No one was excited for the “One Piece” live-action adaptation.
When Netflix announced they were adapting the famous anime “One Piece” in July of 2017, the internet shared a collective groan. The memory of the horrible live-action “Death Note” was fresh, and in the distant future, Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” would reinforce the hatred for anime adaptations. Similar to the show’s rebellious nature, however, this live-action adaptation goes against the grain.
Showrunners Matt Ownes and Steven Maeda had a Herculean trial on their hands. They had the task to adapt a wacky anime that has over 1100 episodes out and is ongoing. They made the smart decision to cover the first 61 episodes and focus on the main story beats.
The pacing is the adaptation’s greatest strength. It uses its runtime very effectively by never spending too much time in one area, and prioritizing character development over everything else. Whenever a scene would go on for too long, it would quickly change to a new scene where something zany would happen.
The cast shines with actors who are so charismatic that they feel as charming as their animated counterparts. Iñaki Godoy was incredible as Monkey D. Luffy, so optimistic that it was genuinely inspiring. The endlessly entertaining characters of Nami, played by Emily Rudd; Usopp, played byJacob Romero Gibson; and Sanji, played by Taz Skylar, play off of Iñaki and each other so well. The only actor and character who felt lacking was Mackenyu, as Roronoa Zoro, who felt wooden, with an underdeveloped shift in motivations later on.
No hero would be anything without a good villain, though, and the show sores with a good villain gallery. The clown pirate, Buggy, played by Jeff Ward, was a highlight for being hilariously crass and rude. The intimidating fish pirate, Arlong, played by McKinley Belcher III, elevates the climax by making him so evil that the audience wants to see him defeated, but also so powerful that they question how our heroes could do it.
The set design in the live action “One Piece” was marvelous. The filmmakers mixed real sets and CGI backgrounds so effectively, it was not clear what was real or not. This extends to other visual effects for action and makeup, which were sparse but effective.
The cinematography, on the other hand, was hit or miss. The over-reliance on handheld camera shots lent a memorable identity to the series but sometimes made it feel cheap. Some shots were so close to the character’s face that it seemed as if their breath showed up on screen. It’s clear that the filmmakers put a lot of thought into their shots all the same. Every action scene balanced stupid-fun choreography with reserved cinematography.
The fights in the “One Piece” anime are famous for being ridiculous and outlandish, and the adaptation was loyal to its roots in this way. The adaptation stands out from the usual live-action series by giving its characters wildly fanciful abilities, with little regard for physics or human limits. It allows the audience’s imagination to go wild.
While the action stylishly shows off, many audience members may feel put off by how unrealistic it looks. Fights will often seem like they are too staged. Characters will punch an enemy so hard that they fly through a wall, but not enough to leave a bruise.
The live action “One Piece” is interesting to talk about because it was so memorable. It stands out from other live-action shows by being proud of its anime roots. The sets are unbelievably colorful, the costumes are ridiculous and a character fights with a sword in his mouth.
This season demonstrates that it has the makings of a good series — but not a great one, at least not yet. In some way, it feels like the show’s characters. They’re flawed, don’t always make sense, and can sometimes jump the shark — literally, in this case — but they’re still lovable and want to do something good. This is why Netflix’s “One Piece” is a show viewers should keep an eye on.
Quay Skankey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @SkankeyQuay, or on Instagram @quay_skankey