The Live-Action Manga Adaptation of Netflix’s ‘One Piece’ Is a Delight, According to Our ‘One Piece’ Review

The main character of the series is a young man with extraordinary powers who harbors the hope of discovering the greatest treasure.

Monkey D. Luffy, played by Iaki Godoy, is the unstoppable hero of the anime series One Piece, which is streamed on Netflix. It doesn’t take him very long to tell everyone about his magnificent scheme. “I’m going to be king of the pirates,” he asserts, usually with a brilliant smile that never seems to have known even a shade of self-doubt. “I’m going to be king of the pirates,” he says.

When we first hear it, it sounds like the fantasy of a young boy. When we hear it for the second, third, and perhaps the hundredth time, it still sounds like the fantasy of a young boy. However, after eight episodes each lasting an hour, his youthful zeal begins to look less like a reason to have doubts about him and more like a reason to have faith in him. The manga and anime series One Piece is a celebration of the power of childhood wonder, and the series itself has the impression of being the joyful creation of a child’s mind.

To be fair, there are a lot of reasons to have doubts about whether or not the young man who is floating around by himself in an old sailboat has what it takes at first. When we first meet Luffy, he does not have a ship, a crew, or a chart. Instead, he possesses just the unwavering confidence that he will be the pirate captain to uncover the One Piece, a famous buried treasure that has caused the deaths of thousands of others in their search for it. But as time goes on, that turns out to be sufficient. (Well, that in addition to the elasticity similar to that of Mister Fantastic that he possesses as a result of the magical “Devil Fruit” that he devoured many years ago.) His journey from utter joke to genuine leader is chronicled throughout the first season of the show as he and his endearingly misfit crew attempt to carve out a niche for themselves in the sometimes treacherous seas.

The first episode seems to be bogged down in set-up, which may be because the authors, Matt Owens and Steven Maeda, are adapting from literally decades of legend. The still-ongoing manga was first published in the 1990s, and since then, it has generated a beloved anime, films, games, novels, and more. The first several episodes of One Piece lay the groundwork for the series’ signature upbeat rhythm, which is established by the series’ second or third episode. Luffy goes from one adventure to the next, and the average amount of time he spends on each one is roughly two chapters. He avoids the Marines, led by the tenacious vice admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), in between battles with various pirates, such as the insane clown Buggy (Jeff Ward), or the megalomaniacal fish-man Arlong (McKinley Belcher III).

Along the way, Luffy amasses a crew that includes the enigmatic thief Nami (played by Emily Rudd), the stoic swordsman Zoro (played by Mackenyu), the cocky sniper Usopp (played by Jacob Romero), and the smooth-talking chef Sanji (played by Taz Skylar). Their origin tales are shown to us in flashbacks to when they were younger. One Piece, much like Max’s Our Flag Means Death, is predicated on a rosy view of piracy that is less about stealing and plundering as it is about chasing freedom with a discovered family. This is frequently to the bewilderment of other pirates within the universe, who are very much concerned about looting and plundering. Some of the series’ weaker elements, such as its underdeveloped Marine characters or its halfhearted handling of social issues like class, oppression, and (species-based) racism, are masked sufficiently by the collective warmth of the Straw Hat Pirates (as they become known thanks to Luffy’s signature accessory), which is winning enough to paper over some of the series’ less compelling aspects.

However, where it falls short in terms of intelligence, One Piece more than makes up for in terms of pure fun. As a relative newcomer to this property, I am unable to comment on how faithfully it has been translated into the Netflix adaptation. However, the Netflix adaptation cannot claim entire credit for the originality of its universe. I am able to say that I was amused by the peculiar aspects of a world that draws equally from contemporary reality, historical drama, and purely fantastic elements. Characters who appear to have recently returned from an Old Navy sale socialize with characters who appear to have recently stepped off the Black Pearl. Newspapers are distributed all around the world by uniformed seagulls, and sea snails answer calls made to them as if they were human. If I could guarantee that the last section makes more sense onscreen than it does written out, I would, but it doesn’t really; opting to just go with the flow and enjoy yourself is a big part of the fun.

The show’s action sequences, on the other hand, vacillate between being intentionally silly and actually thrilling. In the former school of thought, the idea of Luffy utilizing his powers to stretch his neck several stories high or parry cannonballs with his grotesquely expanded chest was never going to look anything but absurd. On the other hand, Godoy’s enthusiastic athleticism helps to sell the techniques. Zoro is primarily responsible for the provision of the latter. The camera really pulls back and stays long enough to admire the artistry of Mackenyu and the stunt team, which is a refreshing contrast to the chopped-up incoherence that damns so many lousy action films. His twin blades are able to hack down entire rooms full of evil guys with grace and style. (I feel it necessary to point out that the program is rated TV-14, so younger children may find some of the content to be too intense.) Given that this being an episode of One Piece, though, the character can’t resist the desire to add a wacky flourish: Zoro’s defining move is pulling out a third sword, which he uses to fight with his teeth.

Even One Piece’s slightly shabby appearance can be endearing when seen in such a perspective because it is so lighthearted: If the candy-apple red hair on Luffy’s erstwhile tutor Shanks (played by Peter Gadiot), looks very much like a Party City wig, it merely contributes to the idea that this is all one huge, joyful game of make-believe; nonetheless, it is created with an adult writer’s mind for continuity. The show neither takes itself too seriously nor makes excuses for the ridiculousness of what it does. In this regard, its attitude is similar to that of the story’s protagonist, who is fully aware that the majority of people will find the goals he has set for himself to be laughable, but who does not give a hoot about this fact.

The concept that our childhood aspirations are not meaningless fantasies to be cast aside as we grow older, but rather the compass points that lead us to our deepest, most soul-satisfying yearnings and our most complete versions of ourselves, is something that Luffy and One Piece both keep very near to their hearts. Nearly every hero in the program is defined by the objectives they set for themselves when they were younger, such as to create a map of the entire globe, to become the best swordsman who has ever lived, or to discover a perhaps mythological zone where the oceans of the world meet together. From one point of view, it is possible that they sound like the daydreams of a gullible little child. The ideals that are presented in this series are idealistic and audacious enough to alter the entire globe. One Piece manages to bring out the joyous spirit of childhood in both preteens and adults by placing its bets on the naiveté and exuberance of its protagonists and supporting cast members.

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