Anime film review trifecta: One Piece, Sailor Moon, and Yu-Gi-Oh!

Written by Jonny Lobo

Thus far, 2017 has been a boon to North American anime markets and the fans that support them. Throughout the month of January, I had the pleasure of casually viewing not one but three worthwhile titles as part of several recent theatrical screening events across much of the U.S. and, in some instances, Canada as well.

First up on my review list is One Piece Film: Gold (2016). A spectacle of production both in terms of its narrative and real-world budget, the plot revolves around an unscrupulous narcissist named Gild Tesoro, the owner and self-appointed dictator of an eponymous floating city. His Devil Fruit powers over gold are an interesting take on the ‘Midas Touch’ motif of Greek mythology, and the intermingling of ego and power within such an ostensibly gaudy antagonist is truly menacing yet all the while entertaining, akin to the titular villain of Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964).

Devotees of One Piece and newcomers to the franchise alike can both walk away from this film satisfied: Gold provides the quintessential One Piece experience—gags, drama, action, and a moral takeaway of some kind—while also being able to stand on its own two feet as an allegorical adventure tale. Though the real world lacks literal Devil Fruit of any kind, for many people money is indeed synonymous with power, and it is often wielded with as much callousness and cruelty as anything concocted by the likes of Tesoro.

The entirety of the English dub cast delivered in spades, with Keith Silverstein bringing a truly ominous aura to his rendition of Gild Tesoro. Funimation Entertainment handled the ADR and subsequent screenings (the latter via Funimation Films), which were in select theaters across the U.S. and Canada circa January 10-17, 2017.

Transitioning from the new hotness to a blast from the past, a team-up by Viz Media and Eleven Arts brought North America its first uncut theatrical run of Sailor Moon R: The Movie (1993). As a follow-up to the Sailor Moon TV series of the same name, the screening of the film was also preceded by the short recap, Make Up! Sailor Soldier to help acclimate audiences to a time and place almost twenty years earlier (Geneon Entertainment’s version was available on home video release circa 2000-2004).

The modern viewing experience is more than a nostalgia binge, however—Viz Media’s treatment of the franchise in general has thus far been commendable and Sailor Moon R: The Movie has been no exception due to its fresh English-dub makeover. The entirety of the Sailor Guardians cast was memorable in its own way, while the odd love triangle between Stephanie Sheh’s Usagi, Robbie Daymond’s Mamoru, and Ben Diskin’s Fiore made for an engaging overarching plot and a sufficient source of drama. English-speaking cast aside, whether viewing the original Japanese or any of the film’s other various foreign incarnations, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s directorial signature remains pleasingly inextirpable.

After becoming childhood friends with a young Mamoru, the strange and enigmatic Fiore returns to Earth many years later in a grand gesture of affection. This, of course, stirs up jealousy within Mamoru’s current love interest, Usagi, whose reactions in turn evoke pangs of possessiveness within the seemingly soft-spoken Fiore. Unfortunately, heartache is the least of Usagi’s troubles, as an eerie outside force plans to use Fiore to very destructive ends for the inhabitants of Earth. Thus it’s up to the Sailor Guardians and the power of true, selfless love to save the day.

To kick off the film’s run in U.S. theaters throughout late January, Viz Media hosted a premiere screening event on January 13, 2017 in Los Angeles. In a doting manner similar to last year’s release of Digimon Adventure tri. – Chapter 1: Reunion (2015), Eleven Arts handled distribution of the film in hundreds of select theaters across the country.

Last but not least, no discussion of anime screening events in 2017 would be complete without mentioning Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Darkside of Dimensions (2016). As if emulating KaibaCorp itself, 4K Media really rolled out the red carpet for its release of Darkside. Not only did its January 27, 2017 premiere occur in over 500 theaters in both the U.S. and Canada, but the film also includes performances from six winners of a voiceover contest wherein a lucky few were allowed to lend their voices to background characters.

Taking place after the events of the original manga and Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duel Monsters (2000 – 2004), Kaiba ambitiously sets out to recover the pieces of the Millennium Puzzle in order to duel his greatest rival: Pharaoh Atem himself. A mysterious figure by the name of Diva, however, has a vested interest in making sure the Pharaoh never returns; things get even more complicated by protagonist Yugi Muto’s genuine desire to see Atem again, while not wanting to put his friends—and the entire world, for that matter—in danger.

Written and produced by original creator Kazuki Takahashi and directed by Satoshi Kuwabara, Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Darkside of Dimensions has all the trimmings when it comes to satiating the cravings of any Yu-Gi-Oh! fan searching for the quintessential big-screen experience. Top-tier modern visuals collide with the fondest aspects of the bygone 4Kids Entertainment era, as both Dan Green and Eric Stuart reprise their respective roles. The well-known voices behind Joey Wheeler, Téa Gardner, and Tristan Taylor are also featured prominently.

Though these particular screening events have already had their run, don’t let that stop you from eagerly awaiting the inevitable home-video releases of these movies. And, as I have recently learned, it certainly pays to keep a weathered eye on the horizon for similar events in the future. Be they remastered classics or brand-new blockbusters, hopefully there will be plenty more of these special events down the road—and whichever franchise these next premieres may feature, they will no doubt have the fan-supported success of these prior events to partially thank for their own eventual turn in the limelight.

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