Getting Things Right: The Success of Netflix's One Piece

Jake Tropila
October 4, 2023
(Source: Netflix)

Over the past several years, Netflix has focused a portion of its original content on producing live-action adaptations of beloved anime series. From Death Note (originally a 26-episode series, released as a single film in 2017) to Cowboy Bebop (likewise a 26-episode series, adapted into a 10-episode season in 2021), the results have been shaky at best, facing dismissal from critics and outright derision from the most ardent fans. Their latest venture, 2023’s One Piece, arguably has bigger shoes to fill: the original anime series, which is still ongoing, has an episode count greater than 1,000, and as such has amassed a legion of fans worldwide. But whereas Netflix’s previous shows could be construed as failures, One Piece has been a surprising success, with a second season already greenlit for production.

So, why did this show succeed where others have failed? For many, the One Piece adaptation never lost sight of its original intentions: the show fully lives up to its roots as a rousing adventure story, following scores of characters around the globe as they race to find a most valuable bounty of pirate treasure, the titular One Piece. The protagonist is a young lad named Monkey D. Luffy, an aspiring pirate who possesses the unusual ability to contort any part of his body into a rubbery weapon. Luffy is soon accompanied by others that will form his ragtag crew, including guileful thief Nami and stoic swordsman Roronoa Zoro, but the show seldom deviates from his Hero’s Journey arc, with Luffy hoping to make a name for himself so he, too, can be known and feared as a notorious pirate, complete with a wanted poster.

Paired well with the colorful cast of heroes are the virtuosic performances, as each live-action actor successfully embodies their anime counterpart with a spirited panache. The East Blue Sea could also be a major character, as the series scores high in nautical travel, while making various pit stops at several distinct and exotic locales. The constant travel lends the narrative well to classic adventure/treasure hunting yarns, with a common end goal in view for all characters. This has certainly aided One Piece’s acclaim, with memorable characters, eye-popping settings, and a grand notion of adventure that introduce stakes not present in previous live-action anime adaptations.

Spanning eight hour-long episodes, One Piece covers an understandably miniscule fraction of its source material, but it has already proven enough to entice viewers for further episodes. Several members of Luffy’s rogues gallery of villains make appearances, including diabolical pirate Buggy the Clown, deadly swordsman Warlord Dracule Mihawk, and nefarious fish-man Arlong, keeping the show brimming with exciting encounters amongst a variety of Supporting Characters. And the show has also maintained its cheery sense of humor, keeping the action light and enjoyably paced, most of which is emblematic in Luffy himself, who is never without his trademark perpetual grin and devil-may-care attitude. By keeping things simple and hemming close to the beloved original source, Netflix has finally found a recipe of live-action anime adaptation success.

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