Most tumultuous or affecting story arcs in the One Piece anime series are followed by big parties. They’re are always a blast, reprieves from the recent drama, and filled with familiar faces, references, and expository moments to set-up future storylines.
One Piece: Stampede, the 14th feature film in the franchise, throws the biggest party of all. But while it’s a respite from the entire series thus far, it’s also a promise that, after 20 years on air, the anime isn’t slowing down.
In 1997 (or 1996 if you count two non-canon one-shots), Oda Eiichiro debuted One Piece within the pages of the Japanese Manga anthology, Weekly Shonen Jump. 2019 is the series’ 22nd anniversary and, more importantly, the 20th anniversary of its anime adaptation, providing ample reason to celebrate this year. One Piece: Stampede celebrates everything that came before it. Practically every piece of media from the franchise, big or small, is referenced by the film at some point, turning the movie into a loving scrapbook to the legendary series.
One Piece: Stampede takes place during an unspecified time following the recent Whole Cake Island arc. For those not caught up, uh, sorry: the film makes little effort to hold anyone’s hand. The more you know about One Piece, the richer the madcap film experience will be.
Stampede takes us to the Pirate Expo, a grand festival where pirates from around the world gather to compete for treasure. This year, the prize is said to be from the collection of the former Pirate King, Gol D. Roger, an eternal pose (basically a map/compass hybrid in One Piece parlance) connected to the island of Raftel (or Laugh Tale, as the film renames it). The treasure draws the attention of characters from across the series for one giant showdown.
And, boy, there are a lot of characters. One Piece: Stampede’s roster casts a net so wide that practically every named character from the series appears in some capacity. Over 30 appear in the first two minutes alone. And new characters pop up right until the film’s final credit rolls. At times, One Piece: Stampede feels more like a parade than a movie.
With the massive ensemble, it’s fun to see certain unlikely pairs interact for the first time in the franchise’s history. Mini-set pieces copied from the source material, like Skypeia’s Knock-up Stream, offer even more fan service. The sheer volume of these references and the various characters that appear is enough to make good on the Avengers-like promise.
The movie’s massive ensemble inevitably makes it difficult for any single character to have a satisfying amount of screentime. Many only receive a line or two before being benched. Only a few Straw Hat pirates even get a sizable amount of dialogue. Much of One Piece: Stampede is carried by the series’ lead Monkey D. Luffy and the film’s main antagonist Douglas Bullet.
Bullet isn’t a particularly “fleshed out” antagonist. His goals are simple — he wants to prove he’s the strongest. Gol D. Roger’s death left him without a reason to bulk up, taking away his benchmark for strength, a fate that left him unsatisfied. To his credit, Bullet is certainly strong —possibly among the One Piece-verse’s strongest. Which makes his battle against the other characters is exhilarating to watch. Luffy has to access his strongest forms in the series, thus far, even introducing new renditions of them, exclusive for the film. It takes multiple team-ups of unlikely allies to take him down.
The most interesting thing about Bullet doesn’t come from anything in this film though, but rather, what he represents.
One Piece: Stampede was designed as a glimpse into the manga’s narrative future. The skirmish for the eternal pose to Raftel/Laugh Tale signals what the inevitable battle for the one piece treasure might look like. Bullet is uninteresting as an antagonist introduced for this film, but he’s ripe with potential when considered a stand-in for another powerful character that will inevitably attempt to obtain the one piece before Luffy. While watching the fight, I imagined what it would be like if Bullet was replaced by Kaido, Big Mom, Blackbeard, or any number of major One Piece antagonists. If a guy who I had known for a mere hour could fire me up this much, what would it look like when One Piece reached it’s (presumably) final conflict? Stampede offers a preview years before One Piece reaches a natural climax.
The new movie isn’t compelling by dramatic standards, but it’ll excite any longtime fan with just the sheer number of references and callbacks to the main series. Being caught up with the series gives the film a cozy feeling, like entering a party filled with your closest friends. There are also beautiful musical references to the anime adaptation’s early days. Battles in One Piece: Stampede are as exhilarating as ever and the movie provides a glimpse into the series’ future. The movie thanks viewers for sticking with Luffy’s adventures for 20 years, and to continue adventuring for just a bit longer.
One Piece: Stampede hits select theaters in United States on Oct. 24, 29 and 31, 2019 (Sub), Oct. 26 and 30, 2019 (Dub)