Let us set the record straight now, and let no one be offended for God’s sake. Before approaching the new One Piece TV show produced by Netflix, out today 31st August exclusively on the streaming platform and made available as a preview for Freaking News in recent days, the writer knew nothing about One Piecehad never even held a single volume of the original manga of Eiichiro Oda and will have seen no more than a couple of episodes of the anime of Toei Animation during its original Italian airing decades ago.
Therefore, it can genuinely be said that, for your loyal critic, Netflix’s live-action remake of One Piece was the first real entry point into the bizarre world of rubber pirates and clowns with jaunty limbs born from the mad mind of Eiichiro Oda. In fact, the writer knew so little about One Piece that only now, as he is busy jotting down these words to give you a dispassionate preview of the eight episodes of the first season on Netflixhe reviewed with his mind’s eye some colourful images of One Piece: Redwhich we told you about in the article on the Plaion Pictures’ March 2023 home-videos releases.
So ignore the first paragraph altogether because apparently I had already stumbled upon One Piece and something of this world had already been conveyed to my attention (that I have since totally removed it should make you realise how little I am personally and sentimentally attached to this saga). Now, however – and that no one here gets upsetwe appeal to the most ardent and fierce fans in the history of manga and anime and comics to read from right to left – thanks to Netflix, I understood the appeal of One PieceI won’t say that I started to love it, but in short, I devoured the eight episodes one after the other.
One Piece: the Netflix live-action
For those even worse off than me and therefore totally unaware of the dynamics at the heart of the story created by Eiichiro Oda – who I am informed is thebest-selling manga series ever in Japanthink about it – One Piece is a sea adventure starring Monkey D. Luffy (whom I remember being nicknamed ‘Rubber’, or am I wrong?), a young man who has always dreamed of a life of freedom, sets off from his small village to embark on a perilous journey in search of a legendary treasure, the ONE PIECE, with in his pocket the dream of becoming the Pirate King..
The first season, as mentioned, consisting of eight episodes, is all focused on the formation of Luffy’s crew who, from episode to episode, will get to know new crew members (Iñaki Godoy as Captain Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro, Emily Rudd as Nami, Jacob Romero as Usopp and Taz Skylar as Sanji) as he and his new friends scour every inch of the vast seas pursued by both Marines (one of his goals is to get a big price on his head) and rival pirates, some of whom are much meaner than he is (distinguished by goodness of spirit and overwhelming enthusiasm).
Same old Netflix
Unfortunately, the live-action adaptation of One Piece created by Matt Owens and Steven Maeda does not excel in terms of staging qualitycontent to bring Oda’s bizarreness ‘into the real’ without trying to use his distinctive key (live-action) to have his say in the field. We’re in the same old Netflix routine, we’re average to average, we’re in Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday, which does away with what little style Tim Burton had left after Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland, we’re in the streaming-style algorithm.
The miracle of The Sandman (which, however, was a Warner Bros. production only distributed by Netflix) fails a second time; everything appears squashed with backgrounds always out of focus to hide their artificiality, no flashes or ideas able to rival animation and provide its own initiative even for a fee. One Piece has no immediately recognisable and visually engaging hallmarks; on the contrary, it appears tastefully uniformed to the well-established Netlifixian matrix, precise and stolid, bright and garish, but never really personal.
Of course, as I said, it won me over, it is often hilarious, full of those heterogeneous elements capable of attracting several different types of audience in the pursuit of the record number of views, and very likeable in its light-hearted spirit to the point of almost making you feel guilty if you ‘stop playing’, if you stop following: but the ‘following’ dangerously corresponds to ‘seeing’, which is the opposite of lookingmore or less on the same coordinates that the work occupies in relation to the product.
One Piece is not to blame in this sense: it is just the latest in a shift in public taste and industry modus operandi, and as already mentioned it works on its own terms. But there are still those who, to the perfectly polished and clean and safe shell of good empty serial products, will still prefer the spectacular and imperfect pulp of courageous and ambitious cinematic works like Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell. Of course no one claimed the kinetic force of Hideaki Annothe best in the world – perhaps together with Brad Bird and Guillermo Del Toro – when it comes to rendering the power of animation in live-action (here is our opinion on his latest film Shin Kamen Rider) but if One Piece represents yet another Hollywood step towards the much-coveted live-action remake of Akirathere’s a long way to go.
To say (that I also know something about anime): we all remember the first shot of Cowboy Bebop, don’t we? That sinuous descent with which the camera crept down a dank, nocturnal alleyway to catch, in the swaggering manner of an old-fashioned noir, protagonist Spike Siegel standing in a corner doing nothing but enjoying a cigarette? Stuff for founding mythologies, stuff to get up on the couch and clap and keep your eyes glued to the television, stuff ahead of its time even today for how it found the most genuine possible meeting point between Eastern and Western ways. Here Netflix had already tried in the field of live-action precisely with Cowboy Bebop, released in 2021 and cancelled within a few months. And there is nothing in One Piece that is better than Cowboy Bebop, the production seems interchangeable and in these two years the values have remained identical.
Which is not to say you can’t have fun, but creating images is something else.