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“One Piece” is a treasure-hunting shonen anime with 1,706 episodes that follows an unlikely crew of pirates: Nami (Emily Rudd), Zoro (Mackenyu), Sanji (Taz Skylar), and Usopp (Jacob Romero), who are led by an even unlikelier captain, Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy). Together, they fight the Marines — a company who acts as a sort of police force, and numerous other pirates who stand in the way of them reaching their dreams.
On Aug. 31, Netflix released their live action adaptation, adding to the show’s ever growing series because seriously, when does it end? It covers the introduction and Arlong Park arcs in the original anime, where the crew band together and face Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward) and Arlong (McKinley Belcher III), the main villain of this arc as well as Nami’s past nemesis.
The anime has one of the strongest fan bases to ever exist, so it is no surprise that Netflix’s adaptation has rallied so much support over these past couple of weeks. But the question remains: Does it actually deserve a renewal and a rating of 8.5/10, or is its popularity a product of extreme fan loyalty?
Starting with the negatives, the acting, costumes, and camera angles can be best described as mediocre. The acting was elementary throughout and failed to be as moving as the emotional beats are in the anime. For example, in episode two — “The Man in the Straw Hat” — Luffy says “You can dump seawater on me, and I’ll let it slide. But don’t you ever threaten my friends.” It is not at all threatening, and if anything, a little funny. Luffy is known for being overly optimistic, and by proxy a little cheesy, but there is no excuse for awkward dialogue that comes from other, more serious characters in episode two that just come off as banal and lackluster. The scenes where we learn about Nami’s backstory in episode seven “The Girl with the Sawfish Tattoo” are also very disappointing. As anime-watchers understand, before greatness there is always a heartbreaking backstory — and Nami has one of the most heartbreaking backstories of all the characters in ‘One Piece,’ — but the acting of young Nami (Lily Fisher) and her mom (Genna Galloway) is so very bland.
The color palette for the costumes and sets, and the angles at which they are shot are as dull as can be. The hair colors, costumes, props, and scenery are significantly less vivid than expected, and the angles and shots that look amazing in animations do not translate well. Episode three is one of the worst offenders, featuring several weird, fuzzy fisheye shots of Zoro, awkward split-view scenes of Koby (Morgan Davies) and Garp (Vincent Regan), and horrible transitions. For the majority of the time, the transitional scenes are choppy and the camera angles are not very innovative or interesting. For viewers who have watched anime, it is obvious what the cinematography is attempting to do, and by extension, obvious that the efforts are fruitless.
One upside to the negatives, though, is that the glimmers of good really stand out. In episode six, The Chef and the Chore Boy, viewers get a taste of the rich backstory that Sanji — an aspiring cook and explorer — and Chef Zeff (Craig Fairbrass) share. It is already implied that Zeff is a sort of father figure to Sanji in the way they bicker with each other, but the addition of the backstory really explains why and how that came to be. The acting by young Sanji (Christian Convery) and Zeff in this scene evokes a lot of sympathy, as does the unexpected plot twist at the end. Similarly, in episode seven, “The Girl with the Sawfish Tattoo,” when Luffy proves his friendship to Nami, it is very sad, very sweet, and very effective. Following this, episode eight has the best fight scenes of the season, particularly when Sanji and Zoro are fighting side by side and Usopp is being chased, while Luffy fights Arlong. The cinematography and shared dialogue capture this fight in a way that is as dynamic and entertaining as the anime, but not overpowering or confusing. Here, the show seems to realize what can be transcribed from the anime and what needs to be translated.
In an adaptation, things need to be adapted, not copied and pasted. Electric green hair, fisheye camera angles, and corny catch phrases are always going to look and sound more impressive when they are animated. Reality often puts quite the damper on creativity, but this show handles that well — especially in comparison with other live action anime — looking at you, “Death Note!”
Much like the classic anime character arc, the show gets significantly better toward the end. The acting and fight scenes find their feet and the show justifies the points where it deviates from the original anime. Initially, the screen time Garp and Koby get, the change in Buggy’s character to make him a more threatening villain and a partner to Arlong, amongst other smaller things, is a jarring change. However, it pays off in the way the series comes to a neat close. There was a significant amount of alteration, but considering the series went from 44 episodes for the introduction and Arlong Park arc to just eight in this live action, the writers did very well.
So, the answer is convoluted. This show is a little cheesy, not very visually inspiring, and does not stay true to the original media. But as a live action anime, it has set the bar to new heights.
— Staff writer Taylor S. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.
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