[One Piece Film Retrospective] #4: Dead End Adventure (2003)

You might disagree, but i’m fairly confident in saying that we’re finally starting in proper with Dead End Adventure, as it’s the first One Piece movie to shackle itself from being a double bill 1 hour middle lenght film meant to be compromises releases for various anime company fests.

Yep, no Toei Anime Fair release alongside an even shorter Digimon movie, Dead End Adventure was the first One Piece movie to receive a proper theathrical release, and fittingly so as it’s the first actual feature lenght film for the franchise.

The plot sees the Straw Hats suffer from the usual lack of any cash left, leading them to enlist into the Dead End Competititon, a secret race between pirate crews, with a huge bounty for the winner and the expected lack of any proper rules or etiquette.

The goal? Reaching the mysterious island indicated by the Eternal Logpose given to each partecipating crew, and for this Dead End Competition we also have a crew of giants and fish-men once rivals of Arlong, and the commander-turned-pirate Gasparde.

No spoilers, but yep, you can easily guess where this kind of plot is gonna go.

But it doesn’t factor negatively for the narrative, as in some plot elements that are “lifted” from the main series (like a quasi “Knock Up Stream” riding a water vortex up in a vertical fashion) and the references to older events via the giants and fishmen, as these aren’t just thrown in there to make you go “remember?”… ok, they are there to pull at your nostalgia, but they still work decently as a backdrop for the context of this movie’s plotline, which is fairly simple but works for a movie, even if it sticks to some One Piece cliches that are more recurring than you think, like a kid character getting involved with the Straw Hats, and in this case throws a very old – and i mean it, almost ancient – shonen manga/anime final twist to the character of the rascal itself.

Speaking of the new characters, they’re ok if unmemorable in terms of designs and backstory, but the bounty hunter Shirya and his combat prowess makes for some good action scenes against mooks and Gasparde’s second hand man, the confusingly named Needles…that uses cat claws-like weapons.

Speaking of the villain, Gasparde, it’s also kind low effort (he feels like another Don Krieg), he’s just a corrupt Marine with zero morals and doesn’t directly do much, preferring to let others do his dirty work, but his Devil Fruit power fits his slimy true self, and it was quite odd for the time, as he basically has a Logia type ability that lets him turn into a green caramel syrup/slime substance.

Mind you, this was years before the Whole Cake Island arc, so One Piece readers weren’t used to see even candy based Devil Fruit powers, and i remember people thinking the Ame Ame Fruit was too silly, even for One Piece standards. So young, so naivè.

One thing where you can tell they did want to impress since this was actually the first One Piece feature lenght film for cinemas… is definitely the post-title scene, where we have a POV sequence where we move through this town rendered in 3D but populated with traditionally animated 2D characters, going from the plaza up the seedy alleys and finally entering the bar holding the secret entry to the Dead End Competition, and echoes the same early fascination with 3D you could find in many late 90s-early 2000s works, minus the prompts to put on your 3D glasses for a bit.

While it hasn’t aged incredibly well, it’s still kinda impressive for the time from a technical standpoint, and it still is a nice directorial choice for an intro sequence.

Overall, Dead End Adventure it’s a decent feature lenght film, arguably the real proper start for the One Piece film series as a whole, after a teething phase of sorts.

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