Netflix’s live-action remake of the hugely successful anime One Piece is a hit, with the show having racked up nearly 40 million views since premiering on August 31. Is this the start of a grand new adventure for the fans?
Well, Eiichiro Oda has been writing the One Piece manga since 1997, so there’s certainly a lot to work with. “We have hopes for 12 seasons, there’s so much material,” producer Marty Adelstein told Deadline.
Twelve seasons is a lot of TV; a lot could happen between now and that theoretical endpoint. But with One Piece, at least the material won’t be a problem. “We’re over 1,080 chapters at this point in the manga,” said producer Becky Clements. “We have plans with [writer] Matt Owens for how we would break multiple seasons, and I think even if we did six seasons, we would probably only use up half of the chapters of the manga. It really could go on and on and on.”
Six seasons sounds a little more realistic for a TV show. According to Clements, it would be “easy” to get to that point.
How One Piece won over skeptics
But first things first: Netflix has to renew One Piece for season 2, which could be tricky given that Hollywood actors and writers are currently on strike. Even if the show got a renewal order, when could production begin?
At least people seem to be responding positively. Live-action anime remakes don’t have the best reputation; before One Piece, Adelstein and Clements were involved with Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop remake, which got canceled after one season. But One Piece has clearly hit its target, with fans of Oda’s pirate story happily admitting that their early skepticism was misplaced.
“The people in the office have shown us a lot of TikTok videos of people saying ‘this is going to be awful, this is going to be terrible’. And then they brought in TikTok videos of the same people going, ‘I was so wrong, this is so good,’” Adenstein said. “So real skeptics have turned around and really have praised the show and have been very happy with it and very surprised at how good it was.”
One Piece producers tried to stay as close to the manga as possible
How did Adelstein and Clements turn things around after Cowboy Bebop? They learned some lessons from that show. “You have to have a buy-in from the creator,” Adelstein said. “The creator of Cowboy Bebop did not want anything to do with it. Not that he was disagreeable about it; he just didn’t want to be involved, it’s not what he wanted to do.”
So having the buy-in of the creator, having Oda buy into this and bless it, made a big difference. But I think the main lesson was Cowboy Bebop was an adaptation. With One Piece, we learned that you have to stay very close to the characters that the creator created, that people wanted to see Luffy as Luffy and embody all the characteristics that he had. So we stayed much, much closer, in fact, as close as we could to the original to get the fans buy in, and that seemed to be the thing that made the difference.
“Luffy” would be Monkey D. Luffy, the boundlessly optimistic pirate at the heart of the show. Luffy is basically a Looney Tunes character come to life, so I understand why people would be skeptical that anyone could play him in live-action. One of the biggest accomplishments of the Netflix show is finding the right cast members to embody these extremely stylized characters, starting with Iñaki Godoy as Luffy.
Iñaki Godoy “screamed” when he found out he was playing Luffy
“We knew that finding Luffy was the most critical part of probably the whole show, someone who, when they smile, it lights up the screen the way it does in the manga and the anime,” Clements said. “That was probably the part that we were most concerned about because he is the cornerstone of the entire spirit of the show. And when we saw Iñaki, it was unanimous. He has, as a human, this great spirit, this enthusiasm the way he approached the role. Once we got Iñaki, we could breathe. And he pulled it off.”
Obviously acting skill is important but [the lead cast] all embodied what we wanted to do with the live-action version of these characters. Mackenyu, who is just a giant talent and hugely famous in Japan; it’s a big role to take on the character of Zoro, and he has such a magnetic presence and is such a phenomenal martial artist and fighter.
Showrunner-creator Matt Owens has known Emily Rudd for years, and she’s a big anime fan. Emily was really our first person where he said, ‘I think Emily would be a great Nami’, and we said, ‘Oh, absolutely.’ Each of these actors live their lives in a very direct, present, interesting way. And they are supremely close, they spend a lot of time together in South Africa and they travel around the world and so to us that was so validating.
The whole cast is great, but it really does come back to Godoy’s performance as Luffy. The producers saw over 100 actors audition for this part, and I think we can all agree that they chose the right one.
“I believe he screamed, he definitely laughed [when he found out he had the part],” Clements said. “He was on Zoom with us, he thanked everyone, he said he will give it his all. And then when we said, how is your family feeling about this and do your parents have any questions about production — because I think he was just 18, he was very young when he got the role — at that moment, he pulled his mother into the frame of the Zoom and said, ‘Well, my mom’s right here, she can ask questions’. And we just knew at that moment, what a great young man to have his parents sitting right next to him after he got the good news.”
You can watch the first season of One Piece on Netflix now. After that, the waiting begins.