Before you saw the trailer for the live-action One Piece (★★★★★), you likely hadn’t heard of it before. Even with Japanese anime/manga being a fast-growing niche, few Americans have heard of the fantasy-pirate-action series from Eiichiro Oda.
And yet, there are few works as acclaimed as One Piece (think Friends or Game of Thrones and multiply it by 10), which ranks as the top-selling comic series of all time, having collectively sold over 500 million copies. Netflix’s adaptation from Matt Owens, Steven Maeda, and Eiichiro Oda will be the introduction to a whole new generation.
One Piece is the story of Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), a wannabe pirate with the power of the “gum-gum devil fruit,” which makes his body like rubber at the expense of being able to swim, and only one goal — to become King of the Pirates and claim the One Piece, the former pirate king’s mysterious treasure.
The story begins with Luffy ransacking a Marine base in search of a map of the Grandline, a dangerous part of their mostly aquatic, island-filled planet, where he meets his first mate Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), who is set on being the world’s best swordsmen, and Nami (Emily Rudd), a thief with her own plans for the map.
On the run from a Vice Admiral (Vincent Regan), they meet Usopp (Jacob Romero Gibson), a sniper with a penchant for lying, and Sanji (Taz Skylar), a brash, woman-loving cook, who join their crew as they face an evil clown, fishmen, and many more Marines. Together, the trio begins a journey that has spanned over 25 years, but does it live up to the hype?
Historically, live-action anime adaptations have not done well, in the same way that live-action Disney films haven’t always worked out. This series is without a doubt the best adaptation to date, finding a balance between honoring the original and paving a new path forward.
Some big chunks are cut from the source, but with Oda’s involvement, it feels more like an opportunity to show growth. When Oda first devised this tale, it was a young beginner’s attempt, but more than twenty years later, it’s evident how much he has mastered his craft and fashioned One Piece as a world unto itself.
A manga chapter is around 15 to 20 pages, and a volume is seven to eight chapters. The series expertly trims down the story into episodic television that helps keep the tension and enjoyment going, deftly switching from tense and horrific scenes of child abuse, murder, and cannibalism to optimism, humor, and joy, helping the series find its spark. The manga is classified as being in the Shōnen genre, typically aimed at younger boys, but the series sheds that and matures things up quite a bit, helping newcomers ease into this high fantasy world a little easier.
The best example of the series’ success lies in its cast. They follow the archetypes set forth from the source, but are given the space to make it their own. They don’t imitate the characters, but embody them, allowing them to do their own thing without worrying about copying the original.
Godoy as Luffy is the first to illustrate this, with the almost unhinged obsession of achieving his goals and helping his friends to an infectious degree. Near the end of the season, the crew jokes around after Sanji flirts with Nami, wholly bringing to life the series’ main dynamic — its dedication to friendship.
While One Piece is amazing, it definitely feels like a first season, requiring a couple of episodes for everything to really sync up. Some of the earlier episodes are wrapped a little too neatly, like when the crew needs a ship and happen upon one for a heavily discounted price.
There is a good mix of CGI with practical effects and sets, which helps enhance the tropical feeling and otherworldly feel of the show. That, too, has some growing pains, with some characters looking way more insane than intended and some prosthetics not looking very life-like.
As someone who has been a fan of the anime and manga for over a dozen years, I was fearful that the series would end up like Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell, works that failed to capture the magic of the original source. But One Piece isn’t like those adaptations. The series captures the feel of the original perfectly and, by the end, I was excited for potential future seasons.
One Piece is streaming exclusively on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
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