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How The Live Action One Piece Broke The Adaptation Curse

It finally happened!

By Jay KobayashiPublished 3 months ago 11 min read

The most hyped adaptation of 2023 finally made its debut on Netflix. Eiichiro Oda’s pirate manga One Piece has made waves in headlines throughout its time in production and both fans and critics alike were anticipating whether if this live-action adaptation was going to be the one that breaks the curse or if it was going to fall like the others.

So far the adaptation received largely positive reviews, with many regarding the live-action One Piece as the best anime adaptation with many fans regarding it as the one that broke the curse. So in this article, we will explore where One Piece succeeded and failed at in its attempt to break one of the most painfully notorious curses in television and movies.

*Brief spoilers for the live-action One Piece and the One Piece manga/anime

Brief Overview Of ‘The Curse’

Live-action anime adaptations are notoriously cursed for a variety of reasons. From poor casting choices to overexaggerated acting to terrible and cheesy CGI and special effect, directors, writers, and producers all struggle to translate the source material into a meaningful and well-written adaptation.

“Another bad live-action adaptation?” | Credit: Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)

While anime adaptations within the past couple of years have gotten better to a certain extent, the fact remains that nearly every live action anime adaptation suffers the same exact problems with no signs of improvements. The most recent example that fell to this curse was the Netflix’s 2021 adaptation of Cowboy Bebop which drew in criticism for its writing, special effects, editing, and action sequences.

The fact that the live-action One Piece managed to avoid majority of these problems shows how much time, effort, and money went into its production to assure that it didn’t fall into the curse’s grasps.

What One Piece Did Well?

When it comes to what One Piece did well, the series manage to accomplish a number of things where most live action adaptations utterly failed at. So with that in mind let’s take a look at everything that the series did well at.

Casting Choices

One of the first things that the live-action One Piece does correctly. The entire cast of the series not only resembles what the characters looked like in the anime/manga, but they also managed to capture the character’s personality, quirks, and overall essence.

The actors who portrayed the Straw Hat crew, Garp, Koby, Buggy, Zeff, Mihawk, and Shanks and his crew in particular did a fantastic job at playing their roles and properly translating their character’s charm in a realistic manner.

The fact that the chosen actors for this series not only eerily resembles their animated counterparts, but the costume design was also extremely accurate and really brought these characters to life, especially in a way that didn’t seem too over-the-top or cheesy, despite some characters having naturally odd character/costume designs (Looking at you Sham, Buchi, and Merry).

Set Design

There is no denying that majority of the show’s budget went towards the set design. With a reported budget of $138 million for the first season, it is clear that the money was well spent. Iconic locations such as Logue Town, Baratie, and Arlong Park look exactly as it does in the anime/manga and the producers even took some creative liberties to make it more detailed and life-like to really immerse the audience into this world.

Even the Straw Hat’s impromptu boats and the eventually main ship, The Going Merry, all have a level of detail that is rarely seen in the anime/manga. So showcasing these kind of designs is not only exciting for longtime fans of the series to see into fruition, but new watchers are hyped by the kind of craftsmanship and creativity that exists in the world of One Piece.

The Action Sequences

Over-the-top, terribly choreographed, and super cheesy action scenes are another thing that has plagued most live-action adaptations, but the action sequences in the live-action One Piece is something the show does really well. Nearly every fight scene that is showcased is well choreographed and properly shows off the strengths and weaknesses of every character.

From Zoro and Sanji fighting off the majority of Arlong’s crew to Mihawk decimating Don Krieg’s pirate armada, these fight scenes doesn’t use any over-the-top ridiculous CGI that could potentially ruins the audience’s immersion and is definitely serves as what the standard for live-action fight scenes should look like when directors and producers are adapting anime.

Not Being A 1–1 Adaptation

When it comes to trying to figure out how much of the source material should be used, many directors, writers, and producers struggle with this balancing act, because they need to consider which part of the source material is capable of being translated into a different medium.

Many live action adaptations such as Cowboy Bepop, Black Butler, and Dragon Ball: Evolution have been criticized for not following the source material, meanwhile adaptations such as Gantz and Fullmetal Alchemist followed the source material too closely and suffered pacing issues that affected the overall story and character development.

This is where One Piece succeed, by not being a complete carbon copy of the source material writers and directors have been given an opportunity to take some creative liberties and retell the story in a new and meaningful way that is approachable for new viewers and interesting enough for longtime fans.

Series creator Eiichiro Oda has been very vocal about the direction of the live-action adaptation and ultimately decided that this was route to go on specifically saying that:

“A live-action adaptation of a manga doesn’t simply re-enact the source material on a one-to-one basis: It involves really thinking about what fans love about the characters, the dynamics among them — and being faithful to those elements.”

This statement rings especially true whenever it comes to the success of recent live-action adaptations. The live-action video game adaptation of The Last of Us took a similar approach by expanding and translating the game’s emotional narrative from an interactive format over to a more static format.

With Netflix’s One Piece following a similar path, the series success is largely due to the source material being properly translated into a television format by combining and reimagining scenes that is not only faithful to the source material, but does so in a way that makes sense.

What One Piece Didn’t Do Well?

Despite all the things that One Piece did well in its live-action debut, there are a still a handful of things that the series could have done better. Considering that the series had to adapt roughly 95 chapters into eight episodes, there was sure to be some downfalls that didn’t work out as well the producers thought would. So with that in mind, here’s what the live-action One Piece didn’t do well.

Fishman Costume Design

When it comes to costume and special effects, there is always a limit before it gets too weird. While the costume design for the main members of Arlong’s crew resembles closely to the source material, we can’t deny that the fishman design looks a bit rubbery and a tad too big for the actors playing them.

This issue is further exemplified with the rest of Arlong’s fishman pirates, as a good number of them look like they got a dated Halloween costume that resembles the monster from the 1954 monster film, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

This problem could have been solved if the fishman costume design used more intricate costume designs, bits and pieces of CGI, and motion capture, as there have been more cleaner and aesthetically pleasing takes of fish/man hybrids in recent films and television (such as King Shark from The Suicide Squad, and the Quarren from The Mandalorian).

Some Backstories Didn’t Hit As Hard

One Piece is known for having emotionally charged backstories that not only puts a healthy amount of tears in our eyes, but also makes us empathetic with what these characters have been through and understand how they became to be.

With something that is considered to be a narrative cornerstone in the source material, the live-action series had to adapt every backstory for every member of the Straw Hat crew. Due to the limited amount of episodes, a considerable chunk of backstory had to be shortened and rewritten in order to fit time restraints, this results in some of the most anticipated backstories not hitting as hard as some people have hoped.

“Wait, you guys got backstories that was longer than two minutes?” | Credit: One Piece (2023)

Usopp’s backstory has been drastically cut down to a scene and a handful of lines that highlights the main takeaways which were his mother dying and his father being away. The oversimplified take of his backstory not only gets rid of the emotional charged aspect of Oda’s storytelling but when it gets compared to a backstory that has been done better such as Nami’s, it raises some questions about Usopp’s importance in the series.

What Is Debatable

With the success of One Piece, there have been numerous articles about how the live-action series is set for a second season and if things went well enough it could go on for a total of twelve seasons. So if the series were to go on long enough, there are a number of things that worries long time fans of the series.

Exclusion Of Characters

One Piece is filled with hundreds of characters throughout its run and a considerable number of them would make appearances later on in the series. If the live-action series attempts to go as long as the anime and manga then there is definitely going to be an issue of adapting scenes where excluded characters that showed up in the East Blue saga are going to need to make an appearance later on.

“When you don’t get a live-action adaptation in a Netflix series.”

If the live-action series continues to limit each season around eight episodes then chances are there might be more characters that are going to be cut out entirely. However, considering that the series is not a one-to-one adaptation, these characters can be introduced later on and be given several lines as to why they didn’t show up to begin with, but its going to be walking a fine line trying to determine which characters should make the cut.

Calling Out Attack Moves

One of the most cheesiest things that plagued anime adaptations, having the main characters/villains call out their attacks not only ruins the immersion of an adaptation, but it makes it look and sound really ridiculous. The live-action One Piece did address this quirky choice early on with a conversation between Luffy and Zoro, declaring the act of calling out one’s attack is more of a personal choice rather a mandatory one.

The writers have opted to use it very sparingly and granted while some people may still cringe at the sight of characters calling out their attack moves, other people don’t mind it, making this is more of a stylistic preference for the audience. However, the main consensus as to why it feels odd and out-of-place can be correlated due to these named attacks taking up more time than it should on screen.

If the producers decided to shorten the time on named attacks, then it can possibly make it feel more natural and can potentially free extra time to shoot more scenes/introduce more characters.

Special Effects & CGI

Arguably the most concerning aspect for the live-action series, the world of One Piece gets even more imaginative as the series progress through the Grand Line and the New World saga. As there are more devil fruit users, and characters with even odder character designs than Arlong and his crew, it is going to be a challenge for the production crew to properly match and adapt Oda’s designs for a live-action debut.

“Is this the easiest to make with special effects and CGI?” | Credit: One Piece (Netflix)

Considering that the first season had the most amount of grounded opponents and easy-to-animate abilities, we really have only seen the bare minimum of what the special effects and CGI team is capable of on this live-action series. With that in mind, if multiple seasons gets green lit then that is where the true test begins, because that is where the series really start to pick up with the Alabasta and Skypiea arc.

A Fluke Or The One?

The live-action One Piece broke ground as the first live-action adaptation that lived up to its hype and is widely accepted as the one the broke the adaptation curse for anime. As 2023 is slowly being considered as the year of live-action adaptations, fans of the anime genre are thrilled and excited to see what comes next for One Piece for the mainstream media.

“12 more season! Let’s find the One Piece for real guys! | Credit: One Piece (2023)

Whether or not if the series gets green lit for a third season or not, there is denying that One Piece has made its mark and even furthered its popularity as one of the most popular fictional stories ever told.

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About the Creator

Jay Kobayashi

A starving writer from LA who aspires to be plagiarized one day. I like to write about academic pieces that identifies philosophy and psychology in pop culture, and sometimes random fun pieces that interests me or the algorithm!

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