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One Piece : Film Z (2012)

The One Piece franchise is a bit of a monster in Japan. While it's Shonen Jump stalemates Naruto and Bleach might have seemed more popular in the west, in Japan, it's very much the other way around. Not only is the manga the most popular of all time (edging out even Dragon Ball) but the anime is a behemoth, with the TV series being a consistent smash. The theatrical outings have also been big hits- and none more so than this most recent effort, with One Piece: Film Z scoring the third biggest box-office haul of the year in its release year in Japan.

Film Z is the twelfth theatrical spin-off of the piratical saga so far. However, if you've been watching the TV series at the pace of either the Manga UK release or the US Funimation DVDs then it's also a glimpse into the future. This is the first movie to be set in the 'New World' section of the series, which takes place after a two-year time skip. As a result, the crew of the Going Merry look somewhat different to we're used to, with Luffy and Zorro having picked up some scars and Nami having had um.. a growth spurt. It also features the (literally) skeletal character of Brook who was first introduced to English-speaking audiences in the Strong World film.

Despite being the twelfth film, this is only the third film to be dubbed and released by Funimation. Audiences in the UK have fared a little better, with Manga having released three subtitled collections of the earlier 9 movies. Yet, while much of the audience might not be completely up to date with One Piece, this is still easy for fans to enjoy. As long as you have at least a basic familiarity with the characters and setting you won't feel too lost. On the other hand, it will be pretty much incomprehensible to newcomers- so you have been warned.

The plot sees the Straw Hat Pirates pick up a mysterious stranger. Unbeknownst to our heroes, this stranger is actually a man known as Z (pronounced 'Zed' British-English style, rather than 'Zee') who is on a crusade to rid the world of all pirates. As he sets off on his deadly mission it's up to Luffy and co to try and stop him.

While One Piece, in manga and TV form is hugely entertaining, the movie spin-offs have been a mixed bag, ranging from pretty good to downright mediocre. Film Z is a definite step up from the word go, opening with a pretty spectacular battle sequence. The action here is uniformly excellent, with some great looking, well-choreographed action set pieces. Crucially, they look and feel suitably epic and make the most of the expanded canvas that the theatrical format allows.

In terms of animation it's solid for the most part, aside from a few bits of poorly integrated CGI. It's just above TV quality- as might be expected, but in truth some earlier One Piece movies didn't even manage that. Occasionally it rises above that level, with some really nice looking sequences. A sequence featuring a Sea-train voyage is a particular highlight, even if it's basically lifted from Spirited Away.

Z acquits himself well among past One Piece villains. Physically he cuts quite an imposing figure and his back-story gives him believable motivation for his actions. His henchpersons Ain and Binz fit well in with the One Piece world while not being especially memorable. The new characters are all well designed, and the creative team also had fun giving the regular cast something of a makeover (although to reveal why would be a bit of a spoiler).

All in all One Piece Film Z is a tremendously entertaining romp that should satisfy any dedicated follower of the Straw Hat Pirate crew.Those of a sensitive deposition should be warned though: the opening credits feature an Avril Lavigne cover of a (shudder) Nickelback song. But you can't have everything.

ONE PIECE: FILM Z is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from  MANGA UK and FUNIMATION