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One Piece: Latest live-action anime brings genre’s fun and adventure back to streaming

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Emily Rudd, Iñaki Godoy and Mackenyu Arata star in adventure anime One Piece. Photo: Casey Crafford/Netflix
Emily Rudd, Iñaki Godoy and Mackenyu Arata star in adventure anime One Piece. Photo: Casey Crafford/Netflix

Despite its successes across a number of genres, Netflix has consistently missed the mark when it has come to its live-action adaptations of Japanese anime and manga.

From 2017’s Death Note to 2021’s Cowboy Bebop, the streaming giant’s attempts have been widely criticised for veering too far from the source material, changing stories and characters to suit a western audience, and for mistakenly preferring realism over the ridiculous.

Fortunately for fans of Eiichiro Oda’s long-standing manga One Piece, Netflix has learned from its losses and delivered a live-action anime that embodies the joyous spirit of Oda’s original, embracing its beloved blend of slapstick and sensitivity, and keeping faithful to its character-driven core with a compelling cast.

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One Piece follows teenager Monkey D. Luffy (played by Iñaki Godoy), an optimistic and passionate pirate whose dream is to find the infamous One Piece treasure and claim the title “King of the Pirates.”

What makes Luffy unique, apart from his endless positivity, is his ability to stretch his body like rubber, which he gained from eating the rare Gum Gum Fruit.

These devil fruits, as they are called, give the consumer extraordinary power but leave them helpless when in contact with all types of water, which could be problematic for a swashbuckling pirate on the open seas.

Over the course of this first season, Luffy’s charisma and heart secures himself a ship and a crew of misfits, each one with hopes of their own.

Bounty hunter Roronoa Zoro (played by Mackenyu Arata) wants to become the world’s greatest swordsman; thief and Navigator Nami (played by Emily Rudd) wants to be the first to map the globe; Sous-chef Sanji (played by Taz Skyler) wants to find a legendary ocean called the All Blue; and sharp-shooter Usopp (played by Jacob Romero Gibson) wants to follow in his dad’s pirate boots.

Dubbed the Straw Hat Pirates, these foes-turned-friends fight off law-enforcing marines, fierce fishmen and powerful pirates in order to make their dreams, reality.

Not wasting any time, One Piece developers Matt Owens and Steven Maeda establish a world that feels grounded and lived-in, with an opening prologue that showcases Oda’s distinctive characters, costumes and sets while pushing the narrative forward with its captivating exposition.

With the guidance of Eiichiro Oda himself as a creative consultant, the showrunners decided to prioritise the construction of massive detailed sets over VFX, and fill those with actual actors.

This not only contributed to realising Oda’s unique aesthetic but it fixed a crucial world-building flaw found in previous live-action animes, which relied on just a few small set pieces.

To keep audiences engaged, Owens and Maeda also opted for the use of practical effects and well-choreographed combat, limiting the use of VFX.

Ultimately, these all contribute to characters feeling fully realised even as they become more powerful, are less bounded by physics, or are made to recreate particular visuals from the anime.

If world-building created the right aesthetics for Oda’s world, then the cast provided the heart and soul.

The entire cast of One Piece is a standout in embodying their characters, both in appearance and performance, with an obvious love for the source material—unlike some other Netflix adaptions of recent years.

Rightly praised by Oda himself, Godoy effortlessly portrays Luffy’s charisma and child-like nature from the first moment his sinking boat enters in shot.

He walks the line between the real and the absurd when it comes to Luffy’s traits and mannerisms, takes risks in making the role his own, and captures the best parts of the protagonist.

Seeing parallels between the personalities of Luffy and Ang from The Last Airbender, one can’t help to imagine how different that failed live-action anime would have been if its protagonist was cast with someone as well-suited for the role as Godoy was with Luffy.

Mackenyu’s Zoro, Skylar’s Sanji and Rudd’s Nami were also perfectly cast, with each one putting in performances that encapsulated the personality of their character in such a small period of time.

Where these three really shined though was during the moments of drama, usually found in a number of flashbacks intending to give context to each one’s story, build character and establish a connection with the audience.

Backed by a number of talented supporting cast members who embraced their roles whole-heartedly, it is clear that everyone involved had a genuine love for the source material and the real fun that they all had in making this series together is palpable on screen.

Understandably, not all will enjoy the uniqueness of a live-action anime that is true to its genre, but for those searching for a fun, well-written and deeply emotive series with heart then One Piece might be worth a try.

The first season of One Piece is now streaming on Netflix.

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