Hit Japanese manga “One Piece” was released by Netflix on August 31 as a live-action series, following a mixed track record of success in a growing list of Hollywood adaptations.
Chronicling the coming-of-age adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a young pirate with a heart of gold, the world’s bestselling manga series has already been adapted into an anime TV series with over 900 episodes. There are also 13 animated movies, “One Piece” video games, and merchandise galore.
“I know some people have been worried about what might happen with the Hollywood remake,” said Nina Oiki, a gender and politics researcher at Tokyo’s Waseda University who has been a “One Piece” fan since she was in elementary school.
Oiki read the manga created by Eiichiro Oda when it first came out in Shonen Jump magazine in 1997, and watched the animated show that followed shortly after.
Early reviews of the live-action “One Piece” have embraced it as a successful anime adaptation that respects the original source material. While some characters and storylines had to be changed or omitted, the essential elements were presented in the series.
The 2017 Netflix movie adaptation of “Death Note,” a manga and anime about a book that can kіII people, was widely critiqued as a flop. In December 2021, Netflix canceled “Cowboy Bebop,” its live-action adaptation of the space Western manga and anime of the same name, after just one season.
The cross-pollination of Hollywood and Japan goes back for decades. References to Japan, such as the image of a geisha on a screen, are plentiful in the 1982 sci-fi movie “Blade Runner,” directed by Ridley Scott.
The film, in turn, influenced anime, including the “Blade Runner: Black Lotus” anime that first aired in 2021.
Japanese pop culture expert Roland Kelts said it was a “stunning moment for anime,” in part due to streaming on platforms like Netflix, which has helped make entertainment borderless.
Live-action “One Piece” comes on the heels of the global success of “Demon Slayer,” another manga that got its start in Shonen Jump and was adapted into a movie and an anime series that was picked up by Netflix.
In February, The Pokémon Company announced “Pokémon Concierge,” a stop-motion anime collaboration with Netflix. Pokémon is the world’s most valuable media franchise with estimated all-time sales of $100 billion, according to a 2021 Statista report.
Followed by Hello Kitty, the two Japanese products outrank Western offerings like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Stаr Wаrs. Hollywood live-action adaptations of other popular Japanese products — from Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 body-swap anime “Your Name” to the “Gundam” franchise of giant robots that started in 1979 — are also in progress.
Anime has a low production cost compared to live-action films, and computer-generated heroes do not get sick or injured or make offensive remarks offscreen like real-life actors sometimes do, making it a marketable medium, said Kelts, author of “Japanamerica,” which documents Japanese pop culture’s influence in the United States.
“They are stylized and stateless characters. What I mean by that is that anime characters travel globally very, very well,” Kelts said. “The human celebrities don’t always travel so well.”
Established bestsellers offer the advantage of a built-in fanbase, but they also come with strict scrutiny. Some, like “Ghost in the Shell,” have been criticized for “whitewashing” the Asian original. The 1995 animated movie was made into a Hollywood live-action in 2017 amid complaints about casting white American actor Scarlett Johansson as the main character — though Asia largely stayed out of the debate.
Live-action “One Piece” stars Mexican actor Iñaki Godoy as Luffy — whose nationality is canonically a mystery, alongside American actor Emily Rudd as Nami and Japanese-American actor Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro.
The main character’s inclusive persona, drawing more and more companions to join his quest throughout the story, highlights the kind of school, office, or workplace environment people crave in modern-day society, fan Oiki said.
“Luffy is that leader we all want,” she said. “Luffy is a hero but not an extraordinary hero. He is one of us. He wants to be king of the pirates, but not so he can rule, but so everyone can be free.”