z as well. For instance, prepare to be awestruck when Luffy and gang receives from an old man the “Ultimate Weapon” to combat Z with.

Although the One Piece series is known for its numerous heartfelt moments, unfortunately this time around there weren’t really any powerful scenes that elicit a tear-jerker response the same way the Ash-Ketchum-turning-into-stone moment in the first Pokemon movie did; everyone I’ve talked to who watched that movie said they teared up as they watched Pikachu cry out desperately to a petrified Ketchum, the imagery akin to that of a young kid not understanding the concept of death and how to deal with the going-away of a loved one.

The most emotionally powerful moment in the film comes from a brief moment where an old illustration – of Red-Haired Shanks putting a straw hat on a young, crying Luffy – is flashed on the screen for about three seconds. The illustration’s effect was amplified by the context behind it in the movie, and I was close to tearing up at that point. But did it impress me? No, this is rehashing old material.

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Apart from that, I only have two other minor gripes for this otherwise fantastic movie.

First, for some reason throughout the film there are a couple of weird, non-sequitur moments – like Luffy suddenly stopping between one fight and the next to eat a giant chunk of meat, or Z gazing solemnly at a capsule of DynaStone for a good 15 seconds or so – that completely stops the flow of the movie and might even turn your mind off for a short while.

It certainly did for me – it was as if I was having an out-of-body experience where my inner conscience drifted all the way to Toei Animation to scream at One Piece Film Z’s director Tatsuya Nagamine: “why the hell are you showing me this, get on with the movie, damnit!” (Oh, but what do I know about anime? Absolutely nothing; I am nobody but a humble anime fan).

The second is that, despite doing a good job of explaining every single important detail to first-time viewers in the simplest way possible (who is Nami? She is a navigator. What is Brook’s power? Ice thingie. What’s Luffy’s Gear Second form? Oh, he accelerates the flow of his blood to power up. What’s the meaning behind the name change from Zephyr to Z? Find out in the movie), the film never attempts to explain what’s going on in one particular fight scene where the combatants’ arms suddenly turn black.

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I had to find out after the movie that this was called “Busoshoku: Koka” or “Armament: Hardening” which, in all fairness, is really difficult to explain – basically certain characters are able to manipulate spiritual energy into coating their arms black, like a steel weapon.

But if you’re already very familiar with the source material to begin with, then One Piece Film Z is an absolute no-brainer: you have to watch this.

And bring a few friends along to the movie with you. Who knows, you might turn them into newly-converted One Piece fans.

It’s really difficult for any anime or manga fan to try and read or watch the One Piece manga and anime series from start to its latest development – the series is up to volume 68 (manga) and 500-something episodes (anime) now.

So consider One Piece Film Z a vertical slice of the long-running series. One that hits all the high notes.

Here’s hoping that Toei Animation will succeed in bringing the movie out to not just Asia, but also the Americas, Europe, and the rest of the world.

For even for movie-goers who know absolutely nothing about One Piece, it’s still incredibly funny to watch a petite reindeer-human attach a milk bottle to his paw and pretend he’s Bionic Commando (pew, pew!).

ONE PIECE FILM Z will be opening at all Cathay Cineplexes starting 21 February 2013. Sneak peeks will also be held on January 31 to February 3.

Movie-goers who pre-purchase their tickets are entitled to One Piece Film Z premiums, the contents of which differ depending on the date of ticket-collection.

One Piece Film Z Key Art 640x914 One Piece Film Z    a vertical slice that hits all the high notes [Movie Review]