Netflix treats the popular comic by Eiichiro Oda the same way it treats everything else.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda might be one of the best comic books ever made. It’s one of the funniest things ever made. One Piece is an over-the-top action-comedy about a boy named Monkey D. Luffy who has the power to stretch and wants to find the legendary wealth One Piece and become King of the Pirates. It is a mix of Looney Tunes and a fantasy epic on a scale that can’t be matched. With 1,090 chapters in 106 volumes telling a continuous story that started in 1997, along with an anime adaptation with 1,073 episodes, multiple animated feature films, video games, and a few stage plays, One Piece is the most popular manga of all time by a huge margin.
Because of this, there are a lot of hopes for Netflix’s live-action version of One Piece. Fans are very excited, but One Piece will also be judged by the fact that it is an American version of a Japanese work, the latest in a long line of usually disappointing live-action versions of manga and anime, and, most importantly, Netflix’s latest attempt to make a beloved anime into a live-action movie after Cowboy Bebop failed.
THE GHOST OF COWBOY BEBOP
If your first question about the live-action One Piece is how it relates to the live-action Bebop, the answer is that it’s much better, but maybe that’s not a fair comparison. Tonally, One Piece is much simpler. Like the source material, Netflix’s One Piece follows Monkey D. Luffy’s (Iaki Godoy) crazy journey to become King of the Pirates with nothing but the clothes on his back and the powers he got as a child when he ate a magical fruit that turned his body into rubber. The main goal of One Piece is to make Luffy’s journey and the many friends and enemies he meets along the way as interesting as possible. This is in contrast to Cowboy Bebop, which had to deal with a lot of stylistic changes and existential angst in its source material.
At first, the job is fun for the show. Showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda do a great job of bringing Oda’s work to life in the first episode. They introduce a strange world where almost everyone is a pirate or related to pirates, and each of them has some kind of trick. For a while, it’s fun to meet all of these characters, like the quiet fighter Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), the brave thief Nami (Emily Rudd), the pirate Buggy (Jeff Ward), who looks like a clown, and so on. Once the writers and makers of One Piece stop telling us about their world and start living in it, things start to go wrong.
One Piece’s first season, which has eight episodes, is about how Luffy’s crew, the Straw Hat Pirates, slowly comes together as he goes through the pirate-filled East Blue ocean to make a name for himself and find the treasure of One Piece. As Luffy stops at a pirate fair or an oceanic gourmet restaurant, for example, he makes a new friend and meets a new enemy. At the same time, flashbacks show how the Straw Hat Pirates got started and what makes them want to go on adventures. What holds it back isn’t that it’s a bad comic adaptation—in fact, it’s great in many ways—but that it’s a Netflix show.
One piece has trouble with Netflix
In a still from One Piece, Koby (Morgan Davies) seems surprised by something.
Netflix is known for being hard to understand. Viewers and critics haven’t known for a long time how much creative control or input it has over its TV shows and how widely that control or input is spread across its lineup. After ten years of Netflix original shows, a visual house style started to take shape. This style is characterized by muted colors, dim artificial lighting, and a focus on very simple shots. The biggest flex a cinematographer will make is the odd tracking shot, and there are way too many Dutch angles.
In the same way, the plots and pacing of Netflix dramas seemed to follow a house style. Thanks to the current Writers Guild of America strike, we know that a lot of the problems with drama on streaming TV can be traced back to how streamers make their shows. Strange pace, disconnected stories, and weak character writing are all natural results of companies that don’t have writing staffs and instead hire writers on a piecework basis. This means that writers are hired, then let go, and aren’t involved in making the show.
One Piece wasn’t made this way on purpose, but it was made in this culture and follows the rules of that society. It is also the show that has been hurt the most by these rules, since maybe The Sandman, which was also based on a well-known comic book with a strong visual style that was lost in Netflix’s unique style. (That may have also contributed to Bebop’s death in some way.) It really is sad. The creation of One Piece is great in every way: Its sets are beautifully designed, the costumes feel like they came from the manga, the fight choreography does a great job of translating comic action to 3D, and the actors give it their all. Godoy’s performance as Luffy is so perfect that it hurts. Godoy plays the part with the boundless energy of a cartoon coming to life and a toothy smile that makes everyone like him. But everything is ruined by the Netflix house style, which makes those bright colors look dull and puts the actors in the middle of the screen.
One Piece feels both too fast and too slow, like a lot of Netflix shows. It’s willing to eat up a lot of plot as it jumps from place to place and flashes back and forth in time, but it’s rarely willing to spend much of its 50-minute-plus episodes on simple character beats that just show the cast hanging out and being pirates. Because of this, if the plot isn’t taking the audience somewhere new or introducing them to a fun new face, One Piece comes to a complete halt as things happen around the Straw Hat Pirates and we wait for them to fix the problem at hand. Again, this isn’t a problem with One Piece. It’s a problem with Netflix. A show quickly gets old if all it does is show the viewer something new, which is what too many Netflix shows do. Television is not based on new ideas, but on what people already know.
MANGA BATTLES, MANGA BATTLES
In the anime and manga series One Piece, the pirate Luffy, who wears a straw hat, meets his old friend Uta with open arms and a wide-open mouth. Film: Red
It might be important to say that One Piece is really weird. To its credit, the Netflix show doesn’t hide its manga roots. However, if you’re not familiar with manga as a medium, its tone, plot quirks, and tropes can feel very strange.
For people who haven’t seen Shonen manga before, watching One Piece means dealing with the genre tropes of Shonen manga. These are books that were made with young boys in mind, but they are popular with people of all ages. All of the telltale signs are there: a sincere approach to friendship, gonzo fights with colorful characters who have gimmicks that are never explained, and a tendency for characters to shout the names of their ending moves as if they are both professional wrestlers and wrestling fans in one.
As strange as this may seem, once One Piece gets going, it’s easy to get used to its oddities and see its appeal, especially when Godoy says them with conviction and sincere charm. One Piece is annoying because it seems like it could be fixed. Under the surface of these eight episodes is a real celebration of Eiichiro Oda’s work that is a real gem. If the show came from somewhere else, we might see it.
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