The One Piece live-action series feels more like a heartfelt tribute to its devoted fanbase, rather than an introduction of One Piece to a global audience. Given this, I wouldn’t confidently recommend the live-action series to newcomers over the anime as it doesn’t surpass the source material. Does this make the live action a failure? Heck no. In fact, it may be the most successful attempt at bringing anime to life. Watching it, you can sense the tender love and care that went into crafting the show.
The set design vividly brings the East Blue to life. From the desert-like Marinebase at Shells Town, to Kaya’s antique Mansion in Syrup Village, the fish-shaped restaurant Baratie with its jazz music and the vibrant carnival atmosphere of Arlong’s Park. It is one of the most expensive television shows ever made, with the budget for each of its eight episodes said to be around $18 million.
One Piece is a very wacky story, so naturally, many people were afraid of these characters being butchered through poor adaptations. For example, Buggy the clown (Jeff Ward) is able to break his body parts into pieces using his Chop-Chop Fruit abilities. It felt like I was watching the anime when he fought Luffy and their ridiculous powers clashed. Luffy’s rubber CGI was perfectly executed and left me with no complaints. When he used his special named Gum-Gum moves, I emulated him in excitement.
The live action — in addition to bringing the set to life — aced One Piece’s character design. Emily Rudd, as Nami, wore her original manga design in Episode 1, a design that never made it into the original series. Unlike the anime and manga, the crew frequently changes outfits, often wearing attire seen in One Piece promotional art and movies. However, I was disappointed that Vinsmoke Sanji (Taz Skylar) lacked his signature curly eyebrows and Usopp (Jacob Gibson) did not have his signature long nose.
Ahead of its release, I had questions about how the live action would fit the East Blue saga into just a few episodes. As it happens, they pulled it off, but took creative liberties that reshaped the narrative.While this worked in certain areas, such as the adaptation of the Baratie arc, where Don Krieg — who served to illustrate the dangers of the Grand Line — was minimized, it came at the expense of emotional impact in other areas. The live action makes the East Blue saga feel more like a random adventure of pals who happened to come together, which it is, but it lacks the reasoning behind why they all chose to join Luffy. Luffy freeing Zoro isn’t as impactful in the adaptation as it was in the anime. Luffy frees Zoro without getting him his swords, which is the driving factor in Zoro joining him in the first place — as his only options were fighting the navy as a pirate or dying while strung up like a straw doll.
On the other hand, in the adaptation, Usopp doesn’t display to Luffy what makes him a must-have on the crew. This scene was changed where instead of Usopp deciding to fend off the Kuro pirates alone and Luffy respecting his resolve, he lended him a hand. Luffy liked Usopp’s trait of loyalty. However this scene isn’t in the live action. Luffy liberated these guys and in turn, they saw his strength, natural leadership and charisma — which ultimately made them join the crew. It’s lacking the emotional glue behind the unique band of people who form the Straw Hat Pirates.
The character portrayals were great, with Emily Rudd’s Nami standing out and Mihawk (Steven Ward) being a fan favorite. But I want to hone in on Luffy. Iñaki Godoy was the perfect Monkey D. Luffy and is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a real-life Luffy. He captured the spirit of Luffy as best as he could, but I was very dissatisfied with the voice acting and dialogue. Monkey D. Luffy wasn’t created with the idea of ever being brought to life. He is extremely impulsive, purposely written as an over-the-top gag character and is very loud. However, this would not translate well in reality, so creative liberties were taken to make him more realistic. I love Monkey D. Luffy — being a One Piece fan for over a decade, I know Luffy like the back of my hand — and truth be told, the live action Luffy might as well be a different character than his anime counterpart.
A noteworthy improvement in the live action was the continued plot involving Koby. In the anime, after Luffy leaves Koby at Shells Town, we don’t see him again for 300 episodes. However, Koby’s interactions with Garp and Helmeppo — as they pursue Luffy — serve as a B-plot, adding depth to the main story in the live action. The season concludes by setting up Arlong as the primary antagonist, as our crew learns of Nami’s tragic past. After defeating Arlong, Luffy shares a heartfelt moment with Garp, solidifying his status as the most infamous pirate in the East Blue, and embarking on his journey to the Grand Line. The live action omits a crucial conclusion to the East Blue saga, which is Loguetown. Two additional episodes to properly adapt Loguetown could have elevated this series.
After watching it, I can strongly rate the One Piece live-action series a solid seven out of ten. I still recommend those who’ve only watched the live action to give the original series a try. If you loved the live action, you will undoubtedly find much more to enjoy in the anime. For long-time One Piece fans, we can look forward to another season in the works — as the live action adaptation garners its deserved success.