Having been lucky enough to have visited Japan a couple of times in recent years I’m all too well aware of just how huge the One Piece franchise is over there. You simply can’t walk anywhere in the major cities without seeing something One Piece related, be it toys, adverts, t-shirts, drinks, and even One Piece themed food! You might think that after all this exposure to such paraphernalia I might have checked out the series at some point but no, I’ve yet to see any of the anime, nor have I read any of the manga. It’s not that I don’t want to see what all the fuss is about, but to put it simply I just haven’t managed to find the time to dedicate to such a massive series. So, here I find myself tasked with reviewing Strong World, the tenth film in a series which currently spans sixteen seasons and twelve feature films with almost no prior knowledge of events in the franchise. Thankfully Strong World stands alone pretty well - I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too much of the film’s content due to of my lack of prior knowledge, though I’m sure there will have been some elements that passed a first timer like myself by.
One Piece: Strong World hits the ground running and wastes no time in rolling out the villain of the piece: Shiki the Golden Lion. Shiki is a legendary pirate from the time of Gold Rodger (who, I’m told, was the legendary “King of Pirates” - a hugely important character in the One Piece universe) who had vanished for twenty years after escaping prison and captains a menacing-looking ship fashioned from a massive floating island. We’re soon introduced to the heroes of the piece, as the Straw Hat Pirates are next to show their faces. It seems our plucky heroes have been split up and are facing varying degrees of peril in the face of some pretty bizarre and rather dangerous creatures. The only one seemingly having a good time is the ship’s navigator Nami, whom we meet in her swimming attire taking a dip in a luxurious-looking pool. Even here everything is not quite as it seems - it soon transpires that Shiki is holding Nami against her will in the hopes she will join his crew, and from here we are thrown into a flashback where we find out just how our heroes ended up in such a predicament, leading us all the way back to our hero’s current problems.
So, we have a kidnapped girl, a plucky bunch of heroes and a legendary (and unhinged) bad guy - it appears that the scene is set for your typical shounen rescue mission, although things aren't quite that simple as Shiki has a nefarious scheme to wreak vengeance on the world that imprisoned him some twenty years prior to Strong World’s events. Most importantly for the Straw Hat Pirates, Shiki’s scheme could prove disastrous for their home in the East Blue, which ultimately presents poor Nami with an unenviable choice...
Threading neatly through all this drama is a rich vein of humour which, while mostly slapstick comedy and sight gags, works surprisingly well. I’m sure there were quite a few gags that I’d have appreciated a little more with some prior knowledge of the series, but on the whole things flowed nicely and I never felt like I was missing out on anything too important. My only complaint with the humour (although this may be a side effect of primarily watching the English dub rather than the Japanese audio) is that I didn’t find many of the recurring jokes revolving around Shiki and his right-hand men (Dr Indigo and a clothed Gorilla, whose name I don’t recall being mentioned) particularly funny.
However, it’s not all fun and games in Strong World. The film does become considerably more serious in the final third and it’s at this point that Strong World begins to lose it’s way, with the plot dragging a little towards the end. It’s a shame, and the film would have benefitted from being a little shorter, but it doesn’t ruin the experience by any means. All in all Strong World left me curious to see more One Piece, which is no mean feat given the ominous size of the series.
Strong World then is your standard shounen fare - there’s nothing particularly original or special to be found here, but neither is there anything terribly wrong. It’s all very predictable, there are no unexpected twists or turns, nor are there any particularly unwelcome dalliances. Everything resolves nicely and exactly as you’d expect for a non-canon feature-length story. It’s an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours and may just leave newcomers wanting more One Piece.