Netflix’s long-awaited live-action adaptation of the iconic manga is a delight for fans but likely confusing to newbies.
PLOT: Based on Japan’s highest-selling manga series in history by Eiichiro Oda, One Piece is a legendary high-seas adventure unlike any other. Monkey D. Luffy is a young adventurer who has longed for a life of freedom since he can remember. Luffy sets off from his small village on a perilous journey to find the legendary fabled treasure, ONE PIECE, to become King of the Pirates! But in order to find the ultimate prize, Luffy will need to assemble the crew he’s always wanted before finding a ship to sail, searching every inch of the vast blue seas, outpacing the Marines, and outwitting dangerous rivals at every turn.
REVIEW: Anime and manga adaptations come in two flavors: crap and cool. With the successful live-action takes on classic Japanese comics totaling a paltry number, fans are obviously hesitant when a new production is announced. For every Speed Racer, there is a Ghost in the Shell. For every Alita: Battle Angel, there is a Dragonball: Evolution. Even Netflix’s own Cowboy Bebop divided fans and critics alike. The problem tends to be when fans want a faithful translation of the source material rather than a creative interpretation. Luckily, One Piece fans will be very happy to find the live-action take on the long-running series to be a pitch-perfect take on the tale of Monkey D. Luffy and his pirate compatriots. The issue may be that anyone else will be confused by this genre-defying tale’s broad tone, style, and logic, an epic adventure that may just be too immature for adults and too grown-up for kids.
Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece has been a mainstay of manga bestsellers for over twenty years with over a hundred volumes. The core tale remains intact in Netflix’s adaptation, which centers on Monkey D. Luffy (Inaki Godoy), a young man who yearns to be King of the Pirates. In Luffy’s world, which a single global government runs, the world’s geography is primarily seafaring in nature. The oceans are policed by military police called Marines, led by Vice Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan). When Garp executes the notorious Pirate King known as Gold Roger, the world becomes obsessed with finding his lost treasure, known as the One Piece, which would grant whoever finds it the crown over all pirates. Luffy, who also has rubber stretching abilities thanks to consuming a Devil Fruit, is on a quest to assemble a crew and find a map to the Grand Line, where the treasure is said to be located. It is a lot to take in for a layperson, but anime fans will likely be all in for this off-the-wall plot.
One Piece opens with a mood-setting voice-over from the legendary Ian McShane, setting the tone for the story. Over the eight-episode first season, all of which were made available for this review, Luffy meets and joins forces with a motley crew of friends. Each character has a childhood backstory to set up their unique motivation in the series. At the outset, Luffy meets up with Nami (Emily Rudd), a thief and mapmaker, Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), who is a master swordsman and pirate hunter, and cabin boy turned marine Koby (Morgan Davies). The first episode sets the series’ style with a light-hearted tone that tries to make the deadly action feel rip-roaring and not dark and dreary. In fact, most of One Piece seems to gloss over the mild profanity (a few f-bombs peppered amongst mostly PG-13 language) and the casual nudity. In the first episode alone, there are some asses on display, something not uncommon in the manga or anime. At first, you may think the series is designed for kids, but then people get bisected and decapitated with CGI blood spouting across the screen.
Serving as an introduction to the sprawling mythology of the source material, One Piece manages to deliver a self-contained narrative over the first eight episodes that have a solid arc and introduces many familiar faces from the books and anime, including villains like Alvida (Ilia Isorelys Paulino), Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward), Axe-Hand Morgan (Langley Kirkwood), and primary antagonist Arlong (Mckinley Belcher III), a Fishman who has a connection to Nami. The accuracy with which the characters look like their illustrated versions is impressive despite the colorblind casting that turns this series into a global production. Many anime adaptations suffer from cries of whitewashing, but One Piece may be the most accurate adaptation of any anime to date. Even Helmeppo has his bizarre bob haircut that graced the pages of the books. This is both a blessing and a curse for the series. Sometimes, the tone and line delivery feel straight out of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Some action scenes are repetitively choreographed sequences of faceless thugs being run through with swords on a set that looks like a stage production at an amusement park.
Adapted by showrunner Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files) and Matt Owens, One Piece benefits mostly from the quintet of main actors in the cast. Inaki Godoy is perfectly cast as the stretchy ringleader Luffy, and his cock-eyed optimism and positivity are infectious. Emily Rudd (Mare of Easttown) never plays Nami as a damsel and holds her own. Mackenyu, the son of legend Sonny Chiba, showed promise in Knights of the Zodiac but exudes a lot of charisma here as Zoro. Also in the main squad are Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp and Taz Skylar as Sanji. Both chew the scenery and add a mix of action and humor to the proceedings. Everyone in the cast seemed to be having a lot of fun, making the job for directors Marc Jobst, Emma Sullivan, Tim Southam, and Josef Wladyka much easier. The ultimate problem is that One Piece feels every bit like a small-scale adaptation. Most of the action occurs on artificial sets and looks less than epic. When the budget affords bigger effects, things look great, but the novelty of this world begins to wear as the action repeats itself over the season. Nonetheless, the effort will pay off with fans as this looks like an anime come to life.
As an anime adaptation, One Piece is clearly the most accurate translation of a manga from page to animation to live-action outside Japan. Fans of the franchise will find nothing but positives in this series. There are slight changes in plot elements and reveals compared to the anime, but they are all done well and never go against the original narrative. That also means there won’t be many surprises for those who have read or watched One Piece‘s prior incarnations. As fan service, this series is a blast and will surely go down as the benchmark for anime adaptations from this point forward. For the casual viewer who knows nothing about One Piece, this will be a weird story that takes multiple episodes to get into. The child-like performances will challenge them and make them wonder why things are violent and hypersexualized. Still, if you can suspend your judgment and give this series a chance, you may have some fun. It is far from a masterpiece, but much is here to latch onto. If you want a fun swashbuckler to while away your Labor Day weekend, you could do a lot worse than One Piece.
One Piece is now streaming on Netflix.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/one-piece-tv-review/