Netflix’s One Piece is an upcoming live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime One Piece, which itself is an animated adaption of the manga One Piece, drawn & written by Eiichiro Oda.
The story is about a boy named Monkey D. Luffy who, after gaining body-stretching powers from eating a ‘devil fruit’, seeks to amass a crew, find a treasure called the ‘One Piece’, and become King of the Pirates. Basically it’s a good ol’ pirate story with a strange fantasy protagonist plonked in the middle of it all.
So … One Piece isn’t about a one-piece swimsuit? No. The One Piece is a fabled treasure that was left in ‘one piece’ by the infamous pirate Gold Roger. But, since nobody knows what the treasure is exactly, I guess it could be a swimsuit.
First, a primer
The unflappable Luffy gains his crew pretty quickly, in the form of Zoro the swordsman, Nami the navigator/burglar, Usopp the marksman and Sanji the chef/martial artist. Just your regular bunch of misfits all bursting to the brim with hopes, dreams, and a penchant for violence. The five of them set sail across the fictional sea The East Blue on their trusty little ship The Going Merry.
The original anime opening sums up the basic lore pretty well:
The series is classified in Japan as a shōnen, that is, a manga that is targeted at teenage boys. Shōnen are generally action-packed tales of heroes and villains going head to head in epic adventures. So, yes, there is a lot of punching, kicking, swordfighting, and yelling. But! It also has a lot of emotional depth, culture-crossing humour, socialist undertones (or maybe overtones, depending on who you talk to), and some of the most interesting character design out there.
That’s why I recommend the series to just about anyone, even though from the outside it looks like a kid’s show. Come for the Looney Tunes-esque fast paced animation, but stay for the heart-rending stories and social allegories.
But isn’t it for kids? Well, yes and no. Big kids and up will probably appreciate One Piece, but it can be a bit too much for young’uns.
The Netflix live-action
The Netflix series, overseen by showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda, will be an eight-episode adaption of the first 100 chapters of the manga (which roughly translates to the first 61 episodes of the anime). You don’t need to be a scholar of either the manga or anime to understand what’s going down in the live-action series – especially not after reading this article. And trust me, that’s a blessing, given the story is now over 1000 chapters long.
Now, Netflix don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to adapting anime (see Cowboy Bebop and Death Note), but subscribers should be willing to give One Piece a chance, not least because of its massive budget which is said to be at least $144 million. By the looks of the trailer above and the oodles of promotional videos the cast have done (all made prior to the WGA/SAG strike), it’s bubbling with its own brand of charisma and swashbuckling charm that may well appeal to fans of the manga/anime, fans of pirate stories, and the discerning streamer equally.
So, before it drops on Netflix on 31 August, I’m going to break down, as simply and as quickly as a can, what the deal with One Piece is.
The deal with One Piece
I know you already had questions by the second para of this article, so let me answer them first: Luffy is the protagonist’s given name, while ‘Monkey D.’ is his family name, so you can just call him Luffy. Every part of his body can stretch like rubber, thanks to a devil fruit called the Gomu Gomu no Mi (‘gum gum fruit’). Devil fruits are rare fruits that can give their consumer all sorts of strange powers – but only one power per person, and you don’t get to choose. The contents of the One Piece are not actually known to anyone – even in the present arc of the story, which has run for literal decades. And when you become King of the Pirates, well, that just means you’re King of the Pirates.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, you’re next question is probably ‘does One Piece really have over 1000 chapters?? What the hell??’. Yep, it does, and it’s still going today. The reason the story of One Piece is so long is in part thanks to the extensive backstories of its protagonists, villains, and even side characters. Think Orange is the New Black-style flashbacks, except even the rat who scurries about in the prison sewer gets one too. But while these origin stories can span over many episodes in the anime, it’s likely the live-action will condense them into one sequence of each episode, given the limited runtime they’re working with.
The section of the epic narrative covered in the upcoming adaptation is referred to as the East Blue Saga, as it takes place primarily in and around the East Blue Sea. This begins with our introduction to the shipwrecked Luffy, and carries on through him meeting his four primary crew members Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp and Sanji (as mentioned above), who are thenceforth referred to as the Straw Hat Crew.
Why straw hats? Simply because Luffy wears a straw hat that was given to him by his mentor, Red Haired Shanks (who is also, of course, a pirate).
Roronoa Zoro is probably your most stereotypical pirate: he loves to swordfight and he loves booze. But Zoro has an insatiable need to fight with no less than three swords at one time. He’s determined to be known as the best swordfighter in the world using only this ‘three sword style’ technique. That’s a sword in each hand and one in the mouth!
Nami is the crew’s navigator with a mysterious past. She’s smart, sassy, and very capable in a fight. Her fighting style utilises a long, blunt stick that she can whack baddies over the head with. She also loves to steal gold, which makes her the second most stereotypical pirate on the crew.
Usopp is a loveable rogue who lies loud and lies often – hence why his nose in the manga looks like Pinocchio’s. He wants nothing more than to earn a solid reputation as a brave warrior, but his constant anxiety gets in the way. He’s part sharpshooter, part mad-scientist, part Cowardly Lion.
Sanji is a flirtatious chef who has been trained in a specific form of martial arts that only utilises the legs and feet. He will never use his hands in a fight because he ‘needs them for cooking’. When he’s not feeding the crew or fending off baddies with a high kick, he’s trying (and failing spectacularly) to woo Nami.
The Straw Hat crew test their mettle by taking on enemies like: Axe-Hand Morgan, a man with a steel jaw (why isn’t he called steel-jaw Morgan? I don’t know); the joker-esque Buggy the Clown, who can remove his limbs at will; Kuro, who has giant scythes for hands; and finally Arlong – the ‘big bad’ fishman with capital ambitions. That’s fishman, not fisherman. He’s a humanoid with the nose and scales of a swordfish, and he believes this makes him the superior species.
Season one will likely conclude with an epic battle between Arlong and the Straw Hat Crew, the outcome of which will set the wheel of fate and fortune in motion for the remainder of the story.
Why is it good?
One Piece is, at its heart, a story of social revolution and liberation. While Luffy begins his journey with the sole goal of becoming a pirate king, he soon realises there is more to being a hero, and doesn’t hesitate to help every oppressed being he encounters. Who knew the power of a rubber body could change the course of political history forever?
And that’s as much as I can give you without spoiling anything! If I have convinced you to come aboard the One Piece ship, then welcome. It’s going to be a long and rewarding journey.
One Piece – the live action series – is on Netflix from 31 August. Episodes of the anime, in dubbed English and original Japanese with subtitles, are available to stream now.