Live-action adaptations of anime or manga get a bad rap, especially when Hollywood tries to whitewash Japanese culture to cater to American audiences. Most of these live-action movies and shows approach the source material with the idea that they are somehow going to do a better job than their animated counterparts or maybe make it more relevant. The thing is that a classic is always going to be relevant, and it’ll always be the superior version. Yes, there are certain filmmakers who are capable of doing wonders with live-action filmmaking. But I’m sure even they’ll admit that their work pales in comparison to what masters of animation are capable of conjuring. That said, some live-action anime or manga adaptations have managed to set a certain standard, e.g., the Rurouni Kenshin movies, Blade of the Immortal, Speed Racer, Alice in Borderland, Zom 100, and maybe Crying Freeman. Can One Piece join this list? Let’s find out.
Based on Eiichirô Oda’s manga and anime series, Matt Owens and Steven Maeda’s One Piece follows Monkey D. Luffy as he searches for the titular treasure. It was formerly owned by Gold Roger, and before being executed, he told the spectators of his death that whoever could find this legendary artifact would succeed him as the King of the Pirates. Since then, many have tried, and all of them have failed. But Luffy refuses to give up because he has made a promise to his father figure, Shanks, that he is going to become one of the greatest pirates of all time, even though he doesn’t know how to navigate the waters or how to get to the One Piece. He has superpowers, though, which he has gotten by accidentally consuming a devil fruit and that allows him to stretch like a rubber band. However, seawater is his kryptonite. Anyway, with all these assets in his arsenal, he sets out to find the map to One Piece and makes friends like Koby, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji, as well as enemies like Alvida, Buggy, Kuro, Morgan, Garp, and Arlong.
The writing in this live-action Netflix adaptation of One Piece is nothing extraordinary. It seeks to tell the amount of story that the anime did in around 44 episodes (each of which was 25 minutes long) in 8 episodes (each of which is an hour long), and the writers royally soil the bed. I mean, how do you even do that? Why would you do that? See, that just reeks of oversmartness. Even if you do the math about the difference in the minutes dedicated to characters, plots, subplots, fillers, action beats, or empty space to give the audience a breather, it doesn’t add up! But someone in the team in charge of this Netflix adaptation said that it’s perfectly okay to stuff all of that development into eight episodes, and everyone else agreed. Do you want to know how they maintain the illusion that they’re “respecting the source material”? They simply copy some of the most memorable lines from the anime and manga and paste them on the screenplay of the live-action adaptation. So, if they can’t come up with original lines and their only achievement is summarizing 44 episodes worth of storytelling and messing around with the timeline of certain revelations, what do they expect to get points for? Daring to adapt this sprawling animated masterpiece? Well, I can’t do that.
You know what? It’s pretty easy to rip apart Netflix’s One Piece if we simply compare it to the original. It’s impossible to view it on its own if you have watched even the first 10 episodes of the anime. However, I’m sure that there are many people who’ll be watching this with a fresh pair of eyes and a brain that hasn’t been exposed to the anime or the manga. For a second, if I try to pretend that I’m one such viewer, I still think I can’t appreciate it because all that the show has to offer is the expository dialogue about the plot and backstories of the characters. Why is that the case? Because the amazing writers of the show have erased every personal conversation that has nothing to do with the plot and helps flesh out the characters. There’s no space for emotions like arrogance, stupidity, anxiety, fear, anger, love, etc. They appear like punctuations between plot-related stuff. Feelings do not get any buildup because the priority is the plot. That’s why when the moment arrives and the characters do need to be genuine with each other, it feels hollow and fake. I would love to get into storytelling issues like how conveniently each character finds someone they need to in this massive seascape, something that was kind of impossible in the anime, and how coincidences actually felt like coincidences. But I’ll let you figure that stuff out by yourself.
One Piece is a bad-looking show. You can pause any second of the anime or randomly flip to a page in the manga, and you’ll discover a piece of art. If you hit the pause button while watching the live-action Netflix series, you’ll probably be figuring out what is going on in the frame. The nighttime sequences are an atrocity. In a show about fish-men and fruits that can give superpowers, I’m not looking for realistic lighting. The moon can actually be as bright as the scene needs it to be so that the audience can see what’s going on. The showrunners think otherwise, I guess. The daytime sequences are no better. When the characters go indoors, it still looks bad. The action sequences are horribly edited and choreographed. They have no sense of impact, weight, or emotion. Everyone is just going through the motions so that they can go to the next set piece. Zoro gets to strike a few recognizable poses, and Sanji’s fights are somewhat memorable. But the rest is embarrassing. The visual effects and the CGI are brilliant. The make-up, prosthetics, and costume design would’ve been commendable if this wasn’t a show based on One Piece. Since it is an adaptation and I know what the team is drawing from, I cannot applaud it in good conscience.
Even before fans and internet folk got to see the cast of One Piece in their respective costumes, they announced it as the best casting of all time. So, I am not surprised that they are doubling down on that opinion after watching the cast in action. I’m not in the same boat, though. The cast of One Piece feels like a bunch of cosplayers who are getting to show their interpretation of the characters they are playing without any kind of scrutiny. Mackenyu thinks Zoro is the most serious character in the world, so he is going around being the most boring character in existence. Emily Rudd thinks Nami isn’t allowed to emote, so she is going around with this “deer in the headlights” expression. And what can I say about Iñaki Godoy’s take on Luffy? Every time he said his character’s name and how he wanted to be the King of the pirates, I physically cringed. Luffy, as a person, is stupid, but it’s his determination, innocence, and wholesomeness that makes him such a lovable character. Godoy makes Luffy irritating and annoying. Now, that is an achievement. Morgan Davies was amazing in Evil Dead Rise. Morgan Davies isn’t good in this show. Jacob Romero is unimpressive. Taz Skylar, as Sanji, is tolerable. The same can be said about Craig Fairbrass as Chef Zeff. The rest of the cast is atrocious.
In conclusion, Netflix’s One Piece is a horrible show. It’s essentially a Cliffs Notes version of the anime that thinks it is being over-the-top and eccentric by shoving the camera into the faces of the actors. I genuinely do not have a reason to recommend this series. But it’s your time, and it’s your life, and if you want to waste both of them, please watch it. Meanwhile, I’ll be bathing my mind, body, and soul in the anime series and giving it the love and appreciation that it deserves. Additionally, I request that filmmakers stop doing live-action adaptations of animated films or shows. Just put a stop to it. It’s not worth it. If you are not Takashi Miike, Keishi Ōtomo, the Wachowski Sisters, or Edgar Wright, stay away from the manga and the anime. If you are determined to adapt or remake them, you can do the 3D performance capture animation in the name of “realism.” However, say no to live-action adaptations of anime and manga, period.