When it comes to bringing animes to life, Western studios have a spotty history of success. Some notable failures from the past decade include the 2017 film starring Scarlett Johansson based on Ghost in the Shell, the Death Note live-action movie also released in 2017, and the 2021 Cowboy Bebop live-action series. Netflix produced both of the latter projects and has made several other recent attempts to bring animes to life. The reception to these attempts ranged from lukewarm acceptance to ice-cold rejection, but a lack of enthusiasm hasn’t stopped Netflix from continuing to make popular anime into live-action adaptations. Their latest undertaking has been a live-action series of the beloved One Piece.
Millions of fans followed Netflix’s process of bringing One Piece to life with real actors ever since the project was first announced in 2017. In the almost three decades since its creation, One Piece has become an internationally adored franchise, which should have made it the perfect option for a successful live-action adaptation. But, having been let down by Netflix before, fans were reluctant to get their hopes up. So how did One Piece exceed fans’ low expectations and become one of Netflix’s most-watched debuts within a month of its release?
A Brief One Piece Summary
One Piece is an ongoing manga about the Strawhat Pirates, led by their captain Monkey D. Luffy, as they explore the Grand Line to find the elusive treasure, the “One Piece”, and make Luffy the king of the pirates. The series was created by Eiichiro Oda, who based the world of the manga on his childhood love of pirates. Although he only intended the series to last five years, he ended up loving it too much to stop when his self-imposed deadline arrived.
Since its debut in 1997, One Piece has released over 100 volumes of manga, over 1,000 episodes of anime, 40 TV movies, and multiple video games. Throughout its run, the manga has received praise for its art and storytelling and has broken several printing and selling records. As of July 2023, it is the 22nd longest manga series according to volume count.
One Piece Live-Action Debuts as Massive Success
Netflix’s live-action One Piece landed on the streaming service on August 31st, 2023, and topped out as the #1 show in 84 countries on its debut weekend, beating a record previously set by the fourth season of Stranger Things and the premiere of Wednesday.
Within two weeks of debuting, Netflix renewed the series for a second season. The renewal, while happily received news, was a shock as it came during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, which prohibited writers and actors from promoting their latest work as their union negotiated with major studios for better working conditions. Despite suffering a blow in its promotion, the series still garnered a lot of press through fans’ reactions on social media.
How One Piece Beat the Odds
Despite fans’ skepticism before the series premiered, One Piece garnered a 99% audience approval rating, a significantly higher audience rating than its live-action predecessors, Death Note and Cowboy Bebop. Critics and viewers alike praised the series for its faithfulness to its source material, which included a level of detail not seen in previous live-action adaptations. For example, the ethnicities of the actors line up near-perfectly with the ethnicities of the characters they play, something noticeably not done with the mostly-white cast of Death Note. Beyond their physical likeness, the performances of the actors also received praise, along with the series’ willingness to lean into gimmicks that typically only exist within anime.
Some reviewers are attributing the show’s success to Oda’s involvement. The same press release announcing the live-action adaptation also reported Oda as an executive producer on the series. He consulted on the writing and filming, including approving divergences from the manga he felt were necessary.
One Piece also had advantages that previous adaptations didn’t that aided its success. Producer Marty Adelstein commented that the series would set a new record in production costs, signifying the steep investment the streaming service made in the projects. There was also a large amount of passion for the project from the actors, some of whom joined the cast as fans of the original anime and were dedicated to doing the source material justice. The determination of the studio, the actors, and the original creator culminated in an adaptation that, unlike Netflix’s previous attempts, was a love letter to One Piece fans and the franchise itself.
What One Piece’s Success Means for Netflix
The next adaptation that is facing an equal amount of anticipation is Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which is expected to make its way to the platform in 2024. The first stills that have been released of the series received mixed reviews, but a majority of the cast has been well received. The fact that the original creators of the Nickelodeon series were involved in the development of the adaptation is a point in its favor, but fans are curious to see if the Avatar live-action will continue One Piece’s adaptation success or be another attempt that doesn’t hit the mark.
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