‘One Piece’ series review: Smooth sailing live-action adaptation retains the charm of Straw Hat Pirates

Taz Skylar as Sanji, Mackenyu Arata as Roronoa Zoro, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Emily Rudd as Nami, Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp in ‘One Piece’

Taz Skylar as Sanji, Mackenyu Arata as Roronoa Zoro, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Emily Rudd as Nami, Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp in ‘One Piece’
| Photo Credit: Netflix

Netflix has entered the ‘world of pirates’, and in adapting the mammoth cultural milestone that is ‘One Piece’, it has undertaken the storytelling equivalent of one of the perilous quests that the Straw Hat Pirates have mastered by now. Fortunately, by raiding the goldmine of available manga and anime material, and learning from the mistakes of previously failed anime adaptations (Cowboy Bebop), Netflix finds treasure in the eight-episode live adaptation — One Piece. While diving headfirst into key moments that will reel in loyalists, the writers eventually thread together material from the 1000+ episode anime series to form their unique but familiar storyline.

When Gold Roger, King of the Pirates, reveals in his last words that he has hidden his treasure, ‘One Piece’, he sets off a passionate chase among the surviving pirates to the Grand Line. Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), in his signature straw hat and an ever-present wide grin, believes that he will be the one to find it and take over Gold Roger’s title. For the uninitiated, Luffy’s journey is far from the classic pirate tales. Creator of ‘One Piece’, Eiichiro Oda, has infused this coming-of-age multi-media series with a fever dream of creatures and scenarios. Colossal sea beasts are regular thoroughfare in this universe that is teeming with mid-ocean restaurants run by one-legged former pirates and frequented by fish-men.

The manga followed by the anime has given ample life to this lore. Each iteration is more cohesive, building better foundations than the previous one, and so one has to question the need for Netflix to not only do a live-action version but also to do it in a language different from the original.

One Piece (English)

Developers: Matt Owens, Steven Maeda

Cast: Iñaki Godoy, Emily Rudd, Mackenyu, Jacob Romero Gibson, Taz Skylar, Vincent Regan, Jeff Ward, Morgan Davies, and others

Episodes: 8

Runtime: 50 minutes – 1 hour

Storyline: The live-action adaptation of the popular anime series explores the early days of Straw Hat Pirates, as Luffy gathers together his crew to set sail to Grand Line and find the prized One Piece treasure

Through impressive CGI and enough wide shots of the ocean, we are heralded into this version of Luffy, who jumps around from his dingy boat to bigger ships, angering pirates and the militaristic Marines alike. Compressing multiple anime episodes into a single one, One Piece moves fast but smoothly, quickly equipping Luffy with his crewmates — three-sword wielding pirate hunter, Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu); expert thief and navigator, Nami (Emily Rudd); a timid yet loyal marksman, Usopp (Jacob Romero Gibson), and a chef adept at martial arts, Sanji (Taz Skylar). Joining Luffy’s crew for their personal goals, the group quickly gets behind Luffy’s unique captainship marked by his insistence that he is a different kind of pirate.

Godoy adds his own touches but retains the core of Luffy’s infectious energy and belief in self, which have sustained ‘One Piece’ in all its versions. Luffy’s constant conclusion to simply face what’s in front of you has also served the creators of this live-action adaptation. As an anime, one that is still ongoing, ‘One Piece’ has achieved a status beyond being a good adventure story. In 20-minute long episodes, the show only provided snapshots at a time of a larger tale, thereby doubling up as a glee-ridden comfort watch. In contrast, each of the Netflix episodes extends to a little less than an hour. But in a surprise move, the writers have been able to retain the fable quality that made ‘One Piece’ popular.

While much of the anime’s creative elasticity must be sacrificed at the alter of live-action, One Piece replicates the manga’s and the anime’s ability to surrender to its oddities. This is its trump card that smooths over the occasional expository dialogues, rushed character developments, and a heavy reliance on flashbacks. The show embraces in flesh big and small unexplainable aspects, be that Luffy’s ability to stretch himself like rubber after consuming “Devil Fruit”, or the fact that snails are the popular method of communication while at sea. As Zoro says in an episode, “He [Luffy] believes in himself, it rubs off”. The show, similarly, is carried on the back of surrendering to the imaginations of Eiichiro Oda and keeping to that very specific spirit of adventure.

Netflix’s adaptation is not a perfect show, but it is as perfect an ode as we can get without it being a complete imitation. For those who find the large body of existing manga and anime episodes a daunting task, the live-action is a good enough introduction, albeit it does miss an implied whimsicality. To fit in multiple arcs, and establish fully-fleshed-out characters in eight episodes, the show often switches tones, highlighting sinister realities that lie beneath the surface of this motley crew. With narrative arcs interwoven so intricately, it creates a tonal whiplash that the show sometimes struggles to handle. However, these burdens are not so heavy as to sink the rich performances of the ensemble cast.

Netflix’s One Piece, extracting the best there is from each adaptation, creates a show that sinks its teeth deeper into the mystery and thrills it has to offer while balancing a gleeful silliness.

One Piece is available for streaming on Netflix

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