We have seen plenty of live-action adaptations of Japanese manga in the past, both made in Japan and in the U.S. Adapting a manga to live-action gives the opportunity to make a whole new audience aware of the source material, but we’ve had varying degrees of success when it comes to this type of adaptation. Now, Netflix is attempting arguably the most daunting manga adaptation imaginable: making a live-action show out of the best-selling manga of all time, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece.
One Piece is one of the most legendary fictional stories of the past 30 years, a two-time Guinness World Record holder, and a manga that has published more chapters in 26 years than we’ve had Superman comics in almost 90. Though the manga is nearing its conclusion, it is now getting a new life in a live-action show on Netflix, promising to tell a high-seas adventure like no other in a new medium. Before you set sails, however, here’s what you need to know about One Piece.
One Piece is, simply put, a story about pirates. More specifically, it takes place in a world completely unlike ours, full of wonder, with giant monsters and fruits that give you powers. Legendary pirate named Gol D. Roger used his dying words to drive countless souls to the seas with the opportunity to gather the world’s biggest treasure somewhere on the vast seas — the legendary One Piece. This ushered in a golden era of piracy, with countless pirates of all shapes and sizes seeking wealth, fame, and power.
The story focuses on Monkey D. Luffy, a hopeful pirate who wants to find the One Piece and become King of the Pirates. All he needs is a crew and also a ship, but he is ready to look for adventure anywhere it takes him. The manga is renowned for its vast worldbuilding and fleshed-out history that just keeps expanding with every new chapter, as well as Oda’s ability to blend heavy emotional moments, complex subjects, and outright silly cartoon antics. In other words, it rules.
As co-showrunner Matt Owens described the story in a statement, “It’s not just a fun pirate adventure series, it’s about so many different things: oppression, information control, self-doubt. There are so many wonderful emotional themes to this that continue to be timely.”
What is a pirate crew without a captain? Luckily, the Straw Hat Pirates have one very, well, unique captain in Monkey D. Luffy, a kid with the power to stretch his body like rubber. Creator Eiichiro Oda described creating Luffy as imagining “the most energetic child I could imagine. A normal child on the outside, but not at all normal on the inside.” Playing Luffy on the Netflix show is Mexican actor Iñaki Godoy, who describes the character as being “about dreams, friends, and adventure. He’s honest and a little bit selfish, but in a good way. He’s also fearless.”
And in case there’s any doubt Godoy was the right guy to play Luffy, Oda himself said that when they found Godoy, “I laughed. He was just like the person I drew in my manga.”
Also part of the crew is Roronoa Zoro, a deadly pirate hunter and expert swordsman whose signature style involves using three swords. Zoro is played by Japanese actor Mackenyu, who grew up idolizing One Piece and Zoro in particular. Though the auditions were so secretive Mackenyu didn’t know who he was trying out for, he said: “I knew if it wasn’t for Zoro, I didn’t want to audition at all.”
A pirate crew can’t go anywhere without a cook, and the Straw Hats have the best cook out there in Sanji, played by Taz Skylar, who had to do extensive training to master Sanji’s signature kick.
“It was such a gradual, painstaking process — my legs felt like they were hanging on by a thread at one point — but we did it,” Skylar said.
Before the Straw Hats can get anywhere, they need a navigator. Luckily, Nami is a quick-witted cartographer and a master thief. Emily Rudd plays Nami, a character she said she’s always felt drawn to.
“I started not-so-secretly playing the long game in lobbying for this role for three years. I colored my hair red and got it cut just like Nami’s,” Rudd said.
And rounding up the crew is Usopp, a sharpshooter who prefers to avoid confrontation — but always ends up finding trouble anyway. Jamaican-American actor Jacob Romero plays Usopp, who described Usopp’s power as being “when it comes time to step up for the people that he cares about, he really is able to be brave.”
And for fans of the anime adaptation, the original Japanese voice actors for Luffy, Zoro, Usopp, Nami, and Sanji will play the Straw Hats in the dubbed version.
Matt Owens (writer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Luke Cage) serves as co-showrunner of One Piece together with Steven Maeda (Lost, Helix). In a statement, Owens credited One Piece for saving his life.
“It’s a story of people caring for people, following your dreams, found family,” he said. “It really brought me out of that dark place I was in.”
The eight-episode season is directed by Marc Jobst, Emma Sullivan, Tim Southam, and Josef Wladyka, while Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, from The Witcher, composed the score for the series.
Arguably the most notable member of the One Piece crew is manga creator Eiichiro Oda himself, who served as an executive producer on the show. In a statement, Oda said he was very involved with the production and even pushed to change things if he felt they needed to.
“There were numerous scenes the production agreed to re-shoot because I felt they weren’t good enough to put out into the world,” Oda said.
Indeed, showrunner Matt Owens said creator Oda’s two biggest requests were that the show kept the Straw Hats’ backstories and the power sets of the source material.
“It’s not an exaggeration how involved he and his team were in this show. They saw outlines, scripts, dailies, cuts,” Owens said.
One Piece will premiere on August 31, 2023, on Netflix. The 8-episode season is divided into four 2-episode arcs that adapt the first major saga of the manga: the East Blue Saga. Given there are over 1,000 chapters in the manga, there is still a lot left to adapt should the series continue with another season.
The review embargo has lifted and the score for the season is shown below: