‘One Piece’ Live-Action Fixes One of the Anime’s Biggest Problems
One Piece re-starts the search for the legendary treasure. And it may just be the best live-action anime adaptation in recent memory.
I love One Piece. A little more than two years ago I was firmly in the “that looks fun, but there are too many dang episodes” camp but was convinced to give the Straw Hat Pirates a shot and was quickly turned. Now I’m completely caught up on the 1,000+ episodes, have been eyeing the expensive Big Mom figure at the store near me, and genuinely would have a hard time picking a single favorite character.
It’s one of the biggest animes in the world for a reason. So when the live-action Netflix adaptation was announced I was somewhere between dubious and cautiously optimistic. It’s here now, and after a huge opening weekend, One Piece is beating some of the most popular shows on Netflix for views. But how does it hold up? Will it bring in new fans? And is it worth old fans’ time?
It’s no secret that one of the biggest issues with One Piece is its length. It mostly avoids filler episodes, but this is because in many cases a single chapter of the manga is made into a single episode of anime and this makes for a slower overall story progression. Sometimes this is great and even long arcs fly by.
Sometimes it’s fine. But sometimes, this is slow and boring. Especially in the earlier arcs. It can’t be helped, they’re intro arcs. But there’s a reason people may tell newcomers to the series to skip those episodes in preference of the corresponding manga chapters or movies that condense the same episode blocks down to two hours.
Live-action One Piece doesn’t have this same issue. Like the movies, it takes the same intro arcs and squeezes them down to two-episodes-each. Is anything lost? Honestly, not much. For example, a few characters aren’t in Usopp’s introduction- but not anybody important to the story. And what’s left is a series of adventures that are true to the source material without any of the excess. It’s just the parts we care about.
This show is also incredibly well-cast. In a cast of mostly previously-no-name actors, I was impressed across the board by how well everyone captured their characters. Luffy is delightfully goofy, Nami is believable as harboring a secret and a dark past, and Zoro is just perfect. And Buggy–he’s got a fan following based on the anime, but that has only been exploding with his live-action introduction.
The other major aspect of One Piece that had me nervous going in was the physical aspects, the fight choreography, and the special effects. This universe is full of weirdos with superpowers, and it would have been so easy for Luffy’s gum-gum arms or Buggy’s chop-chop powers to look bad.
Instead, I was impressed by how clean everything was. Were some bits goofy? Sure, but they were supposed to be. And the way that Buggy’s power specifically–which let’s be honest, it was just straight-up body horror–was believable but not terrifying on screen made me really look forward to possibly seeing other powers in the future. I can’t wait to see Robin’s power once day! Or Doflamingo’s! Or really any of them, they get pretty wild.
Even the relatively conventional powers were well executed. In behind-the-scenes snippets online we saw so much of Taz Skylar (Sanji) practicing his kids and cooking skills to make sure that he looked convincing on screen. And Mackenyu (Zoro) comes from a Japanese-action-movie family and has been practicing martial arts since he was a child. The cast worked hard to make sure they could move as much like their characters as possible, and their work was evident on screen.
One Piece is a goofy show. Sure, it has a repeating theme of the government stepping on normal people to retain power, and multiple regimes being toppled, and we see a few brutal deaths throughout the anime. But from episode to episode, there are more laughs than tears.
Translating this goofiness to live-action was a balancing act that this version usually landed on the right side of. Usually.
My biggest issue with live-action One Piece was that at times it felt like prestige TV, and at others, it felt like anime. Quite a few times I found myself saying, “Imagine explaining anything happening on screen right now to somebody who doesn’t watch anime?” Because how could you? If I’m being honest, this was mostly a first-episode issue. After we either got used to how weird the world was or it started to normal out. But it always felt like One Piece had a foot in prestige and a foot in anime without ever really committing to either.
I was looking for things not to like about One Piece. I really was. It’s hard to take a source material that you love and watch a new take on it through entirely optimistic eyes. Especially when most live-action anime adaptations in the past have been underwhelming.
But I thoroughly enjoyed this take on the One Piece universe. The changes made sense and either updated characters (this is the most I’ve ever liked Sanji) or helped propel the plot forward without too many slow-downs. But even with the changes, the spirit of the show, the world, the plot, and the characters were all still entirely intact.
You can tell that Netflix put a lot of work (and money) into this project. And more importantly, you can tell that Eiichiro Oda had a lot of say in everything from the casting to the final cut. This was a show made by people who love One Piece for people who love One Piece.
And I think their efforts resulted in something genuinely and surprisingly enjoyable. I want more of this. I want to see who they cast as Robin and how they handle a live-action Chopper (and eventually Brooke and Jinbei). And I want to see more of these realistic devil fruit powers!
Will this version bring new fans to the anime? It’s hard to say. I would have been inspired to check it out, personally. But will non-anime-watchers? Would my parents? Probably not. But I don’t think that live-action One Piece needs or even wants that. On its own, it is a really solid retelling of the great pirate era. And that’s all it needs to be. I genuinely loved this, I’m probably going to re-watch it before the month ends, and I hope we get more.