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Netflix’s ‘One Piece’ Finally Proves Anime Adaptations Can Work

Fans were wary of this Netflix anime adaptation, but thanks to its faith in the source material, it’s set a new standard for its genre.

The first episode of One Piece covers the Shells Town arc, but also bleeds into other arcs to flow consistently.
Nami, Luffy and Zoro work together to escape the Marines in Netflix's One Piece. Credit: Netflix

When news of the live-action adaptation of One Piece first surfaced, everyone was skeptical. Like all other Netflix live-action adaptations, it would either poorly mimic the beloved anime or be a completely different show with a One Piece skin slapped onto it.

However, what sets this adaptation apart is the involvement of the legendary Eiichiro Oda himself, whose guidance and approval guided the entire creative process. Oda’s influence extended to casting decisions and character translation, resulting in a project that can be best described as a “reimagining” of the anime.

The overwhelmingly positive reviews of this adaptation ignited hope among fans for future anime adaptations.

The Flaws of Dragonball Evolution

Piccolo's skin in the movie was originally painted brown, until James Marsters pushed for anime-accurate green skin.
Justin Chatwin’s Goku and James Marster’s Piccolo face each other in Dragonball Evolution.

One of the worst live-action anime adaptations was Dragonball Evolution. It was so bad that it motivated Akira Toriyama, the original author, to return to the franchise and redeem his franchise’s identity in the mid-2010s. Evolution represents everything wrong with a live-action anime adaptation – the studio was ashamed of the source material.

Evolution turned Son Goku into a high school nerd, with one of his primary motivations being impressing Chi Chi. Meanwhile, Goku, in the original series, never went to school but was a martial arts savant whose personality won people over and repeatedly turned enemies into allies.

Akira Toriyama introduced Beerus in Battle of the Gods, the first opponent that Goku has openly admitted defeat against.
Toriyama drew all-new character designs for 2013’s Dragon Ball Z: Battle of The Gods. Credit: Toei Animation

As a live-action film, Dragonball Evolution obviously couldn’t include the more cartoonish aspects of its source material. Instead of finding a way around this limitation, the writers played it safe and created something unrecognizable in the process.

How Eiichiro Oda Remade One Piece

Oda’s influence on Netflix’s One Piece casting process helped find the right people to represent his characters. He explicitly established what nationalities the Straw Hat Pirates would be in the real world, so the cast members don’t feel out of place since it’s absolutely deliberate.

Luffy and the Straw Hat Crew work together to save a local village.
Luffy and the Straw Hat Crew work together to save a local village. Credit: Netflix

Iñaki Godoy plays Monkey D. Luffy, the protagonist, but he received a lot of criticism from fans when they first saw him in the trailers. Oda personally met Iñaki and published the interview as a seal of approval. Iñaki made Oda laugh from watching his audition tape, and Luffy is naturally a character that brings laughter and joy to the world of One Piece.

The script was also supervised by Oda. The Netflix show switched events and locations to make the story flow smoother with fewer episodes. Character development also happened faster in comparison to the manga.

The most important part is that Netflix’s One Piece feels like its own original show. A lot of viewers never watched the original anime and those that did felt like the changes made sense in context. The characters kept their personalities, appearances, and relationships, but their cartoonish aspects were substituted for mannerisms that made sense in live-action.

Rurouni Kenshin: A Perfect Adaptation

Rurouni Kenshin is a series about a wandering swordsman who fights with an inverted blade so that he never has to kill anyone. The first arc was turned into a movie in 2012, with Takeru Satoh playing Kenshin. Since the original anime is relatively grounded, the movies can adapt it almost completely.

Kenshin frequently poses like this - the movies exaggerated it to provide the same feeling of agility in real life.
Kenshin Himura holding his inverted blade in his signature Hiten Mitsurugi stance. Credit: Funimation

There are five movies in total, each one adapting the next arc in the story. Every major cast member does their own stunts in all of them. Kenshin’s sword style requires him to move blindingly fast and stay uncomfortably low to the ground so he can move in unorthodox ways.

The cast and crew’s dedication to replicating this in real life is obvious. There’s barely any CGI, and even if it’s sped up, it’s impossible to tell where and when. Lots of parkour is mixed into the fight choreography – instead of jumping ridiculously high, all the characters in the movies clamber up walls.

Netflix’s One Piece does exactly what the Rurouni Kenshin movies do. They both disregard the animated parts of the story and replace them with real effects. The best adaptations use as much make-up and practical effects as possible so that audiences can really suspend their disbelief. If done right, it should look like these characters could exist in our own world regardless of how fantastic their abilities are.

Arata Mackenyu plays Zoro in One Piece, and he also plays Enishi in Rurouni Kenshin: The Final. Looking at his training for Rurouni Kenshin, fans universally agreed that Mackenyu would bring the best stunts to One Piece.

Zoro's first appearance in the Netflix show is a completely original scene - its events are just an offhanded comment in the anime.
Arata Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in his first appearance on the show. Credit: Netflix

The Heart is the Key

It’s a great time to celebrate the transformation of beloved anime and manga into live-action. But the success of Netflix’s One Piece and its counterparts like Rurouni Kenshin really comes from the power of staying true to the essence of the source material.

Once the studio understands and accepts the heart of the story they’re looking at, then they can successfully adapt it to the unique demands of a live-action medium. It’s not too hard to secure a balance between respecting the original and embracing the possibilities of real-world effects if the story is accepted wholeheartedly.

Gear 2 is the most believable transformation of the bunch, so it'll look the most natural if translated to live-action.
If the Netflix show continues, maybe we’ll see a live-action Gear 2 transformation. Credit: Toei Animation

Anime adaptations don’t just pay homage to their roots but also captivate new audiences. As the boundaries between animation and reality continue to blur, it’s exciting to witness how live-action adaptations, when done right, can bring these cherished characters and stories to life in ways that we never thought possible.

The future of anime adaptations – not just on platforms like Netflix, but maybe even on the big screen – now looks far more promising. It’s safe to say that even more immersive experiences for fans and newcomers alike are on the horizon.

Written By

I'm a University of Southern California alumni. I have a Bachelor of Sciences in Business of Cinematic Arts and a minor in Cultural Diplomacy. I enjoy playing video games, reading comics and manga, and watching anime and movies. I love writing about topics surrounding the film and television industry, and the meanings behind many successful stories.

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