Site icon Christina Engela: Author

Review: “One Piece” Live Action Series

My wife and I are both dedicated fans of the One Piece anime series by Eiichiro Oda, and although we were only introduced to the series earlier this year on Netflix, we’ve both watched the entire thing right up to the end of the Thriller Bark arc (the latest episodes uploaded to Netflix). Twice.

That said, we were both cautiously optimistic when Netflix announced their new live action adaptation of the series – apparently with the blessing (and participation) of the creator (Oda) of whom it was said, retained creative control over the adaptation.

Okay, we enjoyed the trailers and snippets and actor introductions for those who would portray iconic characters in the series. And then, on the 31st of August, like millions of other fans, we sat down and binge-watched all 8 episodes of the first season.

Here then, is our collective thoughts on the One Piece live action series.

Now, I’m not going to go into the whole backstory of the One Piece anime series – to do so would probably take days, and you might as well just watch the anime itself – which in itself is a good idea anyway. But I will start off by giving you one example of what I love about One Piece, and why this show means so much to me:

There’s a scene in the show where the Straw Hat crew says farewell to their sailing ship, the Going Merry. The ship had become worn out and too badly damaged to repair, and so the kindest thing they could do for it was to set it on fire and let it sink into a watery grave. Of course, there is much, much more to this part of the story, as the ship had developed a sort of spirit or personality, and just leading up to this point, the struggling, worn-out ship had somehow arrived at Enie’s Lobby on its own to rescue them from the Marines. Of course, as soon as they were safe, the ship all but completely breaks apart and they realize they would have to let it go.

When I first watched the original anime version of this scene in One Piece, I was totally absorbed in it. There I was, 50 years old and sobbing, tears streaming down my face – at the sight of a cartoon pirate ship going up in flames as the Straw Hat Pirates said tearful farewells to this treasured member of their crew and gave the Merry a Viking funeral.

(The accompanying image above is one I found on the web, and I have no idea if it’s likely to appear in future seasons of the live action, or if it was even related in any official way.)

However, One Piece is truly a masterpiece in relating the good parts of every aspect to what makes humans worth bothering with. It’s more than just action or adventure, its everything else too – drama, vengeance, justice, mercy, love, hate, compassion, questing and yearning. It’s not like most series people watch these days, it’s deep and meaningful. It’s a treasure-house of emotion. I was really looking forward to watching this live action version, and yes, I hoped that all this would carry over to it as well.

That said, we sat down with snacks and drinks and settled in to watch this much-anticipated adaptation.

My wife Kay quit twenty minutes into episode 1. That should already give you an idea.

I, being a little more forgiving and patient, decided to give it more of a chance, and soldiered on. But gradually, with the passing of each agonizing minute, and as each episode wore on, I became increasingly frustrated, upset and disappointed.

Yes, sure, the acting and actor characterization was – for the most part – spot on. The acting and interpretation of the characters was fairly good, even excellent. The make-up and effects seemed adequate, with a few exceptions – most notably, where the hell was Usopp’s nose, and where was Sanji’s curly eyebrows?

So, okay, by episode 7 I’d already invested 7 hours of my time into this… thing – on a work night too, and I’d already started to vent my outrage and disappointment on Facebook!

What can I say? This “adaptation” (rather bastardization) represents a golden opportunity missed. I have to wonder how the hell did Oda sign off on this? They skipped ALL the earlier epic iconic fight scenes, the ENTIRE episodes-long fight on the beach with Kuro and his sidekicks was omitted, and instead it became a brief punch-up and game of hide-and-seek in Kaya’s mansion, which never happened that way in the anime at all. Barely any time was given to Usopp’s backstory, and yet he’s such an important main character.

Also, they introduced Garp way too soon (he only pitches up at Water 7 the first time we see him) and focused on Koby as a character way too much, way too early. Usopp’s introduction to the crew was barely a footnote, and since fucking when did Arlong ever attack Baratie?! That was another group of pirates! Then they dragged Buggy into the story, seemingly as a way to circumnavigate the balls-up at Baratie… and to lead Luffy and co to Arlong Park. Buggy was never even at Arlong Park! Argh!

The casting was well done, the acting pretty close to canon, and the graphics are fairly brilliant and the scenery breathtaking – but they completely stuffed up the storyline, and cut out most of the good stuff that made One Piece, One Piece.

It’s like they were just rushing to compress everything into five minutes in a way that reminded me of those horrid 1990’s “abbreviated”  repeat episodes of the 80s Knight Rider series on SABC – the ones that were cut-down from the original 45 minutes to where Michael Knight and Kitt spent 20 minutes solid actually running around and destroying stuff without giving the audience a chance to even blink.

If you haven’t watched the One Piece anime, then you probably think I’m being overly harsh and even condescending, but there is just so MUCH missing from this *cough* “adaptation” that I don’t even know where to begin!

Where are all the details? Details like the funny laughs of the villains? Luffy’s grin? His announcements of his fight moves? (He basically only did that about three times in the live action.) His inner voice? Luffy also didn’t just say “I’m going to be king of the pirates!”, he shouted it with immense pride and conviction. He also wasn’t as serious and wise from the beginning – he was mostly an idiot and a clown – who turned serious when it came to the important stuff. The rest of the time he was a goof. He also didn’t stretch his arms or legs looking like it caused him pain. In the anime, Luffy, being basically rubber, could be stomped on by an elephant and would probably giggle the whole way through because it tickles. Again – Usopp’s nose and Sanji’s eyebrows? Where were Zoro and Sanji’s grudge matches and faux hostility towards one another? Perhaps most notably, where the hell was the iconic in-episode soundtrack music from the anime? There was only one recognizable song in the entire thing – Binks’s Brew, but at least, I should be grateful for that. There was literally no “mood” in the entire thing, and frankly, little in common with the anime. It struck me as quite flaccid.

The more I watched, the more errors and discrepancies I noticed and the more disappointed I became. By episode 7, after 7 hours straight, not knowing how many episodes lay ahead, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish watching it – and not because I was in any way feeling fatigued. “I’d rather watch the anime!” I said, and I still feel that way – and if Netflix would rather just finish dubbing that (or uploading dubbed episodes) instead, it would be better.

I thought Oda was part of the creation process of this, but I just can’t see it. It’s like an ‘omage to the anime series, but this dumbed-down pretense is really not worthy of the legacy. If Netflix had destroyed my characters and my story the way they did the One Piece live action, I’d be fucking furious!

At episode 7, where the Straw Hats were just arriving at Arlong Park (with Buggy, who was never even fucking there), I braced myself. After all, that was probably one of the most meaningful, iconic parts of that entire arc. “Let’s see how much more they can fuck this up.” I said, somewhat prophetically, as I proceeded to watch a sketchy, vague, underwhelming “adaptation” of what really happened in the anime. It left me shuddering to think how they would “adapt” Enie’s Lobby in future, and Robin’s iconic and deeply emotive “I want to live!” plea. As the titles at the end of episode 8 finally went up, I was left feeling disappointed – but relieved that it was over.

I think the only people who would enjoy this scrambled, watered-down travesty 100% would be people who’d never watched the anime. Which is probably why there are so many people out there singing the live action’s praises: they’re not actually fans of the anime.

The problem with this is, One Piece IS the anime, and the anime is an extension of the manga. Whatever this live-action is, it isn’t truly One Piece. At best, it’s fan fiction – which, unfortunately, the creator of the original story, signed off on.

Who knows why? Perhaps he thought he had more creative control than he really ended up having? Perhaps he was overruled on some things and can’t admit it due to a NDA? Or maybe Netflix’s money was worth letting them rape and pillage his life’s work? I can’t really see that being the case though.

[update: it has subsequently emerged that Eiichiro Oda, the creator of One Piece, was just as disappointed in the live action “adaptation” of his work as the rest of us, especially with aspects like the early introduction of Garp, the glaring omissions, and the scrambled timeline. Meanwhile, none of this has deterred Netflix, who have continued to brag about how popular (i.e. how many views) the series has gained, regardless of the detail that most of these are new viewers who have never watched the anime, or those who didn’t really “get” it and really didn’t care either way – because it’s just a cool, goofy show. Who cares if it’s missing everything that actually made One Piece what it is, right?]

There have always been inconsistencies between anime series and attempted (often abortive) live-action adaptations. The main reason for this, I think, was because for a very long time it was probably not technically (or financially) feasible to make 100% accurate adaptations – turning cartoon effects into CGI could be quite expensive and even difficult – hence MORE expensive.

However, in spite of the technical hitches revolving around translating an anime into real-world visual effects and CGI (which for the most part they appeared to accomplish) my mind boggles as to why they felt it necessary to deviate so completely from the original storyline? I mean, if you were to chuck the screenplays of the entire 25 year run of the venerable anime into a blender, what you’d end up with is the live action script.

Near as I can figure it, One Piece has been fairly consistent between its different incarnations – from the manga version to the anime version, and as a One Piece fan, when I heard a live-action adaptation was coming, I expected to at least see the storyline adhered to. After all:

If it’s not the same story, it’s not the same story. I’m sorry to say it, but whatever this is, it ain’t One Piece.

Earlier this year, wife and I also enjoyed the live action adaptation of the Cowboy Be-Bop anime series – also by Netflix (I see a pattern here, don’t you?). We really enjoyed it, and we were disappointed when we discovered it had been cancelled after just one season. The live-action series had been canceled due to negative reviews and reception by fans, for example: “…this live-action Bebop has a fun enough crew to spend time with, but it disappointingly replaces the soulfulness of the source material with kitsch.

In fairness, neither of us had watched the anime series of Cowboy Be-Bop before that (and still haven’t yet) even though it’s also on Netflix in English dub. We might still do so in future. The point is, that without having watched the anime original, there’s no way we could know what all was omitted or changed between the two, and why the fans of the anime were so disappointed in the live action.

Having seen the live action “adaptation” of One Piece, we can now empathize.

It’s for this reason that I can understand why so many fans of the live action One Piece series are so taken by it – and rush to its defense. The reason is simply because (like us, in the case of the live-action Cowboy Be-Bop) they don’t know any better.

It seems that in announcing that the show would be renewed for not just one more season, but two – days BEFORE season one even aired, Netflix had decided to place their bets on this “new” fanbase over the actual pre-existing fans of the anime. After all, viewership translates to money in the US – and if people like it, they’ll keep knocking it out, regardless of quality of content.

You see, the thing is –

In order to really understand the live action series, you’d have to be a fan of the anime – but the problem with that is, fans of the anime would notice everything that’s missing and different, and how mixed-up and scrambled and stripped-down the storyline is.

Where’s Usopp’s nose? Seriously – where is it? How can he be called “long nose” without an actual long nose? Don’t tell me it wasn’t technically possible – noses like that have been done before – and they created a clown nose for Buggy. How can Usopp wear Sniper-king’s mask later on without that iconic nose? Or will they (again) just omit or skip-over that part the way they seem to do everything else? Where’s Sanji’s unique curly eyebrows? Why would Sanji refer to him derogatorily as “Eyebrows” now? Oh wait, we’ll just leave that part out too, shall we? Why isn’t Sanji a simp like in the anime? Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s funny, and it’s expected of him. How come Buggy is so buddy-buddy with the Straw Hats so early in the series? Are they simply going to omit the part where he tries to kill Luffy in vengeance for how he was humiliated, later at Logue Town?

Where’s the entire storyline where Luffy befriends the dog guarding the pet store belonging to his deceased master – and then fights to defend him from Buggy’s henchmen? Where’s the cat-like dude with his lion? Sure, he got a whole three seconds of air time in the entire season, without his lion – and as for the swordsman riding the unicycle, he got scarcely a nod at all. Where’s the fierce battle in which he took on Zoro? Also, they turned Buggy into a sadistic torturer – when in the anime, he wasn’t that way at all.

Sure, they stuck to the original story from the manga storyline in how Zeff saved Sanji, sacrificing his own leg in the process – and not by getting it caught in a rope as in some alternate versions, but while they stuck to canon in so few ways, they really seemed to completely ignore it in so many others.

Why is it that in the anime, it takes months (or at least weeks) for the characters to get to know each other up to Arlong Park, but in Season 1 (which appears to span just a few days of blurry, head-spinning motion), they’re already ready to die for each other? Zoro’s pledge of undying loyalty to Luffy after his defeat in the duel with Mihawk was unbelievable and just cringe-worthy – and never happened that way in the anime. You see, the characters say and do things totally out of character – and the condensed timeline makes the whole thing feel overly-compressed and rushed and disingenuous. This has the effect of cheapening the overall original story, its many messages and its legacy – not that anyone who hasn’t watched the anime would notice, or apparently care. It’s just a fun, wholesome adventure after all, who cares if it’s a completely different, cut-down, story in the end?

OMG, all this is just the beginning of the things that are wrong with it!

This was, in my opinion, a resounding backhand slap in the face to fans of the anime. My cheek is still stinging.

Basically the only reason I finished watching season 1 was to see how some of the characters and settings would sort-of look in a real life setting – and of course, how badly they “adapted” the overall story. Basically there was a lot of shocked open-mouthed gawping, head-shaking and “Ah… geezus!” going on between us.

I really feel sorry for the actors, who seem to have done their level best to portray their beloved characters as faithfully as possible – especially the guy who played Zoro, likewise Buggy and Mihawk, and even the dude who played Kuro/Klahadore – and I understand they had to stick to the scripts given them, so I don’t blame them for this lackluster outcome. I think they all did a very good job of interpreting them, in fact.

What Netflix should’ve done was stick to the original storyline and at the original pace. They could still have done 1 hour-long episodes to a ratio of say, the content of 5 or 6 of the anime episodes – and the original charm, “soul”, character, and accuracy of the story would’ve been preserved. I’m a firm supporter of the ethic that one should either do something properly, or not at all. Like I said earlier, this was a golden opportunity lost, and it’s a great pity, because I doubt anyone will ever attempt to make a proper live action adaptation of One Piece again. They had one shot, and they completely trashed it.

My final verdict on the One Piece live action:

It was a little enjoyable, it was slightly entertaining, it was a little enchanting – but it was so much more frustrating because of all the inconsistencies. Also, having watched the anime as canon, the story was disjointed, confusing and missing so much of the original ‘everything’ of the anime. I’m sorry to admit it, but as a fan, I was disappointed as fuck – and still am.

As fans of anime series, we want to see live-action adaptations. We just want those who do them, to do them properly.

That said, I didn’t hate it exactly, but in the process of “dumbing it down”, rearranging and compressing it, they lost the central “feel” and “soul” of the story – so I also didn’t really resonate or connect with it at all. It was entertaining to see closer to real-life representations of the characters – most especially the few transponder snails (den den mushi) they showed – but that’s about as far as it went for me. Apparently  this is because some ditzy overly-sensitive viewers found them “gross“. None of them even went “cuh-lick” – not even once, FFS.

I didn’t love it, I didn’t “feel” it – I was disappointed, but I also can’t bring myself to say I outright hated it, but I feel no motivation at all to watch season 2, and ever since, I find myself unfollowing pages on Facebook that unreservedly sing its praises. I can’t imagine that we’re the only One Piece fans who feel this way – and either way, that’s not a good sign.

My opinion? I’ll stick to the anime, thanks.

The live action “adaptation” could’ve been every bit as good as the anime – if they’d only stuck to the same storyline and timeline as the anime AND the original manga, and listened to the creator, Eiichiro Oda. It’s a golden opportunity missed and the opinions of true fans of the original, actual story are being overshadowed by Netflix tooting their own horns in a plethora of public brags about how well they corrupted and bastardized it to the adoration of people who really didn’t know it before, and don’t care either way.

Unfortunately, One Piece Live Action scores a sorry two stars on the Tinamometer.

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