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TV Review: One Piece
The Pirates Are Coming!
This is a quick review of the newly released first season of the television series One Piece. To better keep up to date with my thoughts on other movies follow me on Letterboxd.
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Via Wikipedia: The series follows the adventures of the Straw Hat Pirates, as they explore the dangerous oceans, lands, and beyond in search of the "One Piece" - a fabled treasure that will make their captain, Monkey D. Luffy, "King of the Pirates". But the Navy is on their ship's tail, and they are not the only pirate crew searching for the One Piece. Armed with skills and unbreakable friendship, the Straw Hats are ready for the journey and even more ready to fight for their dreams together.
This is first and foremost a film-centric newsletter/website. I want to cover as much about film as I can. But obviously I watch television series’ like everyone else. Hell the first true series came from theatrical weekly screenings of long-running serials back in the silent era like The Perils Of Pauline (1914) or The Vampires (1915). But my enthusiasm for the medium of television is at an all-time low. Either shows are getting cancelled before completion or a series loses steam by the second or third. At the moment I’m only keeping up with ABC’s Abbott Elementary, Peacock’s Bel-Air, or a hosts of anime or documentary series’.
One of those anime is the adaptation of the uber-popular One Piece, which is literally the best selling manga in history and the most popular anime in the world. Back in 2019 I wrote all about the series for Ordinary-Times. So as a massive fan and one who has been frustrated by how niche it is here in the states versus the rest of he world, I had to check out the new live action English-produced adaptation that Netflix released today. And I also felt compelled to go against “my brand” and write a review for the show rather than for another new film (Weekly film reviews will commence next weekend, no disrespect meant to Uncle Denzel’s latest).
I came into this with trepidation. Netflix also did a live action adaptation for the iconic anime Cowboy Bebop two years ago which I didn’t enjoy and neither did most critics - alongside incredibly mediocre audience scores for it. But this time around series creator Eiichiro Oda was involved alongside showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda who are devoted fans adamant they’d stay loyal to the material while navigating the differences in an eight episode live action season versus an anime that has been running for about twenty five years now. And to add more fuel to my curiosity the show has had okay critical reviews and great audience scores.
There are some gripes I had with it from the get go. Like with adapting fantasy to screen, anime/manga to screen can prove difficulty with dialogue coming off much more corny at times. There’s also (few) times I almost got the feeling of watching people playing cosplay rather than actually being the characters themselves - but given how many conventions I’ve been to myself (Not to mention having dressed up as a character from the series two Halloweens ago) and the plus of knowing these character designs for so long I wonder if the casual that’s never been familiar with the source material would feel the same. And finally I have to say you can tell at times this isn’t enjoying the same budget as a Stranger Things is with the CGI not being bad but nonetheless not being the greatest either.
But thankfully the gripes are much less than the raves. As expected when turning fifty plus episodes worth of an opening saga to just eight hour long episodes, changes will be made to help pacing. Only one of these changes bothered me and its so minor any casual wouldn’t even notice it anyways. The changes include certain characters getting much more in-depth arcs and scenes than the source material to round out their character arcs more. Certain subplots are thrown away as well as some that are supposed to play out in other sagas that are brought on earlier to the story to allow the showrunners to give us the audience the POV of the Marines as much as we get the Pirates. There’s also a lot of teasing of future major storylines and enemies which I think play as both fun Easter eggs for fans and hints for casuals for what’s coming in future seasons. It all leads to a pacing that actually pulls off squeezing an entire saga filled with various arcs that took Oda about two years to write into eight hours of TV.
Even with the spotty CGI at times, the production design in this is amazing for a show of its size. The cinematography actually allows some light unlike previous attempts at adapting anime. The action and fight scenes are well done and more realistic given what they have to be to make the audience believe versus the amazing feats you can do with a drawn manga.
But what probably makes this work the most is the ensemble. Every casting choice was clearly well made. Iñaki Godoy makes a great and charismatic Luffy capturing the essence of the character. Emily Rudd makes a perfect Nami that showcases a strong female character with actual vulnerabilities. Mackenyu nails Zoro’s stotic and badass attitude. Taz Skylar has a great turn as my personal favorite crew member in Sanji. Jacob Gibson is excellent as Usopp. Morgan Davies gives us the most interesting version I’ve ever seen of the character of Koby. Jeff Ward makes a great and hillarious Buggy. McKinley Belcher III makes an intimidating Arlong. Craig Fairbass delivers as Zef. And potentially stealing the show at times for me is Vincent Regan as Garp. And that’s not accounting for a host of other members of the ensemble who nail even the most minor of characters.
After how underwhelmed I’ve been by this year for movies so far, and with my trust in television so low these days, this was a really fun and welcomed binge as awards season begins anew. If you’re a fan of the source material you’ll have a blast with One Piece, if you’re a casual viewer you might get sucked into checking out the source material after seeing this. If I had to give this a grade I’d give it a solid A-tier score one season in. If this shows doesn’t last, I’ll truly give up on traditional or streaming television forever.