Monday, September 18, 2023

Review: One Piece (Live Action TV Show)

Currently, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, aka the various Hollywood studios. This show, and as well all of your favorite shows and films, would not exist without the hard work of both writers and actors, the vast majority of whom are not millionaires but rather working professionals.  If you are inclined, you can help support these professionals in this trying time by checking out the Entertainment Community Fund.

Fuck the fat cats.

Live action anime adaptations have a pretty bad reputation, particularly when being adapted by Hollywood. Every once in a while, you’ll get Alita: Battle Angel, a flawed but ultimately fine attempt to adapt the source material. But for every one Alita there’s three absolutely terrible films or TV shows. From the shitshow that was Dragon Ball Evolution to the baffling decision to have Scarlett Johansson explicitly play a Japanese woman trapped in a white woman’s robot body in Ghost in the Shell (despite it being completely superfluous and very easy to just make the character not-Asian, I mean seriously, what the hell) the fact is that Hollywood has had far more misses than hits when trying to bring anime/manga to the live action realm.

It's not hard to see why it’s a difficult assignment. It is taking content 1) from one medium and making it work in a different one, 2) trying to pitch it to Americans when the original was aimed for a Japanese audience, and 3) trying to  squeeze the correct amount of content into whatever limitations the new medium has. Trying to fit tens of manga chapters into one film is hard enough, especially when you have try trick Joe Schmo America into ponying up 14 bucks to watch it. Netflix, the streaming giant who always seems to be one strong breeze away from falling over in a pile up of massive debt and investor tears, has made several attempts to buck the trend and so far they have not been received that warmly. The most recent attempt, a live action TV adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, ended up being very divisive among fans (as in, some fans thought it was fine but not at all Cowboy Bebop and other fans thought it was an abomination against God).

So when Netflix announce they were creating a live action TV adaptation of massively popular (but interestingly not particularly popular in the United States) manga and anime One Piece, there was a lot of skepticism. That manga creator Eiichiro Oda supposedly had some involvement didn’t really make it easier to swallow. From my perspective, it was tough because on the one hand I LOVE the One Piece comic and have been collecting it since 2003 (even though I’m embarrassed to admit I only own 61 volumes out of the, as of this writing, currently available 106 volumes). On the other hand, I actually don’t like the anime, ever since I saw it shortly after reading the first volume and deicide it was unable to capture the best qualities that made the comic so good. So if I’m too much of a snob for the high successful One Piece anime how the hell can I get into Netflix Presents One Piece, especially after the disappointment of Netflix Presents Cowboy Bebop?

I meant to review this when it came out
Short Version: Just go watch the anime instead

Full review after the jump.

Do they have the budget for a reindeer boy or living skeleton?

Right off the bat you can tell that the creators of the show painstakingly tried to recreate as much of the aesthetic of the manga as possible. Whole costumes, even ridiculous ones, are lifted straight from the books. The result was a brightly colored, sometimes bonkers looking pirate themed world. Because of this, One Piece looks wholly unique amongst its genre, to its benefit. It was not that many years ago where it felt like there were pirate TV shows everywhere (the result of the successful Pirates of the Caribbean film series) and the fact that this show stands out is a great thing.

Similarly, the story feels very true to the comic. Liberties are taken, and I’ll get into that shortly, but generally they keep things pretty close to source material and most of the changes are understandable. In truth, this feels like the closest a live action TV budget adaptation could get to looking and feeling like One Piece.

I'm just happy they didn't chicken out and call him "Zolo"

The casting was, to my shock, extremely on point as the five main characters and the supporting characters are filled with top notch choices who really pop as the characters. Obviously, everyone has been praising IƱaki Godoy as being perfect as Luffy, and while I don’t think anyone is capable of doing justice to the character outside of the page I do agree that he does something special (even my non-anime fan wife who knew nothing about One Piece beforehand loved him). I do want to give special mention to Mackenyu as I felt that he managed to make Zoro work in a way he shouldn’t by making his corny, edgelord dialogue somehow sound cool, badass, and perfect. Also I had the feeling I wouldn’t like Taz Skylar as Sanji but I had to eat my words as he does an amazing job playing the on surface cool and flirty chef who is reality is almost as wacky and childish as Luffy.

Most of the cast is similarly great, with the exception of Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp, and in reality it’s probably not his fault. Of the changes made to the source material, Usopp got done the dirtiest. The show removed all of his best scenes from the comics, robbing him of character development. In the comic, despite being a coward, he put his life on the line for the sake of his village early in he story when he feared real pirates were about to attack. His relationship with his "crew" of younger kids was removed, denying us example so his incredible loyalty, which is a weird choice. They also even changed his opinion of his father being a pirate slightly but noticeably; when he finds out Luffy grew up around the dad he never knew he became clearly agitated. In the comic in that same scene Usopp was thrilled to hear that his father had bene doing well and it was a bonding moment between the two teens. I’m harping on this a lot because Usopp is one of my favorite characters in the crew but he is easily the least interesting character of the main cast and it sucks. 


Most of the other changes felt understandable but there were a few little things that seemed to be altered for no good reason. Nami’s relationship with her village and her sister is drastically changed as the TV shows altered what they knew and didn’t know about her plan, and it makes everything feels weirdly different, and a little less touching. The show GREATLY downplays the extent of Captain Morgan’s corruption as instead of a megalomaniac who kills subordinates for nothing, he seems more like just an asshole here, which is strange. However, there were plenty of unnecessary changes that I think were for the best. Introducing Garp much earlier and having him play a major role was a good decision for added tension. Making Arlong a looming threat prior to his original introduction was a good choice. Not including Don Krieg, the least interesting  enemy in the Eats Blue, and still keeping of all Sanji’s important bits was an amazing decision. F**k Don Krieg.

Most other changes were likely made by necessity or restrictions, so I can forgive those. How much you will be able to is a personal choice.

The biggest issue I had with the show was actually how much darker it was than the original comic. The original manga written primarily for an audience of young kids, and while what that means in Japan is different than in the west and therefore the comic is more brutal than an equivalent comic for that age group here, it still wasn’t the corpse covered, F-bomb dropping affair this show was. It just feels off, like someone is trying to make a “cooler, edgier” version of story for a more mature audience, but ultimately the times it does that is when it feels the least like One Piece. For example, it takes almost six hundred chapters of the comic before someone for sure is killed on page. In the show, Zoro slices a dude in half in his first scene. It’s weird, and I don’t think I like it.

I wouldn't count on it makin git past Season 3
It's still Netflix, after all...
Despite those setbacks, this is probably my favorite adaptation of a manga/anime that Hollywood has ever made, and it feels like something of a miracle. Despite the changes, this feels like One Piece and the characters feel like the Straw Hat Pirates, rather than an American writer trying to improve on the world and characters in the guise of making it palatable for American audiences. For my money it does everything the live action Cowboy Bebop was supposed to do without shitting the bed in the process. I’m eager to see more (provided studios are paying writers and actors what they deserve, of course) but I will admit that I’m a little concerned about how the show will portray the rest of the crew who are...let’s just say, not very friendly to a TV budget.

I give Netflix’s One Piece 4 out of 5 Adorable Panda.


-As faithful an anime/manga live action adaptation as we’re likely to get

-An amazing cast that do well by their iconic characters

-A vibrant, unique, and colorful world


-At times it feels too dark and edgy for One Piece.

-Some changes feel unnecessary

- #JusticeForUsopp

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