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Review: Netflix’s ‘One Piece’ has Broken the Live-Action Curse

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It’s finally time folks! The One Piece live-action series adapted from the works of Eiichiro Oda has hit Netflix. Now, anime live-action adaptations don’t have a very good reputation. The number of successful adaptations I can list off the top of my head is exactly zero. From the horror of Americanized Death Note to whatever Dragonball Evolution was, most people are rightfully wary of any live-action take on their beloved animated series.

One Piece in particular has some very big shoes to fill. When the show you’re adapting is called one of the “big three” animes, you know you’re stepping into hot water if you mess anything up. Not only that, but One Piece is a very unique piece of media. When I heard the news about the live-action, my first instinct was to cringe away. How could someone capture the wacky looney-toons-on-acid art of One Piece in a live-action show? How could someone cover that much content?

The show covers about 100 chapters of One Piece, which is still less than 10% of the manga. However, the trailers seemed promising and the marketing was everywhere, and so my hopes were raised. Was it a successful adaptation? Let’s find out!

[Warning: Spoilers for season 1 of Netflix’s One Piece are below!]

The good and the bad of One Piece’s plot changes

No adaptation will make everyone happy. They’re either too accurate to the source and have nothing new to say, or are too different and have ruined the material. It’s difficult to choose a metric to judge by, but I personally go off of The Vibe Rule. If an adaptation feels like a natural extension of the source material, regardless of how much is changed, it’s A-okay with me. Given that eight episodes of this series had to cram in 100 chapters of content, many fans emotionally prepared for cuts to be made. Thankfully, the fanbase was given hope by how involved Eiichiro Oda was in the process. Show developers Matt Owens and Steven Maeda ran absolutely everything by him and cut whatever he didn’t like. It’s completely creator-approved.

So, does it pass The Vibe Rule? Mostly.

It goes without a shadow of a doubt that One Piece is the most successful anime live-action adaptation ever made. The series’ writers (Matt Owens, Steven Maeda, Diego Gutierrez, Allison Weintraub, Ian Stokes, Lindsay Gelfand, Laura Jacqmin, Jason Cho, Damani Johnson, and Tom Hyndman) did an excellent job of consolidating the show into episodic narratives. The show introduces first-time viewers to the world of One Piece and gives long-time fans something new to enjoy.

Although fans of One Piece might be thrown off by timeline changes (Nami, Zoro, and Luffy meeting all at the same time being a big one), all choices made served a greater purpose. The show flows much better with multiple arcs happening at once instead of following one thread at a time. It gives the plot a greater sense of urgency that you simply don’t need in the first 100 chapters of a 1058+ manga.

While I mourned some of the cuts (Usopp’s crew of children, you will be missed), the changes make sense for what the series is trying to accomplish. For instance, it makes sense to replace a plot about a backward-walking hypnosis man leading an army of cat pirates into town to hypnotize an heiress into leaving her inheritance to her secret pirate butler. Instead, the crew are already hiding as staff in her estate waiting for her to turn eighteen so that they can kill her. This simplification lets the whole episode take place over a dinner party. It makes the story more grounded and gives Luffy and his crew more time to feel like solid characters with evolving relationships.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that it takes out a lot of the weirdness of One Piece. Is it still wacky? Absolutely. It just feels a bit like a sanitized wackiness. The joy of a crew of cat-themed pirates becomes a little lost. I did find myself longing for hypnosis man. My longing thankfully did not last long, as the new character writing more than made up for my slight disappointment.

One Piece
Image from the live-action adaptation of One Piece (Netflix)

Luffy’s crew is back and perfectly cast

This might be one of the most accurately casted adaptations in quite some time. Everyone looks and feels shockingly similar to their illustrated counterparts. Iñaki Godoy has long since been proclaimed “the real Luffy” by Eiichiro Oda and it’s easy to see why. He makes a very charismatic little rubber man. Every time he proclaimed he would be the king of the pirates or willfully trampled over a social cue my heart sang.

The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Anime adaptation acting often sets actors up for failure. Play it too close to the animation, you look ridiculous. Play it too close to reality, it doesn’t feel like the source material anymore. It has to be stylized, but not over the top. All of the main cast struck a pretty good balance. Every time I chose a favorite, someone else would snag my attention. Taz Skylar as Sanji and Jacob Romero as Usopp were particularly charming, while Mackenyu as Zoro and Emily Rudd as Nami carried a lot of the drama. All of them were delightful to watch.

Unlike the manga, we aren’t introduced to the cast one by one with a designated time for a backstory flashback. Instead, their stories are rolled out over the course of several episodes. This not only makes good sense for an episodic series but also allows us to discover who these people are in a way that might be particularly grabbing for first-time One Piece enjoyers. Likewise, their relationships form slowly.

The friendship between the members of Luffy’s crew is by far the best part of the show. To see these beloved characters fully realized and interacting on screen was well worth the hype. The writing between them is endlessly funny and surprisingly emotional. At some points, watching each member slowly form their loyalty to Luffy even felt a little more fulfilling than in the manga (heresy, I know). The crew’s endless bickering and care for each other drives the series, and rightfully so.

The show passes the on-the-floor adaptation bar of no one doing anything out of character while also managing to expand upon the characters. It was like seeing old friends in new scenarios. For this alone, I’d consider the show a success and recommend this series to any One Piece Fan.

Style and visuals in the One Piece live-action adaptation

Here comes what many fans were the most nervous about. How do you take an art style as unique and exaggerated as One Piece’s and make it real? We can all take a deep breath of relief. The live-action visuals are dazzlingly accurate to the anime. Well… almost.

One Piece is known for its character design. The costuming and styling of the series does not disappoint. Costume designer Diana Cilliers and prosthetic makeup artist Jaco Snyman have managed to capture the essence of One Piece’s characters and expand upon them. The characters look just as crazy as their drawn version. In fact, many of them look exactly the same. A mix of amazing casting and carefully applied prosthetics have brought the manga to life. Even the designs that aren’t carbon copies are delightful. Everything looks like it fell right out of the pages of One Piece.

One Piece Nami
Comparison of Nami’s costume design in One Piece.

Likewise, the visual effects are lots of fun. They look a little off, but that works for a show like One Piece. Watching Buggy’s body parts float in the air is a little off. Luffy’s stretchiness is rightfully ridiculous. A bit of the wackiness that the plot lost came back with Luffy’s ridiculously expanding chest fighting off a cannonball.

Unfortunately, the one thing that fell short was the lighting. All the extreme colors and crazy costumes were washed out under dull lights. You shouldn’t light One Piece like an office show. Even scenes with more colorful lighting, like the carnival, still fell a bit short. It does a disservice to the fantastical settings and clothes. How a person manages to make bright green hair look drab I will never know.

One Piece is now streaming on Netflix

Do any of the negatives I’ve pointed out ruin the show? Absolutely not. While not everything about the live-action is perfect, it manages to capture the joy of the manga in a new way. Both in the context of the manga and as its own series, it holds up. It does not replace the original material in any way, but it gives us something new.

The curse of the terrible live-action adaptation is at long last broken!

One Piece is available to stream now on Netflix ! What were your thoughts on the first season of live-action One Piece? Did it live up to the hype? Let us know on social media or The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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