One Piece Film Red Features An Incredible Team-Up 23 Years In The Making

This post contains spoilers for "One Piece Film Red."

"One Piece Film Red" is filled with explosive and mind-bending moments that not only features stunning animation and fun world-building but also rewards viewers who have watched or read the series from the beginning. Eiichiro Oda himself said that "One Piece" was nearing its end, and although he's said that several times before, the events and character interactions up to this point all seem to indicate that it may actually be true this time. That's especially the case with "One Piece Film Red," which heavily features one of the most popular characters in the series who has, throughout 1,000 plus episodes of anime, essentially only appeared three times.

I am, of course, talking about the legendary pirate Red-Haired Shanks, Captain of the Red-Haired Pirates, and the man who gave Luffy his signature straw hat, which has now become symbolic of everything "One Piece" related. Luffy was given the straw hat as a child, with a promise made to Shanks to return it to him when he's become a great pirate. If, going by the time the anime first aired, Shanks first met Luffy in 1999, then their unconventional reunion in "One Piece Film Red" was 23 years in the making. And it's a team-up that was absolutely worth the wait.

Setting up a grand entrance

"One Piece Film Red" feels like a movie that's entirely made just for the incredible payoff at the end, with the premise surrounding the unexpected arrival of pop singer Uta, apparently the daughter of Shanks. The film's marketing has advertised "Film Red" as an untold story of one of Shanks' many excursions as a pirate and his relationship with Uta and Luffy. Even with the title of the movie, "Film Red," it feels like it's all about Shanks' impact on the characters of "One Piece," even without him being there. Flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film paint him as a swashbuckling pirate who only cares about gold until the narrative is flipped on its head halfway through the movie.

When Uta's intentions are revealed to be less than good in the film, the tension ratchets up to a whole other level, with the entire world's fate seemingly in balance. It isn't until the stakes are so dire in "One Piece Film Red" that Shanks reappears, and it's revealed the supposedly heartless actions he and his crew had taken in flashbacks were a ruse to protect Uta. Shanks hasn't been given as much development or had as many lines in the anime as he does in "One Piece Film Red," and that alone justifies the film's existence. When Luffy and Shanks unintentionally team up at the film's end, it's just the beautifully animated cherry on top.

Contrived (but clever) setup

Uta's beautiful singing in the film puts an unknowing Luffy and his crew in a slumber along with most of the world who watch Uta's concert from their homes, putting them in Uta's dream world of a perfect paradise in a trap that feels like something out of Christopher Nolan's "Inception." As Luffy desperately tries to escape this dream world Uta created, Shanks attempts to help her in real life. Director Gorō Taniguchi and screenwriter Tsutomu Kuroiwa use this premise to make a clever workaround to have Shanks and Luffy team up; making the characters meet for the first time in a non-canon film would be a waste. As Uta is consumed by a giant monster known as the "Demon King of Songs" that she unknowingly awakened, the only way to subdue the beast is to attack it in a coordinated assault from both the dream world and the real world. 

It's all a bit contrived at this point in the film. Still, it serves the beautiful purpose of having Shanks and Luffy's crews work together in unison without Luffy actually meeting Shanks again, something that many fans have presumed won't happen until "One Piece" ends. The workaround and heavy lifting the film does up to this point is all worth it because for the first time in "One Piece," Shanks and Luffy deliver the final blow to an opponent together. Moreover, it's a mesmerizing and intense sequence cleverly edited to emphasize that Shanks and Luffy are putting their powers on display together.

An incredible payoff

The final three-way fight of Shanks and Luffy versus the Demon King of Songs features an incredibly detailed sequence that is differently stylized and animated than the rest of the film. Masayuki Sato, the chief animation director of "One Piece Film Red," brings a distinct visual flair to help make this legendary team-up special. Having worked on other recent films like 2018's "Dragon Ball Super: Broly," Sato brings a 2D animation style that feels crisp and makes the characters' movements, as exaggerated and stylized as they may be, feel authentic. The minimalist choice to make the scene on a blank white canvas with Shanks and Luffy outlined in red makes the scene pop on a thematic and visual level. Luffy's hard-hitting combo with Shanks ends the fight, and the two part ways without ever really meeting, but being aware that they helped each other out in this rare instance of crossing paths.

Unfortunately, "One Piece Film Red" isn't canon to the mainline story, meaning in the world of the anime, Shanks and Luffy still haven't put their powers on display for each other. Despite that fact, the team-up at the center of "One Piece Film Red" can still be taken as just a tiny taste of what's to come when the long-running series inevitably ends. While it may have taken 23 years to see Shanks and Luffy teaming up, it was very much worth it.