You don’t need me to tell you that Netflix’s anime adaptations have, by and large, been terrible. Death Note ruined everything worthwhile about its source material, while Cowboy Bebop irritated fans so severely that it was canceled in 20 days. Netflix’s live-action One Piece seemed like a disaster in the making. After its shockingly well-received release, it’s fair to say it’s the streamer’s best effort yet. Beyond its faithfulness, the live-action One Piece comes across as a party for the beloved series rather than a retelling.
What’s the Point Of a Live-Action One Piece?
The obvious answer is to capitalize on a marketable IP. Announcing a live-action adaptation of an anime guarantees some widespread fan reaction. I know I experience an inexplicable sense of dread when I see the title of an anime I enjoy splashed across some poppy Netflix-ready title screen. No one thinks a live-action adaptation will replace the original anime, even if the studio would like it to. The worst-case scenario is a stain on the otherwise flawless reputation of a beloved show. Even the most carefully managed IP will have some failed projects. Bad video games, ill-fated spin-offs, or even a bad chapter or two will eventually hit the franchise. The best-case scenario for a live-action adaptation is a celebration of the original that brings new fans into the fold and helps old fans fall in love again.
One of the most striking things about Netflix’s One Piece is how it handles iconic moments from the series. It’s an 8-episode season that adapts more than 40 anime episodes. The first episode gets the big three crew members together. The second introduces Buggy, and the next six come in two-episode mini-arcs. This careful pacing allows each episode to feature at least one striking shot or landmark moment. Most examples are shot-for-shot. This goes beyond faithfulness to the source material. It’s as if it can hear you asking it why you should watch One Piece. It’s an excellent answer to that question. Fans will get a lot out of live-action One Piece, but newcomers will be compelled to close the listing on Netflix, tap a couple of buttons, and start watching the anime.
Netflix’s One Piece Set and Achieved the Perfect Goal
One Piece fans, do you struggle to get your friends into your favorite anime? What’s the #1 reason they seem reticent to pick up the series? That’s right, it’s more than 1,000 episodes long. That time commitment will alienate a substantial percentage of the potential fanbase. In the 8 hours it takes to watch Netflix’s One Piece, one would get through less than 2% of the anime. I don’t mean to suggest they’re the same experience. Quite the contrary. There’s nothing the live-action adaptation can do to beat the animation. It can, however, give the viewer a primer on the early eras of this beloved story or reignite the love of its first few outings. The characters emerge with their unique quirks intact and inspire fans to return to the anime they love.
The two strongest moments of Netflix’s One Piece have little to do with the characters. They’re feats of set design and prop work. The show knows how impactful they are. In the third episode, Luffy sees the Going Merry for the first time. It’s a lovingly framed shot. That moment is mirrored in the final episode, in which the Straw Hat Pirates’ Jolly Roger unfurls over the vessel. Netflix got some positive press for building real ships for the sailing sequences. Those real ships exemplify this adaptation’s place in the franchise. It’s a major studio dumping millions of dollars into a party for One Piece fans. Join in and celebrate with them.
There are certainly creative decisions in Netflix’s One Piece that are worth arguing against. Animation will always be the home of this story, and the live-action series frequently feels the strain of that truth. Instead of simply retelling the story, it’s offering a greatest-hits showcase that brings the anime a bit of glory. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and a decent live-action imitation grants some new angles to this work of art. Checking social media, people are discussing One Piece more than they have in some time. Let it do its job. Like the Straw Hat crew’s Jolly Roger, Netflix’s One Piece is a proud banner heralding the might of the beloved series.