Netflix’s One Piece Will Make You Want to Read the Manga — And Not In a Good Way

Hollywood’s searching hard for its next diamond in the rough. One Piece is not it.

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Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece
Inverse Reviews

Live-action adaptations of Japan’s biggest hits have become a white whale, of sorts, in the hunt for the perfect IP. On paper, manga and anime are two mediums ripe for reappraisal: most come with dedicated fanbases built in, and their approach to familiar themes still feels utterly unique to anything being produced in the West. Translating the colorful, complex characters and unwieldy storylines into real life, however, is still proving elusive — especially for the creatives at Netflix.

The streamer is more acquainted with the failure of an ill-received adaptation than most. Netflix’s attempts to mine popular IP have been memed to hell and back in recent years. At best, shows like Cowboy Bebop are short-lived blips in otherwise-beloved franchises. At worst, they’re enough to discourage anyone from touching manga or anime ever again.

But Netflix is also perfectly fine with being the villain (it did build its unofficial brand on the concept of hate-watching, after all). No matter how bad the adaptations get, and no matter who it pisses off, nothing has deterred the streamer’s efforts to conquer this specific frontier. Its optimism is damn near unshakable — and that may just make One Piece the one franchise that Netflix is uniquely qualified to tackle. Who else would be brave enough to take the highest-selling manga in history, condense its thousand-chapter saga into a streaming-friendly serial, and keep its 30-year-old fandom happy in one fell swoop?

As the streaming wars trudge on, it’s clear that a completely faithful adaptation to anything just isn’t realistic. Fortunately, the One Piece braintrust seems to understand that from “go.” Showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda share a reverence for the source material, and for what makes the manga so great: its characters. The eight-episode series hews close to its theme of found family, exploring that concept in as many forms as possible. One Piece is a story that facilitates that perfectly — it follows a close-knit crew as they hunt down a legendary pirate’s treasure. Of course, their path is a long and winding one, chock full of side quests, detours, and auxiliary perils. That gives us plenty of time to get to know Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Crew, a rag-tag group of fighters that eventually unite over their shared dream.

Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) feels like the perfect personification of Netflix’s quest for glory. He’s downright unflappable — not unlike Pollyanna or Peter Pan — with an enthusiasm that borders, at times, on delusion. There is no scenario in which he doesn’t achieve his goal of obtaining the One Piece (that aforementioned piece of treasure) and become King of the Pirates. And that optimism is nothing if not infectious.

Mackenyu Arata as Roronoa Zoro, one of One Piece’s most consistent scene-stealers.


As he sets off to build his own pirate crew from the ground up, Luffy rallies the brooding Zoro (Mackenyu Arata), the cunning Nami (Emily Rudd), puppy-like Usopp (Jacob Romero), and the suave cook Sanji (Taz Skylar) to his side. One Piece’s first season (there will be several more, if Netflix’s gamble pays off) is primarily concerned with getting this iconic group together. Adventure-of-the-week style arcs iron out the kinks of the characters’ clashing personalities, and unearth secrets that could destroy the crew from within. It’s a little like The Avengers in that way, if Joss Whedon had teased out the formation of the super group across an eight hour-long bingefest. And to the series’ credit, the shifting dynamics and interpersonal drama might be enough to justify its existence.

One Piece certainly feels like it’s hitting the marks that the source material laid out. The manga translates well enough to Netflix’s established house style — but something still isn’t quite right. It’s a problem that so many of its predecessors have already run into: how do you translate such a specific world, one that defies physics and transcends logic, into our own? One Piece is unique for a reason — it’s not just a story about pirates hunting for treasure. The existence of Devil Fruit imbues certain characters with uncanny, cartoonish powers. Luffy can stretch his limbs to Mister Fantastic-like proportions; others (like the sadistic clown Buggy) can dislodge body parts at will. That’s not exactly something that can translate well to live-action, even with the help of Netflix’s whopping budget.

One Piece tries hard to be dark and gritty, often at the expense of its more heightened themes.


One Piece is, apparently, one of the streamer’s most expensive shows. If only it felt like it: the lived-in production value that many have come to expect from sea-faring shows like Our Flag Means Death isn’t present at all in Once Piece. It’s too busy balancing its candy-colored aesthetics with its more adult themes. As a result, neither vision really comes out on top. Things that should feel vibrant and alive — like an enemy’s pink-and-red pirate ship, or the green of Zoro’s hair — instead look unforgivably dull and muddled. It’s not a total detriment to the series, but it’s definitely a testament to the one thing One Piece is missing: an actual sense of fun.

If anything, One Piece brings Netflix one step closer to conquering the manga adaptation. It’s the clear the series was made with a whole lot of love — it even managed to get Oda’s blessing. But that’s just not enough to push this out of the “middling” category. Either way, Hollywood’s quest for buried treasure clearly isn’t stopping any time soon. Whether One Piece joins Cowboy Bebop in Netflix’s adaptation graveyard or actually manages to connect with its audience, it certainly won’t be the last attempt to create a new phenomenon out of an old fan favorite.

One Piece is now streaming on Netflix.

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