The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

You Don’t Have to Be a One Piece Fan to Enjoy the Live-Action Series

Netflix's new show is aesthetically confusing, but with compelling characters and slick fight scenes the goofily earnest series makes it work.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
The cast of One Piece stands in a line
Image: Netflix

Last week, Netflix’s One Piece live-action show landed massive praise across the board from old fans and new viewers alike. As someone who hasn’t ever encountered One Piece, and has not, in fact, ever felt any desire to pick up either the manga or any part of the anime (the manga, it must be stated, began serialized publication in 1997), I was skeptical of this new iteration. Other Netflix live-action adaptations of beloved manga have not really gone over well, on either a technical level or as excerpting previously cohesive stories, so I approached One Piece tentatively. After all, I had been burned by Cowboy Bebop just last year.

As someone with no idea what to expect, I will fully admit… it took me a couple episodes to get into it. But once I adapted to the aesthetic style of the series (more on that later), I found myself really enjoying the show! The plot is tight and moves through the shonen villain-of-the-week format quickly. Almost all of the characters are well rounded and polished from their manga origins until they became believable and understandable, even with the over-the-top fight scenes interspersed throughout the series. It’s good! Genuinely, honestly, the series is good, and that’s the biggest surprise of all.


The eight-episode season is based on the first arc of the One Piece manga, called the East Blue Arc. Eiichiro Oda was apparently heavily involved in the series, and he gave the adaptation his full approval upon its release. We get the classic backgrounding of every main protagonist, giving us a view into their early lives and helping firmly establish them in this world and this story–and giving the audience a more developed understanding of the world and the structure of the show.

At first, the biggest hurdle for me with One Piece was the tone. The goofy absurdism felt childish—but this isn’t a children’s TV show. Glitter bursts out of cannons, a man fights with a sword in his mouth, a marine wears zebra print pants… it’s literally wild to look at, especially when offered alongside brutal fight scenes, disturbing child abuse, and coarse dialogue. There’s also a lot of framing that felt to me like the show was attempting to imitate comic book panels, adding to the jarring contrast between presentation and story. It is the most aesthetically confusing show I have ever watched.


I think for me, either because I’m a classic Western audience member, or because I was simply unfamiliar with the manga, this was the hardest part for me to deal with, even as I was enjoying the show. There was a point early on where the group gets captured by a clown that can chop himself up and it was after this reveal that I got a little scared off the rest of the show. If this was going to be the whole thing, maybe it wasn’t for me… but I kept going, and I’m genuinely glad I did. While there is a distinct dissonance between the tone and the content, it comes off as goofy and earnest in equal measure. There’s a stylistic barrier to this show that feels like it never quite crosses into fully understandable, but about halfway through I got into it. The absurd earnesty is the point.

The only part of the show that I could never fully get into or appreciate was its main character. Monkey D. Luffy is a particular kind of shonen protagonist–excitable, singularly focused, over the top, and dedicated to his friends, even when it seems increasingly irresponsible to do so. There are iterations of this character all over successful anime—Uzamaki Naruto, My Hero Academia’s Midoriya, Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh, and Shoyo Hinata from Haikyuu!!—and despite having watched and enjoyed this particular brand of shonen hero, I found Luffy increasingly more and more annoying.

Image for article titled You Don’t Have to Be a One Piece Fan to Enjoy the Live-Action Series
Image: Netflix

Luffy is so loud! He yells so much! He’s a bit of an idiot! He seems to have no real direction beyond his own single focus on the One Piece and being King of the Pirates and there’s no real reason given for that–what does being King of the Pirates mean beyond a title? While towards the end of the series his dedication to rescuing Nami was admirable and I was rooting for him, I cared so much more about Zoro, Sanji, Nami, and even Koby (Usopp, I’m sorry you were so boring, maybe next season?) than I ever did about Luffy. I think my biggest problem is that I thought Luffy was emotionally manipulative and a bit of an asshole, even as he tried to do right by his friends.


But the show is good! Surprisingly good! The fight scenes in particular are excellent, even with Luffy stretching all over the place and screaming “Gum Gum Pistol!” like a fool. All the fights had narrative weight, and the characters meant something to me; I didn’t want to see them hurt (except Luffy, he could have stood to be hurt a little bit more). The show was clean. It was slick. Everything fit together, and at the end of the season, despite Luffy yelling again, I wanted a second season. And if anyone out there is taking notes… definitely take Zoro’s shirt off more often. Thank you.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the show being covered here wouldn’t exist.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.