My Review of Netflix’s One Piece (and What It Can Teach You about Achieving Your Dreams)

I first came into contact with anything related to anime or manga in middle school at a book fair. In some American schools, a company or organization would partner with the school to build a temporary book shop in the library for a few days. During lunch, the kids could visit the library and buy books and other toys they sold.

One thick Shonen Jump book stood out like a sore thumb. It was unlike anything else. It wasn’t just filled with words. And it wasn’t anything like the typical American cartoon drawings. The book was as thick as a dictionary, but it was filled with artwork that had a unique Japanese drawing style. It also had a lot of dialogue too, so it wasn’t just all action like in a comic. It had great stories.

I read as much as I could of these types of books when visiting these fairs. But I didn’t have much time to get deep. And eventually, I took my savings and bought one, which is something I rarely did because we didn’t have much money growing up and I saved stuff.

Fast forward a couple years, and I got exposed to more and more anime like Dragon Ball Z through television on kids channels like Toonami. My parents would drop me off at a bookstore after church on Sundays to learn and grow, and I would go straight to the spacious manga section to go through manga for free.

Back then, I was the only person who seemed to know about or like manga. I eventually ran into one other weird, disagreeable classmate who liked it too, but we didn’t always get along so we didn’t get a chance to bond much on manga. And then, over the next several years, I would run into a little bit more people. Young boys loved Dragon Ball Z, so I bonded with them on that. I would print out drawings of characters at the library just to look at them or color them in.

But for the most part, I kept my love of manga, like Bleach, One Piece, Naruto, etc. to myself because I would rarely run into anyone in high school who even knew what it was.  I would read scans of new chapters online to keep up with the growing storyline. And I started to see more kids catch on and dress up as a Naruto character during Halloween. I wore the Naruto headband once during Halloween, but it was so early on in the anime era that I don’t know if anyone knew what it was. One person even kind of made a bit of fun of me for it on Facebook.

And then came college, where I ran into one or two people here and there. There was this one fellow African American floormate in my dorm, and he had a tough, cool, built look. You wouldn’t expect him to like anime, but people often ask me first if I like it. I guess I have a certain look that indicates I do. And I say yes! And so, we bonded over our love of One Piece and the latest developments of the story. For once, I could express my deep passion of it. Other than that, though, there wasn’t much else I could express that community. There were a couple manga review YouTube channels I followed but that was more like watching something than really conversing in a forum.

To this day, anime and manga are still like that for me. On occasion, I will run into a group or person who likes it, and we can bond. But it’s rare. The last time it happened was when I ran into a med school student on a rooftop bar a few months ago. It’s something that can spark a friendship, but it doesn’t happen often enough. I may run into someone for a day at a convention or someone at random who likes anime/manga in general. And even then, their usual response to One Piece is that they can’t get into that one specifically because “it’s too long” and they don’t have time to go through hundreds of chapters.

So, that’s why I am so happy to see the success of Netflix’s TV show adaptation of One Piece. It has broken some records held by other big shows like Wednesday, the show is a success by the numbers, it’s certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, and it was renewed for a second season only two weeks after it’s release. In addition to that, I am seeing a lot of posts making references to the show or talking about the characters/actors on Facebook and YouTube, and they’re getting thousands upon thousands of views and engagement. While us fans are few in number in the general public, we are strong online internationally. The fans come from all over, Asia, Europe, South America, and so forth. After all, One Piece is the most sold manga of all time for a reason.

After watching all eight episodes, I wanted to give my review of the series. Given that there’s short attention spans online, I’ll try to keep this as short as possible, although I can probably go on for an hour about this.

One Piece Season 1 was almost as good as it could’ve been. I could be nitpicky with small things that are off compared to the source material, but it captured the essence of the characters and story. And that’s very hard to do! Out of many manga, One Piece is one of the most difficult you could’ve chosen to pull off in live action because of all its wacky cartoonish characters, yet Netflix expertly pulled it off.

What makes it more amazing is that anime live action adaptations have a history of being pure garbage. After many failed attempts, I was starting to believe it couldn’t be pulled off. Now, I realize that with the right team and vision, it’s possible. Looking back, I believe a lot of previous adaptations failed because they often strayed far off from the source material.

When it’s a good story, don’t disrespect it by throwing it aside and make your own. The most atrocious example is the 2009 film Dragon Ball Evolution, one of the very first attempts. The storyline is so far off from what the source material is that it makes me want to vomit, and no wonder it failed financially and with the critics. Rather than having Goku as the lovable, upbeat lone survivor and hero from another planet, they made him into a teenage boy in high school. They ruined everything, completely scrapped the entire plot, and made up their own movie. It was the utmost disrespect for the original content. The Hollywood execs used the phrase “loosely based on the original” as loosely as possible. It’s like if they made a Superman movie, but instead of making Superman from Krypton, they made him a teenage boy living in NYC who decided to draw an S on his chest and gained his powers from radioactive sludge. Atrocious.

Another reason why I think this succeeded was the casting and the diversity of characters in One Piece. Hollywood has a unproductive habit of whitewashing the entire cast. In some anime stories, many characters are clearly Asian with a distinct look. When they cast all Causcasian actors and  their acting is notably off from the essence and mannerisms of the characters, it’s a giant slap in the face to the Asian community and the story as a whole. Fortunately, with One Piece, the characters in the show are very diverse. You have the blonde flirt Sanji, the stoic swordsman Zorro (who could be either Asian or white), Nami is clearly Caucasian, Usopp could be Latin American or African, and so forth. Whiel the main character Luffy is likely Asian, the fans were willing to give a pass that the Actor is Mexican. Every casting of every actor had a decent correlation with the unique, lovable characters in the story. And Luffy’s very unique upbeat, happy-go-lucky, naive attitude is tough to match, and Iñaki Godoy Jasso matches that.

Echiro Oda, the creator of One Piece, also supposedly was heavily involved in the show. He was clearly involved in casting. And that involvement and respect from the original creator makes a huge difference. If you look at the Harry Potter film series, JK Rowling was involved in a similar way, and it’s no wonder the films tracked well with the books and were a big success.

Some fans are even posting side by sides of the Netflix show versus the anime / manga on social media to show you how certain shots/angles/framing matches exactly or very similarly to the panels or set up of the anime / manga, which I love. My favorite is the photo of Luffy walking away from Nami crying and Zoro is sitting there with his swords, Sanji is smoking a cigarette, and Usopp is crossing his arms. I remember reading that panel as a kid, so it was so satisfying!

Now, in terms of little nitpicky issues, I felt like they missed or skipped certain nuances of the story and character development, likely because of lack of time or negligence. They never explained, for example, that Sanji only uses his kicks to fight because he reserves his hands for cooking only. And there was a big boss to battle every one to three episodes. However, the manga and anime give it a lot more chapters/episodes to build up to those bosses. There’s a lot more at stack, making the struggles, obstacles, climax, and emotional payoff much more worth it. That said, I totally understand that live action TV is not like manga or anime. In the latter, you’re able to church them out much quicker and easier, which is why One Piece has over a thousand chapters and thousands of episodes. They had to summarize things a lot quicker to keep the audience’s attention. And certain things can be shown in a comic panel, but you have to do it differently on TV. As a proof of concept for a live action show that had a lot to prove and a lot of risk of being canceled, they may not have kept attention and it wouldn’t have worked if they were as slow as Game of Thrones to roll out every storyline and set up. They had to move quickly and assemble the core pirate crew within eight episodes.

I didn’t like how certain bits of story were changed, shortened, updated, or curtailed to fit within the story. The whole Grandpa Garp thing doesn’t happen like that, and Garp doesn’t really come into the picture until much later in the actual story. That said, I’m sure Oda had a say, and they wanted to have an overarching protagonist that was there for all the episodes until the grand finale, and it seems like the Garp would be the guy for that. One Piece anime is typically very arc driven, so you have one boss for dozens of episodes. Because they had to move the story quickly with Netflix, they had to fit all these bosses into a short time frame, so they likely had to add that final protagonist just to keep one overarching story.

Finally, I felt like some of the acting could’ve been a bit better and on point. Usopp, one of my favorite characters, has a more flamboyant, coward-liar, boastful, playful, extravagant energy that I feel could’ve come off with more dialogue and acting. Sanji is a big flirt and melts at any pretty girl’s attention, I felt that could’ve been played up a bit more naturally. The grumbling and fights between Sanji and Zoro resembles the source material somewhat. It’s great they added that and it’s on the right track, but I felt the dialogue as to why seemed a bit too random with no reason other than to add it “just because” they randomly don’t like eachother and Zoro thinks of Sanji as a meager cook. Instead, it’s more about them rubbing eachother the wrong way because they’re a lot alike in their competence, but they feel like they get in eachother’s way.

In conclusion, One Piece is now being seen by more of the world, which is awesome. People are starting to learn that it’s not just some cartoon for kids. The stories get pretty dark and deep. There’s character development. There’s struggles. There’s universal themes, like following your dreams, never giving up, and standing up for your friend. There’s action scenes and supernatural powers. There’s unique characters, and there’s a vast, interesting world. It wouldn’t have gotten as big as it did if it was all action and no good story. There’s a lot of depth hidden in One Piece. I’m glad it’s gotten the exposure it deserves, and I have seen that some of these people will consider reading or watching the source material for the first time and gaining a respect and enjoyment for the full story. A large percent of the people who watch won’t and will still be close-minded to anything that’s not live action. But it’s fine. It’s still telling a grand story to more people and bringing joy to people. And it’s even making me want to go back and rewatch/reread everything.

Since this is a personal development blog, I’m going to tie it back to lessons you can learn to live your dream life. I initially wanted to just write my thoughts about something I love even if it didn’t relate to self development. Then, it didn’t take me long to realize that there’s a good amount that correlates when you think about it.

An obvious theme of the Netflix show is the importance of following your dreams. In fact, they emphasize this point much more than the original story. Sanji wants to be a great cook and visit the elusive All Blue, a chef’s paradise. But that dream starts to fade as he feels indebted to the head chef for saving his life (and eating his own foot so that Sanji can have more of the food when they were stranded on an island – like I said, it gets dark). So, he stays in the restaurant until he’s an adult, slumming away sad in the kitchen even though the chef is telling him to leave. Eventually, after a big argument, he realizes that the chef is telling him that it’s okay to leave and the worst thing the chef could see happening is him giving up on his dream.

There are similar stories, like with Nami giving up on her dream and telling others to give up on their dreams because she is trapped in an impossible situation with having to collect an impossible amount of money to buy out and save her town from her pirate captors, the people who killed her mom.

And of course, there’s Zoro, who wants to be the best swordsman in the world because he made a promise to the one classmate who was better than him that one of them would achieve that, only to discover soon after that her classmate had an accidental death. (Like I said, these stories get dark, but they do a great job of telling these stories and they try to keep them somewhat light. I couldn’t get through entire episodes all at once because the stories are darker in live action than in cartoon form.) He fails and falters briefly when he faces the current best swordman in the world, gets defeated easily, and realizes how much farther he has to go. But he doesn’t give up and swears to never lose again.

Luffy is often liberating other people, helping them follow their dreams, and demonstrating through his actions that it’s best to chase your dreams no matter what and never let others hold you down from your dreams.

My poin is that this theme of chasing your dreams makes these stories great, and they’re also something to ponder in your own life. So many people fail to even try or consider certain dreams because they’re dead upon arrival. They’ve already bought into a belief that these dreams are so impossible that they don’t even try. I asked one person I knew why she never considered being a doctor and ended up at her current job. And she told me she just never believed she could, so she didn’t try but maybe she could’ve.

I get it. Some dreams have a bunch of challenges and risk involved. Moving to Hollywood to try to become an actor often comes with years of living in a dingy apartment with a poor social life, working minimal wage as a waiter as you go to audition after audition to be turned away with rejection. Some people aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, especially if they could study to get a safer, more boring job with stable pay.

I am not saying I have all the answers. I just think there are certain ideas we should ponder over rather than kill or ignore. Maybe there’s a way one can channel their outlet for their dream without having to kill it and live with regret. It doesn’t have to be giving up everything and applying for waiter positions in Hollywood. It could mean building up a lifestyle business so that you can live comfortably and have a flexible work-life balance one day to audition for acting roles. Or it could be getting the skills to work as a product manager or production executive for the entertainment industry so that you’re still in the industry you love without having to work a low wage job.

Don’t let your dreams completely die because there’s a passion and power to those dreams that has the potential to lead to some awesome places beyond your wildest dreams. And who knows? Maybe you already have the power inside of you to make those dreams true one day.

I wish seasons two, three, and more come out soon with One Piece, but it’s looking like the earliest they can turn around season 2 is 2025. Regardless, I can’t wait to see it! I’m so happy for the actors and everyone involved. And in the meantime, I can continue to catch up and re-watch the series.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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