Netflix's One Piece Is the Best Gateway Into the Franchise

The show is the best adaptation of an anime or manga that the network has ever done
IMAGE Netflix

One Piece is a behemoth of a story. On the surface, it’s about colorful pirate characters who gain superpowers after eating a magical fruit. But it’s also a whole lot more than that and if you don’t know anything about One Piece, it might be fairly intimidating to get into a franchise that has over 100 volumes of manga and over 1000 episodes of anime. Created by Eiichiro Oda in 1997, One Piece has grown into such an expansive world and gone through so many story arcs that the sheer volume of material is daunting to anybody interested in knowing more. Netflix has changed all that.

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With the One Piece live-action adaptation, or OPLA for short, Netflix has compressed the first parts of Oda’s decades-spanning epic into digestible, binge-able chunks that set the stage and introduce the characters to viewers completely new to the franchise. Viewers are introduced to the happy-go-lucky Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), whose easygoing smile and boundless optimism is infectious. Godoy mentions that when he asked Oda why he was chosen to play One Piece’s main character among all the candidates who auditioned for the part, Oda replied that his audition made him laugh. It’s a simple answer that speaks volumes because it pretty much nails the essence of Luffy. Godoy exudes so much lightness and positivity that emanates from the screen that you can’t help but like him. If you weren’t a One Piece or Monkey D. Luffy fan when you started watching OPLA, you’re guaranteed to be a Straw Hat—the name of Luffy’s crew that’s been adopted by the fandom—once you’re done with the eight-episode series.

Photo by Netflix.

Netflix hasn’t had great success with live-action anime adaptations in the past. The streaming giant axed 2021’s Cowboy Bebop before it even had a chance; it was visually daring and deliberately campy, an acquired taste much like the original. But Netflix has a mysterious and mystical method of determining which shows get a second season and sadly, Cowboy Bebop got the axe. Its Death Note was a disappointment as were the two Full Metal Alchemist movies, but Netflix did a wonderful thing with Rurouni Kenshin by producing a pair of bookend films that fit nicely with the original film trilogy (not produced by Netflix) using the same cast.

When Netflix announced that it was making a One Piece live-action adaptation, otaku were understandably apprehensive. Netflix adaptations are a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, but fortunately, One Piece is an absolute treat. The casting is just perfect and characters like Luffy, Nami (Emily Rudd), Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), Usopp (Jacob Romero Gibson), and Sanji (Taz Skylar) are brought to life in uncanny fashion. The straw hats really come together as a team, and Netflix takes viewers through that journey. There’s a bit of ridiculousness in the action sequences that make it feel like you’re watching an anime, and it’s a lot of fun.

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Photo by Netflix.

But make no mistake, this is a Netflix adaptation through and through, and in many ways feels like it’s been churned out from the same cinematic machine the way dough goes through a pasta maker. There’s a visual styling to these adaptations that feels generic, Cowboy Bebop notwithstanding, consisting of desaturated colors and an abundance of dutch angles. In many ways, it isn’t too different from how MCU movies all feel the same. Whether it’s by accident or by intent, Netflix live-action adaptations share a similar vibe. In the case of One Piece, set in a fantastic world beset by pirates all looking for a mysterious treasure called the, uh, One Piece, the cinematic style works.

It’s hard not to feel like there’s a lot missing from the stories even if you don’t know that the first season consists of almost the entire East Blue Saga (about 45 episodes of anime and 11 volumes of the manga). Showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda had their work cut out for them trying to squeeze a coherent story into eight episodes. At this pace, it would take about twenty seasons just to catch up with the storyline and it’s hard to imagine Godoy or any of the cast, for that matter, playing their roles that long, no matter how successful the series becomes. Even Millie Bobbie Brown wants to move on from playing Eleven in Netflix’s erstwhile most popular series after just five seasons.

Photo by Netflix.

That’s the danger of a live-action adaptation. Actors age. Comics and cartoons do not. Oda has been drawing Monkey D. Luffy for 26 years and the plucky rubber pirate hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s the reality that Disney has come to face with their MCU, which is why they’ve taken great pains to shift focus to a new generation of heroes. Netflix’s One Piece will have to deal with that problem at some point because right now, it’s hard to imagine the series not getting the green light for a second season. The show is the best adaptation of an anime or manga that the network has ever done and regardless of how opaque their evaluation process is, it would be a disservice to one of the world’s biggest fandoms to cut it short.

In fact, the best thing about OPLA is probably how it can grow an already large audience by getting more people interested in Oda’s magnum opus. By condensing the franchise’s first major arc into a mere eight episodes, Netflix has made it easier than ever to get into One Piece. Thanks to impeccable casting—Iñaki Godoy was simply born to play Luffy—and a coherent, if truncated, narrative that’s easy to follow, Netflix’s One Piece is a genuine triumph.

One Piece is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Photo by Netflix.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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