Netflix has developed quite a reputation for greenlighting Hollywood live-action adaptations of anime. We all remember where we were when the Death Note film dropped and immediately became one of the most hated and reviled adaptations of the animated classic. They tried to repair the damage done by that film by featuring a lot of live-action adaptations from the Japanese entertainment industry. But then they threw the Cowboy Bebop series in our direction and went back to square one. I assumed that they would let things cool down before doing something stupid again, but here we are with One Piece. This live-action series is based on the manga and anime by Eiichirô Oda, and showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda have roughly stuffed 11 volumes of the manga (which is made of over 90 chapters) or around 44 episodes of the anime into 8 episodes, each of which is an hour long. To make it clear, they have shown the formative days of the Straw Hats and concluded with the battle at Arlong Park. This has led to some major differences. So, let’s talk about them.
Vice Admiral Garp and the Marines
The most confusing aspect of the live-action adaptation of One Piece is the overwhelming presence of Vice Admiral Garp, Koby, and Helmeppo. Yes, in the anime, they do appear in the capacity that they are shown in the Netflix series. But they are largely absent throughout Luffy’s first few adventures. Both the live-action and anime series shows Luffy liberating Koby and then leaving him to work with the Marines. While the anime picks up his arc after the conclusion of Nami’s enmity with Arlong, the live-action show keeps dragging him along. In the anime, Garp doesn’t show up until the 68th episode, I guess. In the live-action show, he keeps following Luffy because of his paternal grandfatherly instincts. I think the showrunners wanted to give the narrative a sense of urgency instead of echoing the rather laid-back vibes of the anime. That’s why they made Garp and his Marines chase the Straw Hats. Also, he’s there during the execution of Gold Roger in the live-action adaptation, even though that’s not the case in the anime.
In the anime, Zoro appears for the first time in a yard where he has been strung to a pole for around a month without food or water. Why? A few days ago, Captain Morgan’s son, Helmeppo, terrorized the town with his pet wolf-dog. Zoro protested against it, and Helmeppo threatened him by saying that if Morgan got to know about all this, he’d punish the mother and the kid that Zoro was trying to protect. Helmeppo gave him the option to accept the punishment that the two women would get or let them suffer for his insolence. Zoro obviously accepted, and that’s why we see him in that situation. In the live-action series, we see Zoro collecting the bounty of an employee of Baroque Works and then getting into a tiff with Helmeppo at a bar.
When Helmeppo tells him that Captain Morgan will give him anything he wants, Zoro goes to meet Morgan. He is very impressed with Zoro, and he tells him to join the Marines. Zoro refuses, as he just wants the money for his bounty. Morgan says that he has to spend seven days strung up to a pole without food or water if he wants the money, or else he’ll be barred from collecting bounty from any Marine branch. And Zoro agrees to it. Then, the live-action and anime iterations become similar to the fight against Captain Morgan after Luffy frees Zoro. However, Nami doesn’t join them in the anime, and she’s on the team in the live-action series. That’s excusable, but the change in Zoro’s motivation to be at the yard is simply bizarre. He goes from someone who is selfless in the anime to someone who is a bit of a self-centered douche. By the way, Zoro’s emotional backstory with Kuina plays out when he’s trying to get out of a dry well. It’s quite ironic and metaphorical.
Buggy and His Gang
In the anime, Nami learns that the treasure map isn’t hidden in Captain Morgan’s vault because the pirate Buggy has stolen it. So, that’s how she ends up in the village that is being held hostage by Buggy. Nami steals the map from Buggy and makes a run for it. Meanwhile, Luffy is abducted by a bird and dropped off in that village. Zoro follows the bird and ends up in the same spot. Luffy convinces Nami to be his navigator, and Nami frames Luffy as the map thief and hands him over to Buggy. When she’s ordered to kill Luffy and prove his allegiance to Buggy, Nami refuses because she’s humane. Zoro shows up on the scene as well, and that’s how the trio finally gets together. This leads to an all-out war between Buggy, his team of pirates, and the trio of heroes.
There are so many elements to that fight. Zoro is gravely injured. Mohji and his massive lion, Richie, wreak a lot of havoc. Chouchou, the pet of a deceased shop owner, puts up an amazing fight. The mayor shows a lot of resolve. Cabaji and Zoro exchange blows. Nami bags Buggy’s floating body parts while Luffy sends him across the sea. After that, the trio runs away with Buggy’s treasure, and since the villagers have no idea what they’ve done, they chase them out of there. However, the mayor and Chouchou defend the trio’s actions, thereby giving their departure a sweet tone. In the live-action series, Buggy drugs and kidnaps the Straw Hats.
To protect the map that they’ve extracted from Morgan’s safe, Luffy swallows it along with the cylindrical container it’s in. Then Buggy tortures Luffy by stretching him and then proceeds to drown him in seawater. Cabaji throws knives at Zoro while keeping Nami imprisoned in a birdcage. Mohji is there, but he doesn’t get to do much, and Richie is nowhere to be seen. By the way, all this is happening in a circus tent where the villagers are chained to their seats. Eventually, Nami and Zoro free themselves and get Luffy out of the water tank. Luffy and Nami do what their animated counterparts did in the anime. Here’s the kicker. Buggy isn’t thrown very far away from the rest of his limbs. He gets to reunite with them in the next episode. What can I even say at this point? By the way, there’s more to Buggy in the live-action series that I need to talk about in a later segment.
Everything That Happens in Syrup Village
There are no Usopp Pirates in the live-action series. There’s just Usopp. Everything else about his character is true to the anime. In the anime, the Straw Hats don’t get to see the iconic Going Merry until after they’re done dealing with Captain Kuro. In the live-action series, Luffy chooses Going Merry as soon as he reaches Syrup Village. In the anime, Sham and Buchi don’t show up until the last act, and they’re brothers. In the live-action series, Sham and Buchi are working with Kuro in Kaya’s mansion. Also, Sham, Buchi, and Kuro are apparently slowly poisoning Kaya in the live-action series, but in the One Piece anime, Kaya was supposed to be killed by a hypnotist named Jango. Yes, neither Jango nor Kuro’s entire pirate army is there. They don’t arrive to reclaim him or anything. Kuro doesn’t get to go berserk on Luffy and everyone else around him with his special moves in the live-action series. He just zips around swiftly, like a D-grade horror movie monster.
In the anime, the whole altercation between the heroes and Kuro takes place in a valley leading to the beach in broad daylight. The same thing happens at night in the mansion in the live-action series. Since there’s no Jango and no Usopp Pirates, Usopp doesn’t get to inspire anybody. The Marines show up because they’re tracking down Luffy and his friends on Garp’s orders. In the anime, there’s this great moment where Usopp gets to enter Kaya’s house. That doesn’t happen in the live-action series. The visually stunning backstory that Kuro gets is absent in the live-action series. Since the Black Cat pirates aren’t there, the live-action Kuro just takes a boat and rows away.
No Gaimon, No Johnny, and No Yosaku
Gaimon, the guy who has been stuck in a chest on an island for decades and is friends with all kinds of hybrid animals, is not there in the live-action series. I love that chunk of the anime series because of Gaimon’s sense of humor, his absurd backstory, and the fact that his animal friends look like they’ve leaped out of Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol. Johnny and Yosaku, two of Zoro’s friends, do not make an appearance in the live-action series. I don’t know why. I think they are two of the funniest characters in the anime series, and I love what they bring to the table, all the way to the fight at Arlong Park. I’m guessing they had to hit the cutting room floor because of the Garp and Marine stuff, and that makes me hate these alterations even more.
Oh boy! Okay, everything with Sanji and his relationship with Chef Zeff reaches the live-action series relatively unscathed. But the way the Straw Hats enter the Baratie is changed. The Straw Hats get into a bit of a tiff with Iron Fist Fullbody, a lieutenant at Navy Headquarters. That damages the Baratie, and Luffy is forced to work there until he pays for the damages. The tiff between Sanji and Iron Fist Fullbody is gone. Ghin from the Krieg Pirates arrives in the live-action series, but he doesn’t get to do much. Everything (and I mean everything) that happens with Don Krieg in the anime is just gone. There’s an amazing battle between Luffy and Don Krieg in the anime, and that whole altercation has been deleted. Don Krieg is reduced to a mere cameo when he’s killed by Dracule Mihawk.
Pearl, the Invincible Shield of the Krieg Pirates, is gone. Talking about Dracule Mihawk, he doesn’t get the epic entry that he got in the anime. He just arrives as a generic sword-wielding pirate who is hired by Garp to arrest Luffy. In the anime, a whole episode is dedicated to Zoro’s backstory, and that’s why his face-off with Mihawk has so much weight. The live-action fight between Zoro and Mihawk is laughably bad. The moment where Mihawk slashes Zoro’s chest is such a pivotal moment in the show, and the live-action version of that is so underwhelming. By the way, since the plot won’t move forward, the live-action version of Mihawk doesn’t arrest Luffy because he’s “interesting”? That’s the best the writers could come up with.
In the anime, the first time that we get to see Arlong and his team of fishmen is when the Straw Hats reach Cocoyasi Village because Nami has run away with the Going Merry to settle her debt with Arlong. There’s the whole backstory about why Nami owes so much money to Arlong, what the villagers think of Nami, how Arlong betrays Nami by making a deal with the Marines, and how the Straw Hats come to her rescue. In the live-action series, we see the Arlong Pirates very early on in the series as one of them kidnaps Buggy and uses one of his ears that’s still stuck to Luffy’s hat to track him down and retrieve the map to the One Piece from him. When Arlong learns that Luffy and the rest are at Baratie, he shows up in person and gets into a fight with Luffy. Nami pretends to betray Luffy as she goes with Arlong to the Cocoyasi Village and hands over the map to him as well. I don’t want to get into the physical difference between Arlong from the anime and Arlong from the live-action series, even though it waters down the consistent “David vs. Goliath” dynamic between Luffy and the villains, but what’s up with this particular change?
In the anime, Arlong intends to rule over the world, and he wants to use Nami’s map-drawing skills to know every section of the planet before heading out there. But he doesn’t go anywhere until Nami’s work is done. In the live-action series, his prowess is dumbed down to such a dizzying extent. The anime dedicates 14 episodes to Nami’s backstory and the fight between the Straw Hats, the fishmen, and Arlong. The live-action show does the same in three episodes, where the focus constantly keeps shifting to Garp, Koby, Helmeppo, and Buggy as well. That’s 350 minutes versus 180 minutes, i.e., around 6 hours versus 3 inconsistent hours. On top of all that, the fight choreography, the stakes, and the overall acting are nowhere in comparison to what the anime does to sell the viscerality of the fight between the Arlong Pirates and the Straw Hats.
Is Netflix’s live-action series better than the anime?
The whole point of making this comparison is that the live-action One Piece seeks to set itself apart from the anime by deleting important story-related things while assuming that they can change up the pacing of the story by making it a chase across the seas. But then it tries to evoke the sensation of watching the anime with its off-kilter camera work and action beats. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If the live-action Netflix series truly wanted to be its own thing, it needed to do its own take on the story instead of trying to hastily summarize the first 44 (or so) episodes of the anime, and it needed to come up with its own action vocabulary.
If you are banking on nostalgia while trying to poke holes in said nostalgia, then you are not trying to be an adaptation. You are just trying to hijack the popularity of the One Piece IP to make money. There’s no art or passion behind it. It’s just content, and that’s the last thing One Piece should be. Anyway, thanks to the ongoing strikes that Netflix is partly to blame for, the showrunners won’t be able to rush into a second season by claiming millions of people have watched this first season. They’ve got to sit with the criticisms that have been leveled against the series and hopefully respect the source material they’re adapting while doing something original. Until they do, the One Piece anime is going to continue to be the superior version.