Buried Treasure: Netflix’s ‘One Piece’ Beats the Live-Action Anime Curse [Spoiler Free Review]


In the past ten years, anime fans have been subjected to several live-action adaptations from Netflix. Given how most of them turned out, viewers can be forgiven for a certain amount of hesitance when One Piece was first announced; from Death Note to Cowboy Bebop, historically, adaptations just haven’t hit the mark.

Here is my lukewarm defense of Netflix on that front: anime is a particularly difficult medium to translate to the live-action screen. The characters we love in Japanese animation are, to use the obvious phrase, often cartoonish and deliberately unrealistic; traits that work well in 24 frames per second but seem ridiculous when reconstructed in live action. The curse of terrible adaptations was strong when it came to anime — at least until One Piece sailed over the horizon.

First, a little general context. One Piece is a phenomenally popular franchise. In its 24-year run, the manga has sold over 500 million copies and the anime has racked up a truly impressive 1,073 episodes (and counting). One Piece’s beloved creator, Eiichiro Oda, crafted an epic fantasy world filled with seafaring outlaws, dogged marines, and ferocious fish-people. Viewers are introduced to Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), a fearless and incessantly cheerful young man who has but one goal in life: to obtain the One Piece, a legendary bit of booty hidden by the dead pirate king, Gol D. Roger.

Luffy is first joined bounty hunter Roronoa Zoro (Mackyenu) and navigator-slash-thief Nami (Emily Rudd), then fellow wannabe pirate Usopp (Jacob Romero), and seafaring chef Sanji (Taz Skylar).

Seeking a map to the mythical Grand Line, where the One Piece is said to be hidden, Luffy soon gets on the wrong side of the anti-pirate armed force known as the Marines. Led by unstable, axe-handed Vice Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), the Marines are just one of an assortment of villains that Netflix brought to life in the first season — in true chaotic, anime style, they also gave us a boastful warlord with an impossibly large sword, a creepy clown pirate, and an evil butler with Wolverine-style claws.

This is where Netflix began doing the impossible: they translated this colorful, arguably ridiculous — by American TV standards — set of outlaws and the weird world they exist in to live-action without compromising on either the scope of the universe or the charm of the characters.

That’s not to say that the streamer managed such a feat without a few compromises, of course. But One Piece is the first anime adaptation I have seen where the choices made to adapt such an adored piece of media weren’t at the cost of what made the anime so loved. I won’t list the differences between the live-action show and the anime here, not only for spoiler reasons but also because there simply were not that many. Some things are moved around, and yes, there are some things missing. But unlike previous attempts at this type of media, their absence didn’t leave glaring holes.

The Straw Hat Crew still feel right. Netflix found the line between bringing in the humor and slapstick silliness that One Piece is known for and turning the characters into annoying, overblown caricatures. The cast did a spectacular job delivering each unique, fully realized misfit. They charmed me from the first episode, a strength that Netflix’s version shares with its anime counterpart.

Special mention must be made of Godoy’s performance. In addition to his freakish positivity and good spirits, and an utter refusal to take no for an answer or compromise his beliefs, Luffy has one other defining trait: he’s stretchy. Due to the consumption of a magical fruit in his youth, our young hero is ridiculously rubbery. He can deflect bullets, stretch his limbs over crazy distances, and swing his fists in pendulous punches that give him a huge advantage over his enemies where his size and demeanor does not. It would have been so easy for Godoy to make this character an irritating, unbelievable joke. Instead, he plays Luffy with a loveable appeal — you root for him from the get-go. Where his physicality could have been a distraction, it’s delivered with a calm humor that allows the viewer to be entertained by his antics while never doubting them.

At points, the adaptation struggles to find a balance between the goofy teen and gore-filled adult demographics that it’s trying to juggle. But the instances are rare, and we’re swept back up within moments. Make no mistake, though — Netflix haven’t tween-ified this show for anybody. Between the language, the body count, and the intense action sequences, they have managed to maintain the feeling that this world has danger lurking around every corner.

With 45 episodes of the anime being turned into 8 episodes of live action, the pacing of One Piece was always going to be breakneck. For the most part, it still works. The show maintains the energy of its animated origins, with the exception of one plot detour that, while entertaining in its original form, didn’t quite translate here. Each episode is packed (sometimes too fully). It’s hard to be mad about it, though — too many adaptations rely on their viewers having some prior knowledge of their source material in order to shore up their worldbuilding or the scale of the tale. But not here. Character backstories are sprinkled in as needed and aren’t drawn out, giving us only the information required and trusting the viewer to be smart enough for the rest.

For once, Netflix isn’t treating viewers like they’re stupid. This world is deceptively complex for a show about a first-time pirate and his reluctant crew. The characters are deeper than you would think, and the plot maintains Oda’s classic, twisty touch. One Piece has heart, humor, and high-energy action in spades, all of which is more than enough to make up for its minor deficiencies.

I already can’t wait to sail again.

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