There is something about seeing anime in a theater that is a memorable experience. It isn’t something that happens nearly often enough. But thankfully One Piece Film: Red let me have an amazing time. I’ll be the first to admit that I shudder a bit at anime movies since we get them so late after Japan does and most of the time, we must wait for the BluRay release. But this movie shows what kind of experiences can be created with the big screen in mind. I’m still kind of processing the movie which says a lot about how much impact it had on me. This movie might be a bit polarizing depending on how people feel about a movie focusing on a character that sings a lot. For me it was more positive than anything. I do love Symphogear after all. But everyone is different.
I must talk about Uta first. This is her movie. And I mean that in the best of ways. This girl was the central figure of this story and it made sure to give her the amount of focus that she needed to shine. There is no way this movie works if it takes focus away from Uta and gives it to the Straw Hats as a whole. You don’t need an arc for say Sanji or Chopper in this movie. They bring knowledge, experience, and the connection between these nakama. But the story makes sure to let Uta have her moments. And we get a lot from Uta in terms of her past and her present. If people saw the One Piece: Red connected episodes from the tv series, then they already have a good understanding of her.
The movie doesn’t presume people will have seen those episodes, but it adds to the understanding if they have. We still see the kind of childhood friend Uta was to Luffy. Before Ace and Sabo, there was Uta. These two competed with each other, they were rivals for Shank’s affection, and they were good friends. You can tell how hard it was for Luffy when Shanks one day came back without her. And you can also see how much they both care when they meet up again in the present day. Before Uta’s plan becomes clear you can see that they were happy to reunite. It’s just too bad that by this point Uta was far too dedicated to her plans and even seeing Luffy again wasn’t going to stop her. In fact, she was probably relieved to know he’d be in that song world with her.
The biggest thing for me is how the movie ended. I’ll admit that I was really hoping that Uta would come out of this ok. You can say that is a strength of the movie for making her a really engaging character or just me being a person who likes happy endings. I can’t dissect my own biases that precisely. All I know is that I was really behind the efforts of Luffy and Shanks to save Uta. These two were important people in her life and didn’t want to see her die here. And it was great seeing them cooperate through the real and song world for that purpose. So when they finally defeated the Tot Musica, I was feeling good. Especially since Shanks had been prepared and arrived with medicine to help her.
But things didn’t work out that way. I get her reasons. Uta couldn’t save her own life and condemn Luffy and all those people that believed in her to death. So, she sacrificed her life to make sure they could come back. For me, that hurt. She didn’t get to continue her career, didn’t get to see Luffy become the Pirate King, and was tragically flung around by these events. It isn’t as if she had no responsibility. Uta decided to use Tot Musica and she continued her plans even finding out truths along the way. Once she knew Shanks was innocent of that happened in Elegia she should have stopped. Even with people idolizing her and begging for salvation, she should have stopped. But she had so much resentment built up over years and still thought the song world was better for people than reality.
Now the movie doesn’t just make it a tragic ending and goes more bittersweet. Having the whole ending sequence be various characters around the world listening to Uta’s “album” was nice. It goes with the idea that Uta’s songs will live on. Like any great artist, her impact on the world will outlast her own life. There are positive changes she can make in people’s lives through the lyrics of her songs. And that impact can keep people going while Luffy continues to create the true “next age” for that world. And I think for that reason the ending isn’t just a sad one. Shanks and Luffy will remember her and live their lives with the songs she had in their hearts. It’s not ideal, but it isn’t completely tragic either.
At the same time though…the characters are hurting. Luffy said very little near the end to Uta outside of explaining why he didn’t punch her. Because he knew…Luffy could tell that Uta couldn’t be saved. While he did succeed in saving himself, his crew, and the people on that island…he didn’t save his friend’s life. Stopping her from being a monster that trapped people in a nightmare was good, but you could tell he was hurting. It wasn’t as tragic for him as what happened to his brother. He still got that nice last moment with Uta. But it’s a bittersweet ending.
One thing that got me in this movie was regarding Luffy’s dream. From the very start Luffy has been “the man who will become the next Pirate King.” It might have been covered more in Luffy’s flashback arc with Ace and Sabo…but honestly, I don’t recall him verbalizing what he wanted to do as Pirate King. Becoming the Pirate King has just been something that Luffy has fought for, struggled for, and stood up against incredulous opponents that believed he never would make it. But this movie had Luffy explain why he wanted this. That he did want to create a new era. Luffy continued what he started with Uta. She wanted to create a new age and the same went for Luffy. It’s just that Luffy eventually settled on becoming the Pirate King as how he would achieve that. I just liked the open discussion.
I’ve gotten this far without talking much about the music. The music in this movie is honestly fantastic. I loved it. You can listen to the soundtrack in music video format via Youtube. Crunchyroll has uploaded those so it’s easy enough to catch them. Full credit goes to the Japanese singer Ado for her performance singing Uta’s songs. It feels more common in western films than Japanese for the singer and voice actress to not be the same person. Japan has so many amazing voice actresses that are also singers. So often one person is doing both jobs. But Ado and Kaori Nazuka do a great job handling the singing and the voice acting respectively.
I’d say the songs are worth the price of admission too. Uta just goes all out in a lot of moments of this movie. You get upbeat, intensely angry, and songs that reflect longing. People that want little singing in their movies may not care for it. But whether Uta is properly putting on a concert or trying to unleash an ancient weapon of incredible power…she’s giving an incredible performance. I don’t think anyone could have unleashed that devil fruit’s power like her. The singing in this movie has a great deal of variety and I enjoyed it.
A little criticism of Shanks is coming up here. I get that he had to make a quick decision and the situation sucked. There were a few options available after the disaster in Elegia. Shanks could take the blame for it and continue being a pirate. Now within that choice he could have brought Uta with him. But Shanks wanted to further her musical talents and fulfill her dream to sing on a huge stage. The other option was letting Gordon (the King of Elegia) take the fall for the disaster. He could have taken Uta with him and the situation is wrapped up. Or he could have let Uta know that she was partly responsible for that disaster and all those deaths. That would have been soul crushing for a child. The truth might not have set her free there.
I still dislike the choice. Making Uta think that her father and family used her to raze a country to the ground and then abandoned her was also soul crushing! The King tried his best, but Uta was still depressed and living in the shell of a nation. And she still found out she was partly responsible anyways! He couldn’t have known that would happen. But by choosing the way to fulfill Uta’s dream…it led to her death. Uta did make her own choices and was partly responsible. But Shanks pushed her initially to leave and probably brought her there intending to push her to stay and study music. He did allow her talents to flourish, and she left a great impact on the world. But…he also did consider Uta his daughter and she ended up dying. That’s a tough one.
It’s not like I want to give Uta no criticism. She isn’t flawless or perfect. Just because she’s cute and a crazy good singer doesn’t mean she did everything right. When she found out the truth, she couldn’t let go of her anger. At least there was enough there that when she took those dangerous mushrooms…that anger took over. She forgot or chose to ignore that Shanks wasn’t responsible. Her desire (through the pleas of others) led to her wanting to save everyone…even if it was by force. And she banked her strategy on staying awake using mushrooms that would basically drive her insane. Uta helped herself along the road to death sadly.
I’ll also give the King criticism. Usopp and others may have let it go, but the King didn’t help things. He chose to follow Shanks’ plan instead of telling Uta the truth. If he simply destroyed that sheet music, then this couldn’t have gone so far. Uta could have been saved if he had acted as her second father instead of a musician. Unlike Franky that destroyed the Pluton plans and bet on the Straw Hats, Gordon couldn’t let Tot Musica die. He’s only human and I get why he didn’t either tell her the truth or destroy the sheet music. But geeze the second one should have been a given. That music destroyed his country and killed his people! Even if it was their negative emotions that helped things along…he should have made sure no one would be killed by that power again.
This has turned into a small essay so I will end my movie review here. But I do think that this movie was great. I think it’s worth checking out for fans of One Piece or just fans of anime and music. Bittersweet movies can be hard on me to go back to later, but they do tend to leave a real mark on me as well. This is easily the One Piece movie that I’ve liked the most. One Piece has done alright in terms of films in the past. But this one just really resonated with me. It gave us great little moments like seeing Shanks fight off two Admirals and unleash his incredible haki on a ton of navy. But it also gave great music and reflected a strong friendship between Luffy and Uta.
I think this movie was a great theater experience, but it will also be nice to watch on a smaller screen later. My biggest gripe with it is Shanks, Uta, etc acting in ways that just made things messier. But people can be like that. And the other gripe I have is wishing it was a happier ending. But I do think the bittersweet ending worked here. I can totally get behind anime movies if they are like this. One Piece: Red was a total success in my mind.
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