One of the first things people learn about me when they get to know me is that I’m a big anime fan. Starting with binging Attack on Titan to Demon Slayer to everything in between with my sister through the pandemic, I’ve caught up on plenty of the most popular shows in recent years. Though I’ve already embarked on a 700 episode Naruto journey (making it my favorite anime), before this year, I still hadn’t touched another classic: One Piece.
When the One Piece live-action got announced at Tudum this summer, I, along with plenty of fellow anime fans, was skeptical. After all, there’s a reason these stories are anime; seeing how beautiful the animation can be, and the wacky and dramatic ways battles can go down or emotions can be displayed is something that would be very difficult to pull off with real actors. There’s already a history of attempted anime adaptations to live-action that have been poorly received (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Death Note, to name a few). How was a series with its fair share of anime humor, unique characters, and funky pirate abilities going to work? Even the main character, Luffy, is made out of rubber!
Needless to say, when it was released on Netflix, I didn’t think anything of it for a few days. But then the surprising reviews came in that it was actually good. Flash forward to the end of the week and I was curled into a blanket burrito on the couch, endeared to the point of tears by this band of Straw Hat Pirates and mourning that there were only eight episodes.
So what did this show get right where so many others failed?
For me, it was the undeniable love and appreciation that the cast and crew had for the original work — and not just the anime, but the manga it was inspired by too. The actor for Luffy was praised by the manga writer, who went so far as to say “You’re just like the character I draw in the manga… I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role”. Actors for the rest of Luffy’s crew were equally passionate; Emily Rudd who plays Nami is a major anime fan beyond just One Piece, and Mackenyu who plays Zoro is also well-read on the manga beyond just what’s shown in Season 1.
Beyond the actors, the manga writer, Oda, and the crew came together to create a labor of love for the show. The actors did their own stunts and extensive training, making the unique fighting styles of the manga characters come through as much as possible, from Zoro’s three swords to Sanji’s exclusively kicking method of fighting. The sets were all entirely built and detailed exactly like the manga, from ships unique to each pirate captain to iconic manga sets like Buggy’s Circus, Arlong Park, and the Baratie restaurant.
But what really came through for me was how much it did feel like an anime story, keeping the spirit of it, unlike other adaptations that came before it. It introduced anime-style logic for power origins, emotional outbursts identical to the anime counterparts, and even unique touches that added to the material, like the iconic wanted posters appearing in front of each pirate as a fourth wall break. The most beloved scenes were done almost side-by-side equivalent to the anime, keeping a theme that I think is so important for adaptations: honor each medium, make only necessary changes or improvements, and keep what works!
Even if you’re not familiar with One Piece or anime in general, I think this live-action would be a fantastic place to start as a happy medium between anime-style storytelling and actor dramas that you may be more used to. With only 8 episodes and confirmation that season 2 is already on the way, there’s nothing to stop you from joining the adventure of the Straw Hat Pirates on their way to the next stop: the Grand Line!