Calling all Grand Line Pirateers!
This article is a web original.
Chloe Holm (Tokyo)
Be Warned: Spoilers lie ahead!
The One Piece live action on Netflix made quite the end of summer splash, with viewership ratings in the millions during its first week alone, seeing a legendary take over of the top streaming charts by the notorious all-star pirate crew! The adaptation, covering roughly 45 episodes of the beloved Japanese manga and anime series, consists of eight episodes and has already been renewed for a second season. It covers seven smaller arcs of the series, interweaving backstories and pirate showdowns with ease. Fans who follow the over 1,000 episode-long (and counting!) series may notice some differences between the live action and source material, but will hopefully also appreciate Netflix’s attempt at gaining more mainstream followers of the anime while still staying true to the source material.
The live action story jumps right into Monkey D. Luffy’s grand adventure, his dream of becoming King of the Pirates, and his initial run-ins with pirate captains and marines alike. From there we follow his quest to curate the best pirate crew for his self-proclaimed Straw Hat Pirates and find their way to the One Piece, the legendary pirate treasure of the Grand Line!
Among the household names of the anime, we have all the main crewmates returning for the live action: Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Sanji, Usopp, and so many more! Some fans might be disappointed to see their favorite supporting character cut from the cast (including the fan favorite hypnotic Black Cat pirate Jango) but most will probably be happy to see their favorite Straw Hat come to life in this massive budget adaptation!
How did the One Piece Live Action do at the box office?
After multiple box office and streaming flops of past live action anime adaptations (Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop) it seems the curse has finally been broken. With over 140 million views within its first four days of debut, the staying power of Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates seems just as strong as the ever enduring anime. With a budget of $18 million per episode (that’s more than Game of Thrones!), it’s no wonder the effects look stunning in the pirate-scape. The success could be attributed to Netflix’s care with handling this project: a niche audience and international fanbase that has loved the characters spanning generations, the respect, admiration and love for the original is so clearly reflected by the casting choices and budget. It’s a joy to see a positive handling of anime media that has, historically, been poorly managed and adapted for unsatisfied viewers. The positive responses from audiences and critics might just be enough for Netflix to consider other live action renditions, that is as long as the casting and effects are just as well done.
Who is the live action intended for?
Everyone! Just as the original anime is one of the most popular and well-adored series in history, having garnered viewership for over two decades, the live action is perfect for viewers old and new. With a quick introduction to the world of fantastical pirates, the story jumps right into Luffy’s adventure and leaves no room for meandering. With loveable characters and a golden-hearted story, the show is perfect for families and anyone with a dream!
What are the biggest differences between the live action and anime?
Major plot points discussed: proceed with caution!
The most notable difference is the presence of the marines and Koby in the live action. An anxious, bumbling character in the original anime, Koby is given a much larger role to play in the live action, with his own personal journey to becoming a marine serving as a soft transition between arcs. He’s given much more breadth and becomes an essential character from the first episode on, not to mention Morgan Davies’ outstanding depiction of Koby: anxious but not overly whiny and hysterical, as the character had a tendency to be in the original series. The live action also introduces hard-headed naval leader Vice Admiral Garp much earlier than the source material, and Koby and Garp’s interactions were all written as original content for Netflix. Reminiscent of the Arya-Tywin dynamic in Game of Thrones, these scenes between Garp and Koby surprisingly help to break up the larger arcs and make 45 episodes feel like the appropriate eight.
Another major difference fans might notice is the condescension of arcs in the live action. The longest a story thread will run is over the course of two episodes. Netflix clearly chose quality over quantity for the series, eliminating most of the Black Cat Pirates from Usopp’s Syrup Village, as well as changing Sanji’s relationship with Pirate Jeff (which also differs from the manga version!) The storylines are a bit tighter, a bit more focused in one place, which overall make the episodes feel tight, sharp, and fast-paced. Die-hard fans may miss some of the side characters, but anyone fresh to the series won’t be missing anything.
Why does it work?
The live action works much in the same way the original has charmed audiences worldwide for so long: found family and a heart of gold. Right from the start, the show knows how to take itself lightly. The care the actors show towards the original source is so apparent with their performances, with a few personal standouts being Jeff Ward as the chaotic menace Buggy the Clown Pirate, Emily Rudd as the snarky but loveable Nami, and Inaki Godoy as Luffy, who exudes Luffy’s undying positivity even in off-screen interviews.
Not only is the main cast fantastic at portraying the chaotic swashbuckling crew, but the supporting actors also feel as though they were pulled straight from the manga’s pages, with Mihawk and Shank’s dynamic portrayed exquisitely by Steven Ward and Peter Gadiot. Eiichiro Oda’s direct involvement with the casting and script definitely has a noticeable impact on the characters and actors themselves, with each portraying, and even enhancing, the characters in many ways a live action series usually falls short.
Should you watch the live action?
Yes! Regardless if you are a fan of the original or are completely new to the ever expanding world of pirate captains, there’s something for everyone.
The pirate villains are campy but tasteful, the CGI glossy but still holding depth, and the jokes hit just as they did in the source material, with the help of a perfect cast’s chemistry and comedic delivery.
Exciting, endearing, and eclectic, the One Piece live action recaptures the magic of the original while still making significant changes and bringing a freshness to returning and new audiences alike, condensing beloved anime characters into more manageable pieces for mainstream audiences.
Tokyoite One Piece tip: there’s a permanent One Piece Luffy installation in the Magnet department store in Shibuya where you can get a photo adorning Luffy’s iconic straw hat!
Chloe Holm is an Ehime JET alumni from Ohio who is now working as a professor in Tokyo. She loves keeping up with the latest movies, shows, and pop culture trends in Tokyo and abroad. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s always on the hunt for a new book and to find the best coffee in the city.