Netflix’s One Piece Review – Believe In Wonderland

Wealth, fame, power. In the two and a half decades since Eiichiro Oda first created the legendary manga-turned-anime series One Piece, it has obtained this and everything else the world has to offer. Since 1997, the swashbuckling Shonen Jump serial has maintained an extraordinary level of adoration and popularity, culminating in record-breaking sales and one of the longest-running anime series around. Suffice to say that, much like series’ protagonist Monkey D. Luffy himself, One Piece has built up something of a reputation for itself: a legacy filled with wonder, adventure, exuberance, and just a pinch of notoriety, thanks to its ever-expanding episode count. Now, the Straw Hat Pirates have set course for a new adventure, through tumultuous waters and guided by the whims of streaming service executives; One Piece now has a live-action Netflix series. And, much like the crew’s other ventures, it’s a seriously fun time.

Following the less-than-enthusiastic reception of Netflix’s Death Note and Cowboy Bebop adaptations, there’s been a fair bit of trepidation regarding the project. While Japan has been creating successful live-action anime adaptations for quite some time, America has struggled to fully grasp the je ne sais quoi that makes these series so beloved. Netflix’s One Piece, however, has found resounding success, creating an adaptation that clearly cherishes its source material while also forging its own identity. Though it might suffer from a few of the pains that tend to come with turning manga into live-action television–awkward dialogue and cinematography chief among them–Netflix has unearthed buried treasure with this one.

Luffy cheers aboard the Straw Hat’s ship, The Going Merry

Set in a world similar yet dramatically different to our own, One Piece kicks off shortly after the dawn of the Great Pirate Era–a period of time following the death of the great pirate Gold Roger, in which countless pirates took to the sea to find the fortune that he left behind in–wait for it–one piece. Among these pirates is Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), who dreams of finding this treasure and becoming King of the Pirates. While some might find Luffy and his firm belief in following his dream at all costs naive, throughout the show he proves time and time again that his tenacity and youthful energy is his greatest strength. Well, other than the rubber body he attained through supernatural means.

Luffy’s dedication to being a kind person and steadfast friend eventually endears him to a band of lovable (and badass) misfits with dreams of their own: Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), a talented fighter who wants to become the greatest swordsman in the world; Nami (Emily Rudd), a mysterious thief who wants to create a map of the world; Usopp (Jacob Romero Gibson), a tall-tale spinning marksman who wants to learn how to be brave; and Sanji (Taz Skyler), a flirtatious cook who wants to find the world’s best ingredients to cook with. Over the course of the eight-episode run, these five individuals help one another process past pains, take on the World Government’s elite forces, fend off rival pirates, and ultimately band together to form the most lovable crew of pirates around.

While this might sound like a lot (and to be fair, it is), showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda handle it masterfully. The series has personality and heart, largely thanks to its charismatic cast. There are a few personality deviations when you compare the Straw Hats of the show to the Straw Hats we know and love from the manga, but each actor manages to make their character truly come to life and has a pleasant rapport with the other cast members. Secondary characters–from Shanks, Garp, Koby, Helmeppo, Zeff, and Kaya, to Arlong, Kuro, Mihawk, and the decidedly Joker-fied Buggy–are all dazzling, and feel almost delightfully spot-on to their manga counterparts.

Luffy, Sanji, Zoro, Usopp, and Nami share their dreams with one another on their ship.
Luffy, Sanji, Zoro, Usopp, and Nami share their dreams with one another on their ship.

The show’s visuals are more of a mixed bag, with the fight choreography, set pieces, and some of the camera work and special effects being particularly skillful, while other effects, cinematography, and color-grading choices leave a bit to be desired. The most egregious part of the show might just be its overly-sepia tone, which seems counter to One Piece’s colorful world and how vivid the anime is. Meanwhile, some effects can hit CW-levels of awkward (one villain’s jolty super speed being a glaring example) and the camera work can be frenetic in a peculiar way, which makes some of the more forced line deliveries feel more stilted than they already are.

That said, Netflix’s One Piece manages to capture much of the sincerity, heart, and spirit of adventure that Oda’s magnum opus has consistently delivered for nearly three decades. With a charismatic and brilliantly assembled cast, dynamic choreography, an ideal amount of anime absurdity left intact, and a handful of plot and character changes that make the series more digestible to Netflix’s audience, it succeeds in creating a truly endearing first season.

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