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One Piece: Netflix has finally found the right formula for adapting anime to live-action

Fans of anime have grown to dread the idea of live-action adaptations after the disastrous releases of Death Note and Cowboy Bebop. However, with the release of One Piece, there is renewed optimism

One Piece: Netflix has finally found the right formula for adapting anime to live-action

Last Updated: 04.54 PM, Sep 14, 2023


It is often argued that anime is catered to a niche audience. While there is significant evidence to support this statement, it could also be argued that anime has become popular across the globe over the past four decades. And in some cases, anime shows have become pop culture mainstays, such as Naruto, Dragonball Z, Pokémon, Death Note, and One Piece. As one would expect, there have been several attempts to adapt these iconic tales into Hollywood adaptations. Apart from the Ryan Reynolds film Pokémon Detective Pikachu, almost every effort to recreate these compelling stories has failed spectacularly. The 2017 Death Note film is the most obvious example of how not to adapt an iconic anime/manga. While the 2006 Japanese live-action Death Note film does a significantly more satisfactory job of capturing the essence of the source material, it is unable to replicate the same quality as the original.


It should come as no surprise that news of a Netflix adaptation of One Piece was initially met with scepticism. This sentiment was further amplified after the release of the 2021 live-action Netflix adaptation of Cowboy Bebop. For adaptations of anime, comic books, video games, and books, the most prominent aspect that fans of the source material demand to be done right is the casting. Strangely enough, it is the first thing that is often botched by those helming the adaptations. John Cho, who plays Spike Spiegel, in the new Cowboy Bebop delivers a commendable performance but is significantly older than his character, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine is unfortunately miscast. Her character often showcases the petulance of a teenager, while her anime counterpart is ironically a much older woman who is 77 years old after being in a cryosleep for several decades. But the most unforgivable liberty the creators took is with the primary antagonist Vicious. The mysterious and conniving nemesis from Spike’s past is reduced to a brash, loud, and banal villain.

The changes to the cherished Cowboy Bebop characters could have been justified if the story wasn’t stripped away of its core elements. The neo-noir Western space opera aesthetic of the anime is one of its defining qualities. While live-action adaptation does try to replicate it at times in certain scenes, it sticks out like a sore thumb in a series that leans more towards stylistic visuals with vibrant colours. It is unfortunate considering there are positives to take away from the 2021 series, and a few minor tweaks in writing the characters and scenes could have significantly elevated it. In many ways, it could be argued that Cowboy Bebop failed where One Piece succeeded.

The creative team behind the new One Piece live-action adaptation made sure the casting choices were nothing short of perfect. Every actor delivers a convincing performance and the story, despite a few alterations, captures the core components of the original manga and anime. The over-the-top characters and set pieces and the surreal storytelling offer the ideal escapist fantasy. So why was there a lack of creative oversight for Cowboy Bebop when there appears to be one for One Piece? The answer is relatively straightforward; the creator of the One Piece franchise, Eiichiro Oda, has creative control over the series. Oda even reportedly demanded cuts and reshoots in order to maintain the story’s best attributes. Neil Gaiman did something similar for the Sandman adaptation and George R R Martin was involved in the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones. One can only lament the thought that Netflix did not convince Andrzej Sapkowski to oversee the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher.

The first season of One Piece certainly delivered on its promises and more. While there are aspects that might not translate well into live-action, showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda appear to have found the right formula for adapting an iconic anime/manga. It is looking more and more likely that the series will be renewed for a second season with more tales of the adventures of Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), Zoro (Mackenyu), Nami (Emily Rudd), Usop (Jacob Romero), and Sanji (Taz Skylar). One Piece also offers renewed optimism among manga and anime fans that live-action adaptations of manga and anime can be done right. Therefore there is plenty of hype surrounding the upcoming Netflix adaptation of Death Note, helmed by Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers.