(Image via reddit.com)
Staff Photographer: Lilly Lafleur
On August 31st, 2023, Netflix released the highly anticipated live-action adaptation of the decades-long anime One Piece.
As is necessary, this review must begin with a general warning that there will be unavoidable spoilers from the One Piece anime episodes 1-44 with brief references to later episodes.
To make things simpler, the live-action will be compared to the anime, with little to no mention of the manga. Apologies to my fellow manga readers.
First Impressions and Casting
With the announcement of Netflix developing a live-action version of the anime One Piece, fans were skeptical, to say the least.
The epic fights, fanatsical, vastly different islands, and Devil Fruit powers were the main source of fans’ anxiety, especially when looking back at how the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender turned out.
Back in November of 2021, when several wanted posters were released with images of the main Straw Hat Crew, fans were worried about how the live-action adaptation of their adored anime would pan out.
Mackenyu, who plays the green-haired Zoro, and Taz Skylar, playing Black-foot Sanji, are two of fans’ main concerns with their lack of resemblance to their animated counterparts; however, the two, especially so with Skylar, proved everyone wrong.
Adding the green hair to Mackenyu was really all it took to bring out his inner moss-head, especially being the son of Japanese actor and martial artist Sonny Chiba. His portrayal of Zoro is slightly different than it is in the anime.
Pre-time skip in the anime, Zoro is goofy, often seen with a gaping, laughing mouth and a generally upbeat attitude. Mackenyu’s Zoro, however, is far more stoic and serious, which could be in part due to an added scene to be mentioned later.
Skylar took his role as Sanji to a whole new level. He earned his black belt to fully embody Sanji’s hands-free fighting style when he previously had no martial arts experience.
That’s right. Skylar trained for an average of eight hours a day to be able to pull off his own stunts with no CGI. It’s like when a man takes cooking classes after hearing you’ve never had a home-cooked meal – something Taz Skylar actually did. Skylar knew Sanji inside and out and took impressive measures to deliver the best version he could.
When it comes to the show’s main character: Iñaki Godoy is truly a real-life Luffy.
The live-action kept Luffy’s inability to remember names, evident during Buggy’s introduction, where Luffy refers to him as “Binky.” Overall, Godoy plays a spot on Luffy and truly encapsulates his fun, happy-go-lucky and optimistic nature.
Luffy’s actor has an immense love for One Piece and the work he does, even crying when seeing the final result of all his effort. It’s truly reassuring, and I would leave Luffy in Godoy’s hands in a heartbeat.
Usopp is played by Jacob Romero Gibson, who noticeably lacks the long Pinocchio nose that Usopp is known for. Thankfully, he still manages to turn over a character that resembles the innovative, deceptive, and cowardly sniper fairly well.
Emily Rudd, who plays the cunning cat burglar, is an avid One Piece fan. Her favorite character is Nami, and she absolutely did the character justice, shining brightly as she was able to act during the character’s biggest developmental arcs.
Rudd is seen sporting an outfit that doesn’t appear in the anime; however, devout fans will recognize the design immediately as Oda’s early concept art for Nami.
This outfit adaptation wasn’t the only of its kind, with clothing for other characters, such as Luffy and Usopp, being used as well.
The inclusion of this small detail is evidence enough that the adaptation of the beloved One Piece is in very good hands. With this, along with One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda giving producers his blessing, fans began to relax and placed their trust in him and in the cast.
The Live Action VS. The Anime
Of course, One Piece is known for being insanely, and some may even add unreasonably long, which proves an issue for Netflix.
A live-action One Piece will cost more, both in terms of money and time, than animated equivalents due mostly in part to the sheer amount of characters and, therefore, paid actors, there are as well as CGI costs.
There’s also the problem of continued funding for such a long project when audience reception is unclear, so it’s reasonable for Netflix to compact multiple episodes from the anime into single live-action episodes and omit some details that aren’t super crucial to the plot.
Overall, the live-action show as a whole is a touch gloomier than the anime.
Vivid colors and bright, stretching landscapes help to push a “fun under the sun” vibe in the anime; however, the Netflix adaptation is much darker. The characters are shrouded in shadows, and some of the more serious topics that were previously made to seem more light-hearted stay true to their original nature.
Oda does a fabulous job of making his work semi “family-friendly,” keeping violence, bloodshed, and death to a minimum. He does this by adding plenty of comic relief to gut-wrenching scenes that leave viewers with a sense of contentment rather than pulling on their heartstrings too much.
The live-action did away with this concept, including all violence and making little effort to create a lighthearted environment, throwing viewers into the pits of emotion — but, hey, at least they didn’t stick a lollipop in Sanji’s mouth.
During Gol. D Roger’s execution, the executioners are shown stabbing the pirate king, and you can see him take his final breath, whereas in the anime, it is always cut off right after he tells the crowd of the existence of the one piece.
Episode one starts with the execution, and alongside him on the execution platform is Garp. This was the first change from the anime, where canonically, Garp is in Marineford at this time and not present for the execution.
The live-action also chooses to formally introduce Garp far earlier than he is introduced in the anime, with Garp’s character overall being quite different.
Garp is normally characterized as a friendly old man who eats donuts and falls asleep mid-conversation and mid-meal, but in the live-action, he is quite intense. The previously comedic character who only gets serious when he truly needs to is now serious one hundred percent of the time.
Adding Garp so early in the story is bound to have some plot-changing consequences down the road, and fans will just have to sit tight to see where this switch takes us.
There was also an added scene that introduced us to our second Straw Hat member: Zoro.
In the anime, Zoro is first introduced after being captured, where he is seen tied up at Captain Morgan’s base. The live-action has chosen to introduce him on Sixis Island, slicing Mr. 7 from the Baroque Works into Mr. 3.5 — clean in half.
This is something that was briefly mentioned in Alabasta but never animated.
The live-action, however, chose to include this scene and also have it be the viewers’ first glimpse at the pirate hunter.
Orange Town was also presented differently than in the anime with Buggy
This mini-story of a test of a dog’s ultimate loyalty was the first ever time One Piece made me cry, and it was truly sad to come to the end of Orange Town and realize I never got my heart smashed to pieces.
The live-action also took out any character development in Syrup Village.
Previously, both Usopp and Kaya ran from and ignored their fears but eventually grew to stand up to them.
This is extremely important when it comes to Usopp because his whole reason for joining the Straw Hats is to become a “brave warrior of the sea” and to become brave enough to protect those he cares about, something that we see a glimpse of as he takes the lead in saving Kaya.
But, the live-action chose to take these details out.
Not to mention they removed the most entertaining part of this arc. Can you guess who?
One. Two. Three.
A minor character who added so much to this storyline in terms of comedic relief was completely omitted, along with other members of the Black Cat Pirates.
We now move quickly on to Baratie — the sea restaurant.
Garp is present at Baratie, engaging in conversation with Zeff about a new generation coming to light, a conversation that never happened in the anime because Garp had not yet been introduced.
This conversation does save the live-action a lot of time as the anime subtly and slowly introduces the idea of a “new generation” coming to rise over the course of hundreds of episodes. Something the live-action just doesn’t have the time for.
Arlong was also made into a special guest in this arc, where he was previously nonexistent at this point in the anime.
This sets off a few alarm bells as Hatchan plays major roles further down the line in the One Piece world, so taking him out makes very little sense, and many are on edge as they wait to see how the live-action producers deal with the consequences of this choice.
It was also sad to see that in Nami’s main arc – Arlong Park, the villagers genuinely believed her to be one of the bad guys.
In the anime, they knew that she had their interests in mind and that everything she was putting herself through with Arlong was for them. However, the live-action chooses to have the people of Cocoyasi Village constantly show their whole-hearted hatred for Nami.
The bottom line is the live-action adaptation wasn’t horrible.
It has its ups — incredible casting and streamlined storytelling. And it has its downs — not being 100% canon and conveying a completely new tone.
The changes made are to be expected, and Oda himself even points this out to his audience.
“A live-action adaptation of a manga doesn’t simply re-enact the source material on a one-to-one basis: It involves really thinking about what fans love about the characters, the dynamics among them — and being faithful to those elements.”
The live-action was faithful to the main cast’s dynamics, but it can be argued that Garp’s character is too far construed – even for an adaptation.
Very streamlined and fast-paced episodes help to carry the story along without needing a thousand-plus episodes — something that has kept many from starting One Piece.
The dark, gloomy tone of the live-action really spoils the fun and nostalgic feel that many long-time One Piece fans were looking forward to. The anime is playful, and the live-action did not deliver this.
Maybe this was for the best, though, as many fans who grew up with the anime are now in adulthood and can appreciate the darker aspects of the story. They may be ready for something a tad less childish.
The live-action hit all the right spots for me, but many fans are left wanting a little more. Perhaps that extra inch will be provided in season 2, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
*Article edited on 10/14/23 for image corrections.