By Juliette Valdez
Since 1999, the “One Piece” anime has been winning the hearts of fans worldwide with its perfect balance of light-hearted absurdity, controversial topics, lovable characters and an adventurous plotline. Finally, in August 2023 a live-action version was released on Netflix. With only eight episodes and an unfamiliar cast, many of you may be wondering is it really worth watching?
Starring Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro, Emily Rudd as Nami, Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp and Taz Skylar as Sanji, the live-action attracted immediate attention. Despite these adaptations having a bad rap, high expectations were raised because the original creator of One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, picked the cast himself. In addition, Marc Jobst, director of hits like “The Witcher” and “Daredevil,” was also at the head of the operation.
Fans of “One Piece” will recognize the first season as the plotline of the “East Blue Saga,” which is a narrative spread across 95 chapters of the manga and 44 episodes of the anime. While it seems daunting to experience so much content in only eight, one-hour episodes, the quickened pace was refreshing in contrast to the anime where five minutes could span several episodes. The series cut out a lot of unnecessary fillers and reconstructed the narrative to flow smoothly between arcs.
“One Piece” is also known for its goofy character designs and many were worried that it would be too unrealistic or cringy. On the contrary, the portrayal of the live-action characters managed to create a satisfying balance between realistic and their goofy charms. Black Leg Sanji and villain Buggy the Clown were impressive examples of this. Sanji, played by Taz Skylar, who is known to be a charming yet perverted young chef, retained his princely personality without the overdramatics and comedic nosebleeds. As for Buggy, played by Jeff Ward, who is a clown-themed pirate known for his role as a comedic foil, maintained his humor in unfortunate situations, but became a more intimidating character with less cringy theatrics.
In fact, all of the live- action actors on the Strawhat crew were incredible representations of the anime characters. The beauty of an adaptation is that they don’t have to be exactly the same in the retelling. Creative liberty was taken in their characters, and it was definitely for the better.
Rudd captured Nami’s initial hatred of piracy and cold-hearted exterior before she joined the crew and opened up. Gibson embodied Usopp's cowardly bravery as he tends to avoid dangerous situations, but he always comes through when it counts. They were very true to their characters. On the other hand, while Mackenyu portrayed Zoro’s loyalty and strength, his demeanor was much more serious than the East Blue Saga in the animated version. And Godoy embodied Luffy's heart and childish innocence. However, as he was commonly known for seeking adventure and making friends, the live action depicted him as someone trying to build a better image for pirates. He claims many times throughout the series that he is a “good pirate,” although manga and anime Luffy couldn't care less about being seen as good as long as he has his friends and an unlimited meat supply. I think that this change in mindset only adds to his childish charms and naïvety that many have come to love.
It was also remarkable to see the special effects used in the series. Luffy’s Gum Gum devil fruit power, which allows his body to stretch like rubber, and Buggy’s Chop Chop power, which allows his body parts to detach and reattach without consequence, were employed wonderfully with the advanced capabilities of modern technology. The sea beast in Luffy’s backstory is not a real creature, yet you could almost imagine it is by the immense amount of detail placed in the CGI creation. In addition, Along, a shark man played by McKinley Belcher III, and his other fishmen companions truly embody the realistic versions of their animated counterparts.
Overall, the series was brilliantly done from the casting of the characters to the CGI to the ability to condense so much content into a freely flowing story. Fans of the “One Piece” manga and anime, as well as those new to the franchise, should definitely get the chance to experience this incredible adaptation.