“One Piece” live action finds unexpected success

Image courtesy of 23 Joyboy via Wikimedia Commons.

Anime is the latest phenomenon parading the U.S. media market, with “One Piece” being the quintessential watch. With over 500 million manga copies sold, and over 1,000 television episodes premiered since 1999, it is considered one of the longest-running anime series of all time. The story boasts a young explorer, Monkey D. Luffy, in search of the ultimate treasure, The One Piece, to become the King of the Pirates. He has won over the hearts of many watchers with an unwaveringly optimistic attitude, roguish charm and innate care for his crew. Recently, the show has been readapted into a live-action series, sparking controversy. Many fans feared the worst, especially given Netflix’s notorious past failures with live-action anime adaptations, like “Death Note” and “Cowboy Bebop.” 

“One Piece,” released on Aug. 31, may just be the exception. The eight episode adaptation is written and produced by Matt Owens and Steven Maeda, referred to as “super-fans” by the author and illustrator of the original manga, Eiichiro Oda. Luckily for “One Piece” purists, a New York Times interview with Oda revealed that Netflix had agreed not to release the program until Oda himself declared it satisfactory; in his own words, he “act[ed] as a guard dog to ensure the material was being adapted in the correct way.”

In the past, Netflix has produced half-baked bootleg carbon copies of the manga characters, as seen in the scathing reviews of “Cowboy Bebop.” This is an understandable critique, as the unlimited range of artistic expression available in mediums like manga and anime are not accessible to human acting. Instead, actors’ attempts of a manga character’s quirky reactions or catchphrases comes off as ingenuine at best, and cringeworthy at worst. “One Piece,” for instance, famously displays hyperbolic reaction shots like a character unhinging their jaw completely to display pure shock. As brilliantly put by Charles Pulliam-Moore of The Verge, the difficulty lies in “figuring out how to make the…world feel both ‘grounded’ enough for flesh and blood actors…, and true enough to the bizarre whimsy of the books.” 

Thankfully, Netflix nails it on a few different fronts. First, the casting of the protagonist is on point. In the highest praise, Oda claims Iñaki Godoy to be “just like the [Luffy] I drew.” Oda was able to shift gears from “how the manga Luffy would act.” Instead, he “[gave] notes on how the live-action Luffy should act,” creating an air of authenticity not previously seen in other adaptations. Rather than an identical emulation of the characters, “One Piece” strives toward an embodiment of their spirits and values.

Second, while providing a humanistic twist on the anime characters’ portrayals, the designers  stayed true blue to the props. According to Production Designer Richard Bridgland, visual effects were only used to “extend the world beyond the sets,” but overall, the filmmaking was “pretty old-school.” To pull this off, Netflix built incredibly detail-oriented sets, like Baratie—a fish-shaped boat doubling as a restaurant in the middle of the ocean—enrapturing watchers within Luffy’s world. They also brought to life the Going Merry, Luffy’s crew’s original ship, and Alvida’s Miss Love Duck Ship. Given that, in 2021, the Going Merry Ship ranked 32 out of 100 as a top character of the series, it is clear the pertinence of the sets to the success of the show. Owens and Maeda recognized this and set an insurmountably high production budget rumored at $18 million per episode. At these prices, “One Piece” will cost upwards of $144 million in total, which is roughly $40 million more than the money spent on the entire 20+ seasons of the anime. 

Despite the general excitement over the show’s release, criticism is not few and far between. Many have deemed the show “bland and generic.” Others were frustrated by the expedited plot line. New York Times writer Mike Hale critiqued “the thinness of the characterization;” it functions in a 20-minute anime episode, yet becomes much harder to ignore in hour-long, live-action episodes. 

It is a difficult task to take a show with a cult following and revise it in a way that comes off as neither unoriginal nor inaccurate to the fanbase. While the show is far from perfect, it is an exciting feat with a 95 percent audience score and 82 percent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. With all the show’s hype, Season two is already being discussed (although delays are likely imminent given the dual strike from The Writers Guild of America and The Screen Actors Guild of America). In this sense, the newest “One Piece” has opened the door of possibilities to a new genre: live-action anime, where the flesh and blood actors may add an unexpected layer of depth that an anime or manga can’t capture. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Miscellany News reserves the right to publish or not publish any comment submitted for approval on our website. Factors that could cause a comment to be rejected include, but are not limited to, personal attacks, inappropriate language, statements or points unrelated to the article, and unfounded or baseless claims. Additionally, The Misc reserves the right to reject any comment that exceeds 250 words in length. There is no guarantee that a comment will be published, and one week after the article’s release, it is less likely that your comment will be accepted. Any questions or concerns regarding our comments section can be directed to Misc@vassar.edu.