If you handed me a list of popular anime ripe for adaptation, One Piece would be at the bottom of the page. It’s not that I do not enjoy One Piece. In fact, it is one of my favourite shounen manga and anime series of all time. My issue with One Piece is that, more than any other franchise, One Piece wholeheartedly embraces its medium, blurring the lines between Eastern and Western cartooning sensibilities in its iconic and beloved art style. Hence, the idea of a live-action adaptation series seemed like a recipe for disaster.
Netflix’s take on the popular series does its best to bring One Piece’s fantastical world of the manga series to life, which miraculously works better than expected. Still, things could be better, with elements of the source material not translating well to the more gritty, stylized look the show wants to portray. One Piece thankfully sticks the landing when it comes to portraying the Straw Hats, which all look the part.
If I had to nitpick the live-action version’s look, I would have preferred if Jacob Romero’s portrayal of Usopp would include his iconic long nose, which was part of his character and referential to the enslaved Greek Aesop, whom Oda most likely drew inspiration from. Even still, Usopp’s lack of a bulbous nose is most likely for the better.
Unfortunately, outside of the Straw Hat Pirates, Netflix’s One Piece suffers from a mixed bag when it comes to its casting the live-action series. Still, given the source material, it is the best anyone could have hoped for when bringing Eiichiro Oda’s world to life. Surprisingly, the CGI in One Piece isn’t as bad as it could have been, and for a streaming series, it far exceeds expectations and does an adequate job of showcasing the often fantastical elements found in the series and manga.
“Netflix’s take on the popular series does its best to bring One Piece’s fantastical world of the manga series to life, which miraculously works better than expected.”
The biggest issue One Piece suffers from is its pacing, which isn’t new to the storied franchise, but for a massive series split into over 100 manga volumes, condensing just the first few volumes is a daunting and nearly impossible task. The first season of the live action One Piece spends most of its total runtime going over the first ten or so volumes of the legendary manga, all condensed down to roughly two volumes per episode, give or take. This approach works, albeit with a lot of abridged content with various scenes completely absent or reinterpreted to fit better the tighter framework of an hour per episode (minus the pilot, which runs a bit longer).
Having the show abridge story arcs is entirely understandable. However, problems arise with how often the show seems to bounce back with different storylines, flashbacks and new scenes made for the show, which makes watching the series feel disjointed at times. Many of the more iconic and pivotal scenes between characters feel rushed or understated, taking away from the strong character arcs the anime and manga series are typically known for.
Some of the more significant changes to the show take the form of new scenes that take the place of established storylines from the manga and anime. For example, during the Syurp Island arc, where the gang meets Usopp, most of the events that unfold are told inside the mansion, during a nightmarish dinner party, in which Koby inexplicably shows up by the end, which makes for some exciting scenes and add a lot more screentime for characters that typically are seen sparingly.
Characters like Nami and Sanji are also introduced at a breakneck pace, which, in the case of Nami, results in her joining Luffy before even freeing Zoro from the Marine base, which isn’t a big deal, but it does equate to the characters often fighting for screentime or having their backstories feel a bit regurgitated due to them being both introduced at the same point in the story, instead of having scenes dedicated to them.
“Iñaki Godoy’s take on Luffy feels well-realized, however, the breakout star for me in One Piece’s first season would have to be Emily Rudd’s take on Nami.”
Iñaki Godoy’s take on Luffy feels well-realized, however, the breakout star for me in One Piece’s first season would have to be Emily Rudd’s take on Nami, who does a standout job in bringing the cat burglar to life, most likely attributed to how grounded her character is compared to the more unhinged antics of the other crewmates. Conversely, I found Usopp (Jacob Romero) to be much less sufferable and actually kind of cool, thanks to his more grounded approach.
With the way things are, Netflix’s take on One Piece can go either way. It is still too early to say, but at the very least, the show does a good enough job of introducing new audiences to Eiichiro Oda’s masterclass manga in a show that seems to genuinely care about its source material and deliver a mostly entertaining pirate adventure that can be binged in a few, short sittings.