It's always ominous to begin a review with a confession brought forth by the reviewer, but here we go anyway - until this film, I'd never seen any of the One Piece anime, nor had I read any of the One Piece manga. That said, it's hard for any anime fan not to have some kind of knowledge of the show and the impact it's had upon anime; if you're not sure just how popular this franchise is in Japan, then the fact that this is the tenth One Piece movie to date should give you a pretty good clue. Yes, it's bigger than Naruto, and one volume of the One Piece manga managed to outsell Harry Potter in terms of first week sales in Japan, as guest Jonathan Clements had the delight of informing those gathered to view Strong World at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh for the second weekend of Scotland Loves Anime, which is where we also got to enjoy the movie.
So, we moved onto the film itself, which wastes no time in setting its scene via a flying pirate ship captained by the legendary "Golden Lion", Shiki, before giving us a glimpse of our heroes the Straw Hat pirates as they find themselves separated from one another and facing off against some dangerous and decidedly bizarre and powerful animals on some strange floating island. The only one seemingly having a ball is the Straw Hat's navigator Nami, happily taking a dip in a luxurious swimming pool (in the first of a number of ever-more alluring costume changes for the character, the closest the film gets to regular fan service), although we soon realise that even her situation isn't as agreeable as it looks - it quickly becomes apparent that she's been kidnapped, and at this point we flash back to the beginning of the tale to find out why.
From here, we're left with plenty of time for the movie to make the most of its good old-fashioned "rescue the girl" premise as Luffy and company fight to reunite with one another and save Nami, before the story takes a darker turn as the full extent of Shiki's plans are revealed, leaving Nami with an impossible dilemma and throwing the fate of her own and Luffy's homeland East Blue into jeopardy.
If that all sounds rather too serious for your liking then fear not, for Strong World's story is not so much sewn together with humour as glued together by it entirely - most of the first half of the film is packed with slapstick humour and simple gags that work incredibly well (especially when you have a near 200-strong audience to laugh along with), with even recurring jokes being pushed to the point of becoming repetitive but never beyond to offer an expertly considered and penned vein of comedy. While things do become more serious for the final third of the film, that sense of humour never goes away entirely, offering some light relief during darker moments to keep things ticking along.
Such relief does prove necessary too, as the film threatens to become bogged down in its own plot towards the last half hour or so of the movie, dragging out the ending which was clearly coming for just a little longer than perhaps was necessary - the one real black mark on what is otherwise a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours.
Even as a complete Once Piece newcomer, I found myself welcomed into its oddball world with little difficulty or prejudice - sure, it took a few moments to settle down to exactly who is who and the roles they play in events, but once that is out of the way it doesn't take long before you're engrossed in proceedings and laughing a long with the more seasoned fans as virtually all of the humour is universal. In a weekend packed with anime movies, One Piece: Strong World might not stand out as the most outlandish, the best animated or the most original, but in terms of getting laughs out of its audience I doubt it's going to be beaten. Doubtless the One Piece fans present lapped it all up, but even for those who have never joined a certain Monkey D. Luffy and crew on their adventures before, it was still a whole lot of fun.
One Piece: Strong World was screened as part of the Scotland Loves Anime event in Edinburgh. You can find out more at the Scotland Loves Animation web site.