One Piece is celebrating the monumental 20th anniversary of its anime this year, and by far the biggest endeavor among the many new projects announced as part of this celebration is One Piece: Stampede. Each teaser, trailer, and promo seemed to tease a bigger and bigger film with each new look, but it's almost impossible to guess just how big the film is before seeing it in action. With a series as jam-packed as One Piece, you would think it would be impossible to balance so many characters in one place, but One Piece: Stampede somehow does it perfectly.
One Piece: Stampede is an exemplary encapsulation of everything fans have come to love from the anime over the last two decades, all condensed into a single, fantastic feature film. It's a celebration that can only come from 20 years of effort and is the ideal window into why this franchise is one of the most popular in the world.
Stampede joins Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hats as they have received a mysterious invitation to a special pirates only festival. Promising a treasure that once belonged to the former Pirate King Gol D. Roger, pirates from all over the seas have gathered on a single island in the hopes of nabbing this special treasure for themselves. All the while, the mysterious Douglas Bullet and Buena Festa have some ulterior motives behind this grand festival that will test not only the Straw Hats, but many of the notable pirate crews introduced throughout the series thus far.
The film takes place outside of the canon of the standard series, so it's possible to jump in without being caught up to where the anime currently is. Although dedicated fans will undoubtedly appreciate many of the Easter eggs and shout outs to past fan favorites, spotting everything is not a deciding factor in whether or not you can enjoy the film. One Piece: Stampede is a "stampede" of pure ecstasy as the fun festival setting permeates throughout the entire experience.
The bright setting lends itself to an even brighter color palette filled with incredibly rich color schemes punctuated by the new character designs for each of the returning and new additions. Luffy and the Straw Hats have a few unique looks throughout, so each costume change warrants a huge smile upon their reveals. It's hard not to smile with the entire film, too, as there's a palpable fun with the party-like nature of the narrative.
This fun extends to the film's action sequences that are packed to the brim with exquisite fan-service. There are quite a few unbelievable team-ups that may never make it into the proper series, and the film takes full advantage of this. It's clear that One Piece: Stampede's staff put a lot of thought into how unlikely allies, such as the Worst Generation, would work together in a fight. There's not a single moment where you can take your eyes off the screen as each of the notable characters get their own bit of action to shine.
Every bit of character action and movement is highly expressive, and action scenes are well choreographed as there's always a balance of what character to focus on at certain times. It's an impressive juggling act that somehow gets even more impressive as One Piece: Stampede reaches its climax. It's like a well-balanced roller coaster, with a proper amount of rest and build-up in between each new and wild loop-de-loop.
The one small drawback is Douglas Bullet is not exactly the most nuanced villain in the series, but it's made up for in his connections to the past of the series and the amount of world-building his character arc provides to the rest of the franchise. On the other hand, it's really all about Luffy and his increasingly surprising allies trying to take him down, so Bullet provides the well-constructed hurdle to overcome.
One Piece: Stampede continues to surprise the longer it goes on. Each scene is brimming with excitement, and it's an experience that only a franchise like One Piece can provide. A film paying loving tributes to the past, the present, and even the future, One Piece: Stampede is incredible.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Funimation screened One Piece: Stampede in the United States with English subtitles and with an English dub earlier this year.