As a manga series, One Piece has run for 25 years totalling over 1,000 issues, and also has over 1,000 animated episodes under its swashbuckling belt.
Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates have already stolen the hearts of millions, but has One Piece come along to break Netflix’s reputation as the live action wrecker of anime?
What Is One Piece About?
Excitement, adventure, and really wild things abound in a land where each swish of the ocean can bring new creatures, bounty hunters, pirates, marines, or crew mates.
Set in a land where vast oceans sprawl in all directions, the ‘One Piece’ is the fabled long hidden treasure of famous executed pirate, Gold Roger.
After accidentally eating a ‘Devil Fruit’ as a child, Monkey D. Luffy’s body is imbued with amazing rubber abilities and, determined to make a name for himself, he sets out to find the One Piece and become King of the Pirates.
Unfortunately he isn’t the only one. Pirate gangs roam the seas, pursued by law enforcing marines and lethal pirate hunters.
We all like a brooding protagonist but One Piece stands apart from its adapted contemporaries like Death Note or Cowboy Bebop insofar as Monkey D. Luffy is about as upbeat as any character put to screen.
Brought to larger-than-life by Iñaki Godoy, the role is a deceptively hard one; anyone permanently positive is going to risk turning you away from the face of such relentless force.
Godoy delivers the character’s energy and idealism in spades but does it all with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Trust me,’ it says to both characters and audience, ‘I can win you over.’
One Piece Official Trailer
Is One Piece Worth Watching?
I must confess that whilst I have been aware of One Piece for years (and bought some branded t-shirts whilst in Japan because they looked so cool) I have never actually read or watched a moment of it.
Whilst you must take this review as one written by a total newbie coming in cold, I am happy to say I had the best of times with this delightful show.
Pirates of the Caribbean is an obvious touch point, but tonally A Series of Unfortunate Events is another. The latter’s dark but knowingly ridiculous humour runs rich through One Piece.
Whether captured by a demented clown whose sides are literally splitting, or squirreled away in a sick rich girl’s mansion where cat burglars prowl the corridors, One Piece leans hard into its world of huge personalities (stowing away a decent booty of character development and pathos along the way).
Godoy is superb. He is supported by co-stars Emily Rudd as Nami (a thief with a tragic past) and Mackenyu as Roronoa Zorro (a triple sword-wielding pirate hunter).
As the source material progressed plenty of crew members were added to Luffy’s ‘Straw Hat Pirates’, but this first Netflix season slowly introduces a few and ensures that they are given all due weight of time to bed in.
Even with the lavish spend on sets, costumes, and effects, it is the core cast of Luffy, Zorro, and Nami that anchored me to the show.
Despite their protestations that “we’re not a crew”, as Nami and Zorro eventually warm to Luffy’s relentless optimism then the show’s core tenants of fun, adventure, and friendship run all the more true.
Such concentration on character is also buoyed by a well-paced and lean 8 episode run.
We spend time with both sincere and corrupt marines who are constantly on the Straw Hat Pirates’ tail; gain a couple more crew mates along the way; and ramp up to an emotional and action-filled finale with the super strong and mob-like Fishmen Pirates.
When Luffy does eventually lose his cool it is all the more effective for the character work that built up to that moment.
A slight criticism: One Piece struggles to nail its age demographic. The larger than life approach suits a pre-teen audience but the forays into violence place it in the young adult arena.
For the most part though, much like Luffy, it suckers in the older audience by sheer force of will.
Packed full of heart and rubber soul, One Piece is the very definition of a swashbuckling adventure.
With perfectly chosen cast and series creator Eiichiro Oda very much hands on deck, Netflix may finally have made something that keeps both sides of the stolen coin happy. By Gum-Gum, they did it.
Words by Mike Record.