[One Piece Film Retrospective] #7: The Giant Mechanical Soldier of Karakuri Castle (2006)

Always felt some sort of pity with this one, because it had the unbelievable “luck” of coming out after a far more ambitious, creative and artistically impressive take on the same series, and while almost anything was gonna be looked down upon as a “follow up” to Baron Omatsuri and The Secret Island… going fully back on the formulaic and “mild” didn’t help, even it was “inevitable”.

Okay, that’s a bit cruel, but i guess the mixed reviews Baron Omatsuri received were taken into consideration, so the experimental period was basically declared over, time to slip back into the comfort zone and play it super safe, despite that movie being as successful as any One Piece film was.

Not that this is necessarily the sign of a bad movie, i do like “regular” One Piece after all, of course i do, but i’m not exactly impressed when a film series based on a super popular shonen series is playing to the familiar tunes immediatly after an entry took risks, and was mostly rewarded for it’s ambition, the desire of director, screenwriter to make a very different film while still playing within (& with) the established world and characters of said series. A different, risky vision.

Giant Mechanical Soldier of Karakuri Castle is another cuttle of fish, as in, the usual for One Piece feature films, we’re back to the regular scheduled fair, for better or worse.

The plot starts as all good pirate stories do, with the crew finding a person inside a treasure chest located near a freshly shipwrecked vessel. This time the person isn’t stuck inside the chest for life (yes i remember Gaimon), she’s just an old woman, hiding in a pirate treasure chest, as they usually do.

Since the idea of putting her back into the chest and throw it into the sea doesn’t pass the votes, so they eventually accompany her back to the nearby island (following a “magnetic turtle” compass), after she promises the crew the treasure known as the “Golden Crown”, rumored to be hidden somewhere on the island.

The island turns out to be called “Mecha Island”, and ruled by a man named Ratchet, that also knows the true secret of the island itself, but has also been searching for the Golden Crown himself, to no success, and definitely not in the mood to have the Straw Hats beat him to the treasure.

One thing that immediatly jumps out here is that the movie is the first to follow the custom of “enhancing” the cleavage of female characters as the TV series started doing after a certain point, gasonganizing the bahonkas and applying “Dead Or Alive gravity” to the bosomest of buddies.

And in case that wasn’t ouvert enough, there’s a banquet scene that exist basically for exposition and to have Nami and Robin in revealing gala dresses.

The plot is fairly typical, putting even more focus on the adventure side than usual, with a mysterious treasure hidden on the island, with the only clue to its location supposedly hidden in a local sailor song that everyone there knows, Ratchet trying to use them to discover the location for him and swoop in to claim it, etc. Fairly cliche, as it’s the big twist at the end, though it might not come off as such since it’s a cool cliche that’s also pretty old and mostly underused by now.

If anything else it shows the flexibility of Masahiro Ito as a writer, because he’s the screenwriter for this one too, oddly enough.

There’s almost self-awareness to how Luffy keeps falling for obvious traps and being unable to see “red flags” in conversation, almost, as the movie rolls with the clichès fairly unfazed, more interested in the adventure and comedy than the actual plot or any pretense to seriousness, distracted as Luffy is by the cool contraptions, the puzzles to solve in order to reach the treasure and the fact the movie it’s fairly entertaining.

The villain it’s at least a bit different, as we have a skinny-yet-ripped mechanic twink called Ratchet and his two sidekicks, the punk-ish guy and the loyal overlyzealous musclehead Honki (which is a pun since “honki” means “serious”, but i think it’s still a blackxploitation reference, since the guy has a sort of afro), but he’s more of a scoundrel with excessive ambition than a serious or nasty villain, even in terms of goofy cowardly villains Wapol is far more menacing and evil. Ratchet is just a twink specialized in mecha construction (with his features – like his head and glasses on a half-bust or mast – as a signature), making robot maids, referencing Gigantor/Tetsujin 28, and he’s mostly played for laughs, as it’s often the case for this kind of One Piece antagonists.

It’s just slightly above average, but it’s enjoyable, there are plenty of funny moments, so if you want the polar opposite of Baron Omatsuri And The Secret Island this movie it’s exactly that, and it does feel like a “levity counterweight” to the dark themes and imagery of the previous film, as it goes the extra mile to be silly and light in tone, down to the cryptic lyrics-hints being mostly puns, but it does deliver in spectactle, adventure and the animation (back to the typical One Piece style) is pretty good as usual, and the comedy is both constant and nicely pulled off.

It’s not great or memorable, but it’s quite fun and likeable on its own. A cute little movie adventure with giant walking fortress, mecha suits, robots, enhanced cleavage (not for the robots), hidden temples and a boatload of jokes that mostly work.

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