Review ONE PIECE Netflix

After less than stellar attempts to adapt popular anime to live action, Netflix has learned to be faithful to the original material. Their attempt to adapt the magna and anime ONE PIECE by Odo Eiichiro is a remarkable success. Purists will be irked at every change made in the adaptation, justly so in some cases, and in others not.

Non-purists, that is, those with no familiarity with the original, or no clear memory, will enjoy a fine viewing experience: for the Netflix version is serviceable, occasionally brilliant, and makes only one or two missteps. Non-purists will not be comparing every line against the original, which is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the greatest work of genius of any medium or genre since Tolkien.

The non-purists will have a better time, since no craftsman, however skilled, can match once-in-a-lifetime genius. A skilled and honest adaptation of a work of inspired genius will always disappoint, because the genius-inspired version is better; but it will always satisfy if, as here, it is skilled and honest.

The story concerns Monkey D. Luffy, a simpleminded but goodhearted orphan, who dreams to set to sea and seek his fortune under the jolly roger. He is inspired by the dying words of the pirate king Gold Roger on the scaffold, challenging the world to find his famous treasure, which he has left all in one piece — hence the name of the series. (However, in this version, the words “One Piece” are not spoken in the opening monologue. The first of many small pointless variations from the original which detract from the story.)

However, Luffy’s idea of the pirate life includes freedom, camaraderie and adventure, but does not seem to involve carnage and looting. So he is, in effect, a boy’s glamorized daydream of a pirate thrust into a world of real pirates — with the unlikely result, against all odds, that daydreams are stronger than reality.

Reservations that ONE PIECE glamorizes piracy are absurdly misplaced: the pirate villains invented by Odo include some of the most sadistic and reprehensible, treacherous, vile and just plain annoying creatures imaginable. And Luffy is the worse pirate imaginable, because he commits no act of piracy throughout his career. He is merely too simple and goodhearted to realize that he is a storybook pirate set down into grim reality.

In a sense, Luffy is to piracy what Don Quixote is to knighthood: a silly man deceived by tall tales. But imagine how different Cervantes’ immortal hero would have been if written by Jack “King” Kirby and given the powers of a superhero like Mr. Fantastic: imagine a simple-minded yet goodhearted adventurer actually able to wreak a holy crusade against heathens and wizards and servants of sin, and to overturn giants whether disguised as windmills or not.  That is Monkey D. Luffy.

It is notable that Luffy during his career never kills anyone: he defeats them not just by kicking their asses, but, as it were, by overcoming their dreams.

At the outset, he has no ship, no crew, no sea-chart, and no sense of direction. But he wears the straw hat given him by friendly pirate captain Shanks, with the promise to return it to him once Luffy finds the one piece and becomes King of the Pirates.

Luffy sets to sea snoring in a fishbarrel, is intercepted by pirates, meets and frees one a captive chore-boy named Koby, a cowardly waif whose dream, against all odds, is to become a marine. Luffy inspires Koby to follow his dream, despite that this means they will be foes in times to come.

One madcap scrape leads to another as Luffy, seemingly by mishap, gathers a crew: the three-sword wielding pirate-hunter named Zoro, the cunning catburglar Nami, the craven spinner of tall tales Usopp,  and Sanji the sou-chef and savate kick-boxer. With each escapade, he makes enemies, both of marines and pirates: Axe-Hand Morgan, Buggy the Clown, Kuro of the Cat Pirates, Saw-toothed Arlong.

A side plot cleverly added to this adaptation is the pursuit by Vice-Admiral Garp, with now-ensign Koby assigned to track down Luffy, now known as the captain of the Straw Hat Pirates.

Luffy is not overwhelmed, by mischance, he has eaten the magical Gum-gum Devil Fruit, which gives his body the resilience and flexibility of rubber, but cursed the sea against him, so that seawater drains his strength and power. Fortunately for a pirate, bullets rebound from his rubbery body, but unfortunately for a seaman, he cannot swim. Nor is he the only devil-fruit eater encountered: the world is an odd anachronistic mix of clipper ships, cyborgs, half-humans, and swordsmen whose fighting spirit enables superhuman feats. The setting, in fact, has that kitchen-sink feeling found in superhero comics, where anything from any genre, if it is cool, can put in an appearance.

There are sea-fights, sword-fights, fisticuffs, heists, torture, sea-monsters, and betrayals, acts of kindness, of self-sacrifice, of stark bravery, and some of the best fight choreography I have ever seen.  Good humor and a certain purity of heart is threaded throughout, but parents are warned this show, despites it comicbooky origins, is not for kids: there is unnecessary foul language, self-stabbing, dismemberment, cannibalism, and one unnecessary shot of a prancing gentleman’s buttocks.

The look and feel of the costumes, make-up and sets is taken directly from the original book. It is as if the original manga drawings spring to life, remarkably so. There are too many easter eggs to count.  Albeit the exaggeration and absurdity of the drawings could not be perfectly reproduced: Usopp, for example, lacks his signature Pinocchio nose. However, rest assured, all the casting decisions were good, except for those that were great:

The actor playing Monkey D Luffy, Iñaki Godoy, a difficult role to play (since the character is both deeply wise and deeply foolish) does a splendid job. He is a fan of the original, and it shows. Indeed, at times, he was given lines to say out of character for the original, which he somehow makes sound right.

Sanji (Taz Skylar) and Zoro (Mackenyu) are particularly well cast, and Arlong (McKinely Belcher III) is the real Arlong sprung to life.  Garp (Vincent Regan) also perfectly captures his character. Indeed, only Nami was miscast, lacking the sweetness and femininity of her cunning cartoon version, who is always cheerful as she cheats and tricks people.

Stylistically, only Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS can claim to have captured the look and feel of the original so closely, or perhaps Zack Snyder’s WATCHMAN.

The Executive Producer was Odo Eiichiro, and he consulted on the episodes, and so some of the brilliance of his writing, the understated use of parallels and symbolism, the cleverness of plot twists, the rich discovery of heart-wrenching backstories, and so on and so forth, is all present in this adaptation. There are only one or two places where the writing loses tension or direction, for example, the resolution where Garp finally overtakes Luffy.

On the other hand, elements not present in the original, but which improve and tighten the tale, were cleverly added, such as more of Arlong’s backstory and motive, or establishing at the outset that Vice Admiral Garp, once a friend of Gold Roger, was standing on the scaffold next to him when he died, and gave the order to execute him.

A minor example of a clever addition is that, in the original, Dracule Mihawk, one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, and the world’s greatest swordsman, meets the Straw Hat pirates by coincidence: here he is sent to retrieve Luffy by Garp, revealing the link between the Warlords and the World Government neatly, not to mention the link between Luffy and Garp.

Dracule Mihawk, it must be emphasized, look perfect. He could have stepped from the pages of the manga, and the actor (Steven Ward) captures Mihawk’s spirit and mood perfectly.

There is nothing “woke” here. If you see elements that look woke, look again: these were in the original, put there by Odo long before wokeness began corrupting storylines, because he thought them absurd or funny.

Two themes, handled subtly in the original are here placed centerstage and emphasized: the necessity of following one’s dream, and the need of the older generation, when the time comes, to step aside and make way for the younger. Both are beautifully and stirringly handled. A scene where Red-Foot Zeff, retired pirate now working honestly as a cook, shares a meal and old memories with Vice Admiral Garp.

All in all, Odo Eiichiro’s writing can be used as a textbook on how to set up a satisfying pay off, and then pay it off in spades. The moment when the signature pirate ship, the Going Merry, sets sail, and the music from the anime swells in the background, will bring a heart-swell to any true fan of the series.

In sum, and honest, and at times brilliant, adaptation of an anime which should have been impossible to adapt. Netflix released all eight episodes at once: this series is both worth binge-watching, and worth savoring.

My only reservation is that one should not watch it in the company of purists for whom ONE PIECE is their favorite tale of all time, and who have memorized word balloons from the original. They will cheer when the adaptation is spot-on and note-perfect (which is frequent) and groan and writhe when a favorite scene is skipped or a well remembered villain is cut to save on run time (also frequent).

Very strongly recommended.