One Piece review: Netflix live-action navigates choppy waters with surprising charm

The live-action adaptation of Eiichiro Oda's iconic manga is out now

Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix)
Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix) (CASEY CRAFFORD/NETFLIX)
  • 📺 Where to watch One Piece: All episodes premiere on Netflix on Thursday, 31 August

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: Bleach, Naruto, My Hero Academia, Black Sails

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Iñaki Godoy, Mackenyu, Emily Rudd, Jacob Romero, Taz Skylar

  • How long is it? 8 episodes, approximately one hour each

  • 📖 What’s it about? Monkey D. Luffy is on a mission to get to the Grand Line and become King of the Pirates. To do so he puts together a crew of friends he makes along his journey as they face formidable enemies from across the seas.

Netflix doesn't have the best history with adapting classic manga and anime for live-action. The streamer tried with Death Note and Cowboy Bebop, but they failed to generate more than contempt from fans and both were cancelled shortly after their first seasons.

Read more: Everything you need to know about One Piece

Now Netflix is attempting it again, this time with Eiichiro Oda's iconic series One Piece. Can the streamer rewrite its history of live-action manga/anime adaptations? The answer is a bit complicated.

One Piece follows Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), a young man who wants to become King of the Pirates and to do so he decides to put together a crew and head to the Grand Line to find the fabled treasure of Gold Roger: the One Piece.

Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece (Netflix)
Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece (Netflix) (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

The first season charts Luffy's journey as he puts together a crew with pirate hunter Rorona Zoro (Mackenyu), sharp-talking thief navigator Nami (Emily Rudd), wannabe pirate and elaborate liar Usopp (Jacob Romero), and a cook with a mean kick named Sanji (Taz Skylar).

Read more: The best anime to live-action adaptations ranked

Adapting Oda's manga was always going to be a challenge, the original has been in print since 1997 and has 106 volumes to date, and the anime adaptation is currently 1,073 episodes long. It's an elaborate narrative with an array of unique characters, and the Netflix show does its best to be faithful to it.

The series condenses much of the East Blue arc into its eight episodes — in comparison it takes around 45 episodes of the anime to tell the same stories.

Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix)
Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix) (CASEY CRAFFORD/NETFLIX)

Even though it covers so much ground, the show does a good job of cutting the fat and getting to the heart of each storyline, introducing viewers to the main players without sacrificing on the action.

Some fans may be upset to learn that changes have been made at all, but something had to give. One new and welcome addition to the storyline is the focus on one of Luffy's first friends, Koby (Morgan Davies).

Luffy saves Koby from a life of servitude and this allows him to chase his dream of being a marine. The original doesn't reunite the pair until a long time has passed since their first interaction, but Netflix viewers will get to see Koby's journey alongside Luffy and it ensures that the live-action gives longtime fans something different to what they expect.

Emily Rudd as Nami in One Piece (Netflix)
Emily Rudd as Nami in One Piece (Netflix) (CASEY CRAFFORD/NETFLIX)

What holds the Netflix show together is what also makes Oda's original timeless: Luffy and his crew. Godoy was chosen by the creator personally and it's easy to see why: he embodies the character's positive, can-do spirit and often dials things up to 11. It's an acting choice that may seem grating to some viewers but is a perfect interpretation of Luffy.

Read more: Every Upcoming Hollywood Anime Live-Action Adaptation That's Got Fans Stressed (Kotaku, 11-min read)

Mackenyu is all gruff charm as Zoro, while Romero lends Usopp a tender sweetness, and Rudd's Nami and Skylar's Sanji are also integral parts of the crew. They each have their appeal and help draw viewers in so that we want to see them achieve their respective dreams.

Jacob Romero as Usopp in One Piece (Netflix)
Jacob Romero as Usopp in One Piece (Netflix) (CASEY CRAFFORD/NETFLIX)

The Netflix show sees the Straw Hats face some interesting villains, Buggy the clown (Jeff Ward), marine Vice Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan) and swordsman Dracule Mihawk (Steven John Ward) are highlights.

Ward fully embraces the whacky nature of his character, making Buggy more menacing than he is in the manga by dialling down the clown caricature and highlighting his more unhinged side even when he makes silly jokes for applause.

Jeff Ward as Buggy The Clown in One Piece (Netflix)
Jeff Ward as Buggy The Clown in One Piece (Netflix) (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

While some villains work in live-action, others feel a little more goofy than is intended. McKinley Belcher III does his best to make fish-man Arlong threatening, for example, but it's hard not to be distracted by the prosthetics used to make him look like a shark.

Read more: One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda asked AI to write the next chapter of his manga. Here's the results (NextShark, 4-min read)

In fact there are a few characters whose look doesn't translate well onscreen. Yes, they are accurate to the original, but some just seem like they're in cheap cosplay because of their design.

Taz Skylar as Sanji in One Piece (Netflix)
Taz Skylar as Sanji in One Piece (Netflix) (CASEY CRAFFORD/NETFLIX)

That being said, the series has some great action and impressive set pieces, Zoro's sword fights are particularly notable thanks to the tight choreography and actor Mackenyu's keen fighting skills.

There's enough to One Piece to find enjoyable, and while not all of it works the central cast keep the show charming and engaging. The question now is whether fans of the original are ready to embrace it.

Watch the trailer for One Piece