For as long as there has been an event with multiple outcomes, you can bet your sweet straw hat the someone has been there, currency in hand, ready to test their luck. Combining the possibility of victory with the thrill of the unknown, countless characters to this day spin wheels, roll dice and flip cards in the hope of leaving with more than they came with. However, beyond all of the glitz and glamour, the bright lights and loud noises, lies a discernibly darker side to this practice; losing. Though far from a concealed side effect, many are taken aback by this aspect of gambling and wind up losing far more than they ever bet in the first place.
Given the path that One Piece has been following, it was inevitable that the Straw Hat Crew would find themselves on a casino ship that was the size of a medium island and considered by the World Government to be its own independent country. Thus, it is not too jarring when exactly that happens and we find ourselves all in with our favourite pirates and a brand new garish villain who will surely have his butt kicked come story’s end. Spoiler; his name is Gild Tesoro and he totally gets his butt kicked. Upon arriving at the aforementioned casino, not at all confusingly named Gran Tesoro, the Straw Hats are literally showered with gold flakes, propelled into a sea of gold and wind up fighting another pirate crew surrounded by pillars and walls of gold…just in case you didn’t remember that this film is called Gold. Well, whether you did or didn’t, get used to seeing that particular colour, because it does not ever let up. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the film’s colour palette, just a friendly warning. It’s also a pretty solid hint towards the motivations and overall mindset of the film’s villain.. Yes, he can control gold, but it takes a special kind of pompous to build a gambling establishment out of the stuff. It’s like making a wallet out of $100s.
Turning back a little to the Straw Hat’s entrance to Gran Tesoro, let’s take a little time to focus on the big opening number than underpins the previously mentioned clash with another pirate crew. Self declared as the Long Long Pirates, these one scene wonders desire the gold of which Gran Tesoro is built and will let nobody stop them…at least that’s what they think. Of course, these poor saps weren’t planning on running into the infamous Straw Hats and a resoundingly beaten, with a snazzy jazz beat blaring in the background. You see, Luffy and Co. entered Gran Tesoro in the middle of showtime, a time when the leader, king and number one performer Gild Tesoro tears up the golden dance floor with the accompaniment of a hefty brass section (ironically enough). Thus we find ourselves with an interesting combination of typical One Piece combat and the score of big band dance film…and it’s pretty darn awesome. A summation of the adventures thus far, each member of the Straw Hats gets a chance to show off their individual skills and character quirks, topped off with the presentation of their current bounties. It’s a big start to the film, a solid introduction to the environment in which it will occur and a taste of action to (hopefully) tide you over until it kicks off again much, much later. I reiterate the bracketed “hopefully” because it is quite a while until fighting rears its head once more, with a plethora of gambling, environmental shots, cars and honest to goodness wacky racing laying on the path between. Which I will absolutely talk about now.
With plot reasons bestowing upon them a veritable bounty of house money, the Straw Hats enjoy as much of Gran Tesoro as pirately possible. One of these adventures sees them to a racetrack,because automobiles totally exist now and are powered by turtles…because One Piece. Now I don’t bring this sequence up specifically for its content, but as an example of how this film presents itself. Though a plot becomes apparent as time passes, the early moments of this film play out like a vacation, due in no small part to that being exactly what it is. Diverting from their canon journey, the Straw Hats are more than happy to take in the sights, party and win big in a city that stands out even against the backdrop that is One Piece. Not that this calmer approach carries an inherent negativity, cumulative minutes of establishing shots do wear a little thin and feel as if the story is being stagnated in order to show off the world created specifically for this film. Does it deserve attention? Absolutely, countless people put countless hours of work into creating Gran Tesoro. However, when it hurts that which exists within it, perhaps the filmic balance is off. That being said, it is not the most egregious example ever seen and may, ironically, seem moreso given the film’s opening. On the plus side, this level of attention gives an insight into the aesthetic of Gran Tesoro, whilst also hinting at the complete irrelevance of it, with glimpses of its true nature shining through ever so slightly.
When it comes time for the primary plot to kick in, the film pivots for its second time (from quirky One Piece intro, to quirky Vegas-esque montage) to become a caper. Like, an Ocean’s Eleven style heist story. As one might expect, despite the admittedly fun premise, this shift further pushes the film into the realm of the chaotically paced. Though a staple of the series, highlighted by the fact that technology is substituted with various animals a la The Flinstones, it can be a little much when condensed into a film length escapade. This is heightened even further by the introduction of numerous, one dimensional characters who exist solely as representatives of an archetype, rather than inherently interesting or impactful figures. Despite it being easy to see where the film’s intentions lay, it is also readily apparent that the film would have been stronger had certain aspects received more detailed attention. A prime example is the injustice of slavery. Though obviously sickening to the Straw Hats, their far more personal goal takes precedence and any help they provide to the afflicted is, by extrapolation, a side effect, preventing this plot aspect from carrying the gravitas it should rightfully have. Ironically enough, despite the discussion of this paragraph, the purely condensed backstory of Gild Tesoro told towards the end of the film does possess the intensity missing in the film proper. Despite its predictability and the fact that it comes much later in the tale of this particular villain, it is an oddly compelling tale filled with emotion, something noticeably lacking in the history of a particularly greedy navigator…
Midway through the film, we learn that Tesoro’s premiere singer Carina is an old acquaintance of Nami, back in the days of their thieving youth. Without going into specific too much, a particularly dangerous situation led to Carina (then known as Vixen) betraying Nami and essentially leaving her for dead. A truly terrible turn of events, one which would understandably lead Nami to despise her former accomplice and never ally with he again. Except she doesn’t and she does. In a showing that her time with the Straw Hats has changed her, Nami puts the needs of her friends before her own and forgives Carina for her past transgressions. It’s a touching moment that shows how far Nami has come since she was first seen pilfering a boat way back when. Except for the fact that her nicety seems much too…nice. Immediately after witnessing a horrible flashback which shows Nami about to be executed, before implying that she found her own “Nami” way out of the situation and was led down the solo path that created the Nami we first saw, we are treated to a discussion of two friends reminiscing. Sure Nami calls out the past betrayal, but it was so much more than that. Carina willingly left her to die at the hands of those who have already tortured her. That isn’t the kind of thing that can be forgiven away in a single meeting, character development or no. It just felt wrong…until the entirety of the flashback was revealed. You see fellow pirates, Carina did come back to save Nami, although she did so in a notoriously unfriendly way. Following on from Nami’s self made deal, she attempted to buy her life back with her own hidden wealth, having given up on Carina’s help. Unfortunately for her, the Vixen had already made her way there and stolen Nami’s treasure, leaving her effectively abandoned and betrayed for a second time, once again facing death. Long story short, Carina was hiding at Nami’s hideout and led the pirates away, saving Nami…kind of. How did she know Nami would forge her own deal? I don’t think she did. why did she not come back in the first place? She’s a selfish person who cares little for those around her. Why was this left out of the previous flashback? I have no idea, because I do not think it had the impact the creators thought it would. From an unfounded forgiving on Nami’s part, the film bypasses the middle ground and rushes towards the opposite end, forcing us to question why Nami held onto this knowledge, revealing it as if Carina herself was unaware of this event. It’s a remarkably strange story choice that undermines this backstory and the connection between these two characters in every possible way. By all accounts, Nami should despise Carina, not greet her as an old friend (which she did). Carina should be afraid to show her face to Nami and the fact that she is not lends credence to her being a the concept of a film character being so intrinsically connected to a Straw Hat, let alone one who wasn’t Luffy. Give some screentime to some of the other guys, captain. Thus it was rather upsetting as I came to realise how consistently this plot aspect was fumbled. There was honestly some solid potential in this subplot, it’s a shame it was never utilised.
When it comes to the actual combat of the film, there are two discernible veins that run through each and every moment; comedy and action. Yet again, however, I feel compelled to discuss balance, or specifically the lack thereof. In the climactic culmination of the film’s storylines, Luffy and his nakama obviously clash with Tesoro and his lackeys. No surprise there. However, whilst Luffy has an intense bout filled with rhetoric of freedom and increasingly brutal assaults, Usopp, Chopper and Brook are relegated to being the butts of Looney Tunes level jokes. As the villain known as Baccarat can rob people of their luck (Devil Fruit powers y’all), a single tossed coin causes a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events over and over and over again. A very One Piece level of oddity to be sure, but hard cutting between Luffy being violently slammed into solid concrete and three infamous pirates simultaneously slipping on a banana peel pulls the emotional range rather thin. Combine this with a stereotypical buff foe who is obviously a masochist (because this is anime) and a teleporting foe who purposefully draws Sanji’s attention so he can freely shoot Robin in the spine, it becomes hard to know where to put your attention. Simply put, this style of villainy and divergence of character works far better in a series based format, where there is an inherent break in time from episode to episode that allows these moments to breath, rather than suffocate each other as they do in this film. This same concept also extends beyond combat sequences, serving to turn similar moments of intensity into ultimately pointless additions to the story, no matter how dramatic they may be when viewed alone. The most prominent example of this occurs when a group of people willingly sacrifice themselves to aid Luffy in defeating Tesoro, as he is the only hope for them all (being a protagonist and all). However, their sacrifice is immediately undermined by the fact that they all survive their final words and appear in the next scene for no apparent reason. What was the point of setting aside time for such a moment when it ultimately meant nothing? Sure they come to be stalwart allies of the Straw Hat kiddo who never gives up, but they were that before they “sacrificed” themselves, because they wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t. Yes I may be looking too hard into a series that relishes in this specific brand of insanity, but these are characters we will never see again, at least have the integrity to play out your plotlines to the last. It just seems disingenuous otherwise.
To sum up all of these words that dissect, contradict and over-explain; One Piece Film: Gold is pure, condensed One Piece and contains all of its strengths and weaknesses. It is a fun romp through a weird environment that amps you up beyond belief when the clash of villainy and comparable heroism comes to a head. However, at the same time, it is an oddly paced, chaotic tale that contains a number of redundant threads within its tapestry. Characters that exists as mere examples, backstories that attempt (and fail) to add an element off pseudo-drama to the fold and the inescapable fact that, unless your name is Luffy, you will be outshone. It’s an unfortunate and ever present vibe that prevents the film from achieving everything it sets out to do. It is fun though and I don’t mean that as a throwaway attempt at a compliment. Despite its flaws, Film: Gold is a jazzy clash of the stereotypical viva Las Vegas mentality and an anime about a rubber man who wants to be Pirate King, a very unique mix of two very disparate flavours. For the sheer audacity of this move, I applaud it. For the score that perfectly created the necessary atmospheres, I applaud it further. And for the one moment of sweet subtlety that stood out to me more than anything else in the film, I respect it greatly. I only wish these moments of gold shone brightly enough to gild the flaws hidden within. Though the poetic irony of it all as it stands is a little to perfect.
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