We ought to think of a better label for feature-length shonen adventures like this. ‘OVA’ doesn’t apply, obviously, because STRONG WORLD didn’t go straight to video. It did, in fact, have a proper and successful theatrical run. Calling it a ‘movie’ doesn’t really fit either, though. Like an OVA, it really ain’t targeted at anybody who isn’t a fan versed in the show.
Make no mistake, this is not an easy entry point into the ONE PIECE universe. It’s an extra-sized episode - - or a condensed arc, if you prefer - - with a noticeably higher animation budget. If you don’t already know Luffy, Zoro, Chopper, Franky, Robin or and the rest of the Straw Hats, don’t expect any obliging introduction here. If you are one of the converted, though, then getting preached to by STRONG WORLD is quite fun.
The focus ostensibly falls onto Nami for this outing. After she impresses the dread pirate Shiki by more-or-less sniffing out an approaching thunderstorm, the gravity-manipulating villain demands she join her crew… or else! As you’d expect, she chooses “or else,” so Shiki makes the deal a bit harder to refuse - - dropping the Straw Hats down to the treacherous islands floating beneath his ship.
One island is inhabited with scores of wacky-but-dangerous wild animals (the titular Strong World? That’s never made clear) and the other is populated with a society of oppressed harpies. The former are just as delightfully ridiculous as anything popping out of series creator Eiichiro Oda’s imagination. And the latter have that right cocktail of good-natured lowliness you've come to expect from innocent bystanders in a ONE PIECE arc, so it’s almost physically impossible not sympathize with them.
Needless to say, the Straw Hats fight their way up through the islands to rescue Nami. Along the way, their resolve is repeatedly shaken: first by Shiki’s outrageously mighty gravity powers, then by a message he forces Nami to record where she disowns the Straw Hats. The apparent betrayal really breaks Luffy’s heart: swelling up a moving emotional arc that’s as close to jilted love as a stubbornly-platonic relationship allows for. Somehow, it all culminates with the Straw Hats storming Shiki’s palace in matching black suits (seeming to fulfill a long-held desire of Oda’s to do a yakuza story, perhaps).
On the one hand, this ‘deluxe special’ offers a ONE PIECE experience that’s refreshingly free of the filler and deliberate pacing that are necessary evils with a weekly schedule. At two hours, the pacing is brisk, skipping over scenes the show would've typically just languished over (though, I’m still not 100% clear on how we got to the flick’s signature dapper men pose-down).
On the other hand, it’s hard not to see the inclusion of the entire Straw Hat crew as rather… vestigial to the show, at times. Part of the charm of an ongoing serial is that, no matter how big the cast gets, everybody eventually gets time to shine. So, even if your expectations are properly gauged, you can’t help but wonder if some Straw Hats wind up being glorified extras; or if this whole thing would’ve benefited from focusing on the plights of just half the crew members in its tight run-time.
Flipping the trade-off, once again, STRONG WORLD might also be a rare case where the added sheen of feature-quality animation actually works against the overall product. While the show’s quality of rendering can swing drastically from season to season, it’s hit the right groove of rendering lately, and the contrast of style in this flick just never sits right. It’s too clean. It’s too sleek. It’s missing that manic quality in the show, where it seems like the hands of the animators can just barely keep up with the pace of imagination being unfurled. Here, it’s clear that they’ve all had a long time to mediate on every frame and the effect just… doesn’t feel like ONE PIECE at times.
Anyway, these are definitional quibbles.
As said earlier, if you’re already into ONE PIECE, STRONG WORLD is going to give you everything you’d want from a feature. Shiki and his ridiculous Jamaican accent are a hoot, the chaste love affair between Luffy and Nami really does pack an emotional wallop, and the yakuza showdown we jump to is a certified crowd-pleaser. No fan's going to walk from this, unsatisfied.
About the Author
|Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk|