published in Empire No.82, Sydney
On the surface, One Piece – Adventure in Alabaster is all boy bluster, packed with pirate lore, topped with treasures and pumped full of pugilistic adrenaline as Luffy and his crew take on their foes to one step short of death. The original One Piece manga – one of the most popular boy titles in recent history – is prime Shonen Jump material: frustrated wimpy boy pushed to the edge to find inner human strength. Anthropologists have lots of pap explanations about these rite-of-passage puerile fantasies, and Hollywood script writing laws enforce them like commandos – as is evident in the US-voicing.
But within the Japanese context, these ingredients work according to a different formula, and as formulaic as One Piece often appears, the movie version throws a different light on the form. The ‘quest’ in One Piece – The Movie involves Luffy and his band of quirky psychopaths aiding Princess Vivi in her return to her father’s kingdom where rebel forces are set to topple him and transform the country into war faring chaos. The king of course is innocent, as he has been framed by Crocodile – a calculating evil being who dresses like a pimp on ice. All good and well, but the key theme that evolves is the personal commitment one makes not to one’s country or friends, but directly to one’s friends. From the Japanese perspective, this is slightly unusual, in that family (and blood lineage) rules all. It’s possible that the key to the One Piece phenomenon in Japan is partially tied to this reading – and equally possible that in the west this is taken for granted. Similarly, One Piece – The Movie starts its racy journey in anarchic chase-and-fight mode, but gradually becomes exhausted by this tack alone. The state Luffy and co arrive in by the film’s end make the experience greater than expected.