Netflix’s One Piece is not only a loyal adaptation of the beloved manga, but also an incredibly entertaining and well-made show in its own right.
Before we dive any further into this review, I feel like it’s worth clarifying exactly what my pre-existing relationship with the anime juggernaut known as One Piece (1999-) is. Whilst I may not be completely up-to-date with the series – I’m only on chapter 263 of a manga that proudly boasts over 1000 – but I am someone who’s fallen head over heels for its world and characters. There’s something about author Eiichiro Oda’s creativity and imagination that is just so entrancing and constantly makes me desperate to see what he thinks of next. Fair to say, I was going into this show excited, but also somewhat sceptical. How do you take something so obviously made for the medium of manga and anime, where the only limit on creativity is your own imagination, and translate that into a format that typically demands at least some sense of realism? Well, and I’m shocked to say this, but I think Netflix managed to do it.
If I had to put it simply, One Piece is like if Pirates of the Caribbean was written by someone with an extreme LSD addiction. It stars Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), a ridiculously positive young man who dreams of being “King of the Pirates”. Having eaten a Devil Fruit and thus having a body made of stretchy rubber, he sets off on a nautical adventure to try and find the One Piece, a mysterious treasure that once belonged to a great pirate known as Gold Roger (Michael Dorman). Along the way, he recruits a crew of unusual mates and finds himself up against a variety of other wacky pirates as well as the Marines, who essentially serve as the party poopers of the ocean.
Admittedly, it took me a second for my mind to truly process what I was seeing. Netflix’s One Piece is unabashedly itself at every turn, and I honestly can’t think of any other show I’ve seen in recent memory that has felt quite this different. Character designs are ripped straight from the anime, with actors sporting all kinds of crazy hair colours and wacky outfits. There’s a man with an axe for a hand and metal covering his mouth, there’s a man who’s also a shark and there’s even a guy who holds a sword in his mouth, which is one of those things that somehow makes sense in anime but when you see someone actually do it, you can’t help but feel like that person should probably seek help.
One Piece doesn’t care about that though, and never stops committing to being the most loyal adaptation it can be. This is the definition of an anime brought to life, and whilst it takes a second to adjust to its almost overwhelming sense of style, once you’re on board, you’re completely hooked. I rewatched the first episode of the show just before writing this and found that it played even better on rewatch, once I, as a loyal fan of the original, knew what changes to expect. It ambitiously tries to fit almost 100 chapters into a mere 8 episodes, resulting in various changes to allow for smoother pacing. Those who know the original off by heart may not be particularly pleased with every change, but a lot of them unfortunately do feel necessary.
This is probably my biggest gripe with the adaptation. As much as I accept the inevitably of some of its changes, I just don’t think they result in a better, or even equal, story. Now, before I go any further, please note that I’m comparing one of my favourite mangas of all time with a show I do consider to be one of the best on Netflix, but unfortunately, when you’re adapting a masterpiece, you’re naturally going to be compared to what came before. A lot of the manga’s supporting cast is unfortunately thrown out to sea to allow for the bigger characters to appear more, which does create some good moments, sure, but I feel like that massive supporting cast is part of what makes One Piece’s world building so good.
Certain arcs definitely feel like they’ve been cut within an inch of their life, missing so many memorable moments that I would have loved to have seen brought into reality. Several emotional scenes and strong character beats are missing, and so at times, it does unfortunately feel like a rushed-through version of a great story. I can’t help but think that a 10 or 12 episode run would have worked so much better for allowing some of these arcs (some reduced to single episodes) more time to breathe and shine. With that being said, luckily One Piece’s foundations are so strong that even an inferior and rushed version of it is still immensely entertaining and imaginative. Simply put, how can you not love this cast of characters and the world they inhabit?
The performances are another thing I had to adjust to at first. It took me a moment to throw away my preconceived notions about how these characters should sound and talk out of my head and accept what I was seeing, but once I did, I found myself completely won over by just how likeable everyone is. Iñaki Godoy is easily the standout here, given the almost impossible task of replicating a character who, by all metrics, should never be able to exist outside of the realm of anime and manga. Yet somehow, he manages to perfectly capture not only the goofiness and naive optimism that Luffy radiates at every turn, but also the ruthless streak that manages to keep him consistently intimidating.
As for the rest of the “Straw Hat Pirates”, as they come to name themselves, they’re all equally entertaining. I found myself enjoying Roronoa Zoro’s (Mackenyu) badassery and dry delivery the most at first, but by the end, it was a tough battle between him and Sanji (Taz Skylar) for my favourite of the crew. There’s something about Sanji’s gorgeous British accent that managed to charm me off my feet the first second I heard it, to the point where he’s now cemented himself as my new Netflix profile picture. The entire crew looks perfect from a visual standpoint, discarding the elements that would push the costumes too far into just looking like expensive cosplay whilst still retaining everything that makes them profoundly them. What they did transforming Jacob Romero Gibson into a version of Usopp that’s recognisable as the character whilst not giving him the iconic Pinocchio-esque long nose is genuinely genius.
In terms of the technicals, One Piece manages to completely nail them. The cinematography is lush and bold, rarely choosing the easy shot and prioritising style over everything else, which 9 times out of 10 works beautifully. Everything about Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli’s score is to die for, giving characters themes that manage to transform some admittedly peculiar looking villains into menacing threats that the viewer immediately takes seriously. On top of all that, they even manage to nail the visual effects, imbuing them with a sense of style that makes the inherent goofiness of seeing a man stretch not look awful. I will always champion goofy looking CGI that feels stylised over effects that try to look realistic at all costs, and here, they brilliantly commit to the silliness that proudly runs through One Piece’s veins.
Honestly, it’s a miracle that Netflix’s One Piece turned out the way it did. From minute one, all of the odds seemed stacked up against it, but here we are now – it’s come out and it’s simply wonderful. So much love has obviously been poured into it and it shows at every single moment. It’s a silly, goofy show that isn’t afraid to be those things, whilst still being confident enough in itself to throw in the odd heart-wrenching scene or adrenaline-pumping fight. For fans of the original anime or manga, it’s a loyal, but still unique, adaptation that beautifully captures exactly what makes the source material work so well, whilst for those who have yet to give the beloved behemoth a chance, it’s a great introduction into one of the greatest fantasy worlds of all time.
One Piece (2023) is now available to watch on Netflix.