My journey with One Piece began about 3 years ago. I was starting to get into anime and manga more at the time, revisiting some childhood favorites like Cowboy Bebop and Voltron, while also trying to branch out into something new. Like a lot of people starting out, I googled lists of the best anime and manga out there, and almost every list had the same name at the top: One Piece.
Now at the time, there were about 800 episodes of the anime and 80+ volumes of the manga that had been published, and the thought of diving into all of that was quite frankly daunting. In fact, the number one criticism I hear from people who have never given either a chance is that there is just too much of it.
What’s funny is that you never hear that about Western comics, like, “I can’t start reading Batman, his book has been published for 80 years in dozens of different volumes.” Compared to DC and Marvel heroes and media, One Piece is barely a blip, but I digress.
The factor that shifted me in my perspective is that same thing that shifted a lot of other people; the pandemic. Suddenly stuck at home, with more free time on my hands than ever before, the thought of a nearly endless tv show suddenly wasn’t so bad. I loaded up the first episode, and within about an hour I was hooked.
Since then I have managed to catch up on almost all of the anime, and am completely caught up on the manga, which I switched too when the show releases were too slow for me. I’ve become fairly well versed in the lore, have chosen favorite characters (Robin and Zoro), and have even met some of the dub cast and got their autographs. It’s been a fun journey, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.
A short while ago, Netflix announced they were going to release a live action Cowboy Bebop TV series. Like a lot of people, I was pretty apprehensive. Live action adaptations of animated material in general has been pretty hit or miss, and a live action Bebop seemed destined to fail. The results? Meh, it was fine. I didn’t have the visceral reaction to it that some fans did, and I certainly felt that many of the personal attacks on the cast and choices were inappropriate, but I also recognized the validity of some of the more nuanced issues people had with the way the show dealt with social issues that were the heart of the original anime.
So when Netflix then announced a live action One Piece, well, I really didn’t know how to feel. My hope was that Netflix learned their lesson, and that seems to be the case. The creator and author and artist of One Piece itself, Eiichiro Oda, personally oversaw a tremendous amount of the filming, making sure his vision made it on the screen as perfectly as it could be done, even requesting reshoots to make every detail perfect.
Still, the first teaser trailer was pretty rough, and even though the full length trailer later looked much better, meaning myself, and a whole lot of other fans were on pins and needles about how this was going to go.
So when the show dropped on Netflix this past Thursday, I loaded up episode one, made my wife sit with me to watch, and began.
You guys, it’s good. It’s so good.
That was the message I dropped in my anime group chat (yes, I have one of those now). One episode in, and I was already in love.
So, this week, I thought I’d take a pause from the normal indie review, and talk about this new show, what it get’s right, get’s wrong, and why even if you have never even heard of One Piece, you should give it a chance.
Here’s the blurb: Calling themselves the Straw Hats, Luffy and his gang sail from island to island in search of the mysterious One Piece treasure. Of course, no adventure is smooth sailing. On their quest, the Straw Hats run into dangerous rivals who stand in their way of hitting the jackpot.
What works: Right off the bat, the cast for this show is about as perfect as you can get. Not only do the actors look like their animated counterparts, they also have done an excellent job with copying their mannerisms and attitudes.
The lead of this cast is our future King of the Pirates, Monkey D. Luffy, portrayed by actor Iñaki Godoy. Godoy has a difficult job to perform here, since his character not only is the lead, he also has emotional swings that would put Doctor Who to shame, going from manically happy to intensely focused to threatening to his enemies, and deadly serious when he needs to be. Luffy is also a superhuman, having been granted a body made of rubber from eating a magic fruit, meaning there is some CGI effects that Godoy does his best with.
Overall he and the rest of the cast do a fantastic job. Each one of these characters, we come to learn, suffers from some sort of childhood trauma, which has lead them to be deeply broken individuals on their own. However, as they begin to come together and form a crew, they start to help each other heal, and unite under a common goal of finding the mysterious treasure known only as the one piece.
The supporting cast is also very solid, with I think the one true standout being Jeff Ward as Buggy the Clown, a maniacal circus themed pirate who can break his body into multiple pieces and reform them together. Buggy is an early and persistent antagonist for the Straw Hats in the anime and manga, and while he never really is seen as a major threat after his initial appearance, his continued appearances, and his own arc’s dark parallels to Luffy’s own, has made him a perennial fan favorite villain.
Jeff Ward could have easily played this character off as a poor man’s Joker, but instead he is able to capture the essence of the character, a broken man, literally and physically, whose own childhood trauma took him down a much darker path. Luffy seeks to be the King of the Pirates to be the most free man in the world, while Buggy wants that power so that he can dominate and control others. Ward’s performance perfectly encapsulates everything you love to hate about Buggy, and whenever he is on the screen the other characters are fighting for their lives to take the stage from him.
And speaking of the stage, this show gets very high marks for its settings and locations. For a show full of one-off locations, with almost every episode taking place on a new island or in a new local, there is a lot of effort to spend every dime they had on the screen. Now, don’t get me wrong, the cracks show from time to time, but overall for a made-for-tv series on a streaming service, the effects, settings, and overall casting is top notch.
It looks good, it’s well acted, and most of all, it stays true to the characters. The interactions between the crew, the resentments and dislike that grow into acceptance and respect feels believable in this show. The characters and their motivations feel real, and are true to the source material. While some have, quite rightfully, addressed how the Cowboy Bebop adaptation was more focused on the look of the show than the underlying themes, the One Piece adaptation does not suffer the same way. The themes of following dreams, not letting trauma define you, and building a family from those around your, are all on full display, and while there are occasional character beats here and there that might be a tad out of line with the source material, overall it is as true as I think you could hope it to be.
While this show is, in my humble opinion, almost perfect, that doesn’t mean it does not have its flaws. As I said a the beginning, One Piece is a long running show with a lot of episodes. Cutting down the 61 episodes of the first anime arc into 8 one hour, live action episodes means that a lot of stuff had to go. This is noticeable in a lot of places, with entire subplots and characters being stripped out entirely, or at least only briefly mentioned.
In the Syrup Island story, where the crew meet’s future Straw Hat sharp shoot Usopp, the lead villain’s entire pirate crew is cut from a little over 20 sailors to just two, which causes some weird plot issues with his overall plan to take over the fortune of the girl he is caring for. In the anime, the pirates planned to kill everyone on the island, with the captain seeming to plan to kill all of the pirates after, leaving him the sole survivor with all the wealth he needed to disappear forever. With just two assistants it’s a bit unclear how he plans to get away with taking the money and living a fresh life, since the people of the village might have some serious questions about how everyone died in the house, and it not even being made very clear how he planned to inherit the money after he killed the only person who could sign the fortune over to him.
Losses like this were bound to happen, and while in retrospect it’s easy to pick things apart, it also needs to be understood that the response to this first season will play a large role in how future season play out. If this show is a hit, Netflix will no doubt be more open to maybe allowing more time to be spent on fleshing out some of these stories, and giving future arcs more time to breath. Now that the original core cast has been united, there probably will be more focus on slowing things down a bit and letting the stories play out more naturally.
But aside from some cuts to the original, and the occasional costume and setting design that doesn’t quite work, overall this series succeeds in what it aimed to do; bring Oda’s vision to life in live action and offer an access point to those who have never heard of, or been willing to try to explore this world before. It would be easy to nitpick every little detail and how things don’t always perfectly alight to the source, but considering that Oda himself oversaw so much of this production I am confident putting my trust in the direction he is taking us in.
And that’s why I feel One Piece succeeds as much as it does. Like I said, I asked my wife to watch this with me, and she knows next to nothing about One Piece. After each episode was over she had a million questions and wanted to know how everything was connected. Eight episodes is much easier to digest that 1050+, and the show is done well enough that I could easily see people start to make the jump from the live action to the original anime (it helps that both are on Netflix.)
If you’re still reading this, I thank you. It was a labour of love.
The One Piece live action isn’t perfect, and definitely has some flaws, but for a live action adaption, for an entry way into one of the most expansive and popular modern mythologies in the world, well, it’s just about as perfect as we could have hoped!
Alright folks, that’s it for me this week. Next week I’ll be back on the indie train. Thank you for allowing me a chance to share one of my passions with you. Until next time, Stay Safe.