‘One Piece’ is shockingly spectacular

By Janie Walenda

When the writers and actors’ strike began in May, I joked with my brother about how we, two people who watch a lot of film and television, will cope. I said that I would likely end up hate-watching old Dracula movies and comparing them to the book. And given his newfound enjoyment of anime, I joked that he would give in and start “One Piece.” I should’ve known better.  

“One Piece” is a notoriously inaccessible anime. Thousands of episodes long, with no end in sight and an art style that easily turns off potential viewers, “One Piece” is not only hard to get into, but nigh impossible to adapt. At least that’s what everyone thought. 

Anime live-action adaptions have fallen flat on their face time and time again. “Death Note” is a good example of a more grounded, compact story that had great potential to make a solid live-action story. “One Piece” on the other hand? The protagonist has stretchy powers, there are almost as many characters as episodes and the characters use snail phones.  But when my brother sat me down over Labor Day to watch the live action “One Piece,” I was treated to a fun, action-packed series that didn’t require me to watch a single episode of the anime.

Snail megaphone? Why not.

 “One Piece” succeeds in knowing exactly what to take seriously, and what to make goofy. The production value of the show is top-notch, with crisp cinematography and top-notch fight scenes. The world of “One Piece” is inherently silly, and the live action doesn’t waste time trying to explain everything.  When the vice-admiral of the marines shows up in a dog hat, no one blinks an eye. The in-universe equivalent of telephones are living snails. It’s this goofiness that preserves the spirit of the anime, and contributes to the world-building of “One Piece.”

The most endearing part of the show are its characters. It wisely takes its time in building the team, rather than rushing into it in the first episode. The well-paced season constantly moves the action forward while giving its characters room to breath.

All the characters introduced are charming, but it’s hard to beat our main character, Monkey D. Luffy. Iñaki Godoy realistically brings the character’s signature manic energy to the world of live action, and perfectly encapsulates why this character is at the center of the show. Over-confident and under-prepared, with a big heart and an even bigger appetite, Luffy’s relentless cheerfulness and ambition manages to win over even the most unlikeliest of characters to his pirate crew.

The Straw Hat crew, named after Luffy’s signature hat, consists of four other characters by the end of season one. Nami, Zoro, Usopp and Sanji fit into the crew in unique and compelling ways. When they proclaim their dreams at the end of the season, it feels earned because we understand why they have those dreams, and we’re rooting for them to succeed.

The Straw Hat Pirates make it easy to root for them.

Part of the reason why this character-building works is that “One Piece”also mastered the art of the well-placed flashback. These moments are always placed at crucial times for the character in the present, making them feel necessary instead of just fluff. My favorite backstory has to be Sanji’s, for being equal parts dark and heartwarming, with Zoro’s as a close second.

While the Straw Hat crew rightfully earn their place at the center of the show, the supporting characters are one of the biggest delights of the season. Garp, Koby and Helmeppo serve as the most consistent antagonistic forces in the show.  Their involvement is made more compelling by Garp and Koby’s connection to Luffy, and Helmeppo’s surprising character growth from the most annoying character to someone I’ll consider rooting for. Cheff Zeff is another standout character, as the “One Piece” equivalent of Gordon Ramsey. 

Where the supporting characters really shine are with the villains. My absolute favorite character of the show, Mihawk, has an incredible strong presence considering how little screentime he has. His duel with Zoro is excellent not just because of the action, but because of how crucial it is to Zoro’s development, and how it reveals Mihawk’s character. 

My other favorite antagonist, hard as it is to admit, is Buggy. I don’t do well with clown-based villains, thanks to a life-long fear of the Joker. I had no idea that such a character existed until the end of the first episode, and it was enough for me to want to stop watching. However, I eventually got past my deep-rooted fear and enjoyed Buggy a lot. He’s a bit of a diva, and his supernatural powers make a good early challenge to Luffy.

 Shanks is another example of a compelling supporting character.

As we finished Buggy’s episode, my brother said “I’ll have to show you something they did in the anime, I bet they won’t do it here.” About five minutes later, they did exactly what he wanted them to do. While the live action “One Piece” has countless changes from its source material, it managed to take everything that is appealing and fun about the anime, and change it to perfectly fit into live action.

1000 episodes is a hard sell. I had no intention or desire to watch the anime before. But when the final episode of the live action “One Piece” finished, my only thought is that I wanted more.

“One Piece,” both live action and anime, is streaming on Netflix.

Janie Walenda is a junior Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew. When she isn’t obsessing over her own nerdy interests, she’s usually absorbing her friends’ nerdy interests.

Images courtesy of Netflix.

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