How ONE PIECE (2023) Raised the Bar for Adaptations
BY ETHAN KUANG '24
Over the past few decades, anime has found its place within Western culture. With its flashy effects, unique character design, and stunning artstyle, anime has garnered a devoted audience in all kinds of media, from books to clothing collaborations. In an attempt to profit off of said audience, some studios have even tried (and failed) to make live-action adaptations of popular anime.
Unfortunately, this often results in lots of money being wasted on something nobody wants to watch. Take Dragonball Evolution (2009), for example. It’s based on one of the most influential anime of all time, Dragon Ball Z, and yet it’s one of the top 25 worst rated movies on IMDb.
Anime isn’t the only offender, though; historically, fans have a lot of resentment towards live adaptations of all kinds: Mulan, Aladdin, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the list goes on. In all fairness, anime adaptations are a huge challenge to produce, due to the demand and high expectations of devoted fans, as well as the difficulty of taking the Japanese culture expressed in the original source and rewriting it to cater towards a Western audience. As someone who has watched a little too much anime in their free time, I think I can speak for most viewers when I say that we prefer to watch these shows in their animated form that we are used to.
At least that’s what I thought until august, when ONE PIECE, the live-action adaptation of One Piece, aired on Netflix. When I first heard about its release, I expected the show to flop –but upon watching it for the first time, I knew immediately that this would be different. It turns out that almost everyone who watched the show agreed. In a flash, ONE PIECE was the #1 most popular TV show on the streaming service. As I’m writing this at the beginning of October, the adaptation is still in the top ten—it feels like Squid Game all over again.
For context, One Piece is pretty much a cult classic for anime. It’s one of the most influential anime and longest running of all time, first starting in 1998 and having yet to conclude, with the manga having over 1000 chapters and selling over 400 million copies.
So what makes ONE PIECE so special? For one thing, it has one of the highest budgets of any anime project, being produced with a budget of $18 million per episode, with eight episodes at the time of writing. To put that in perspective, each episode of Game of Thrones only had a $15 million budget during its final season.
But of course, money alone can’t make a good show. The creators tackle the adaptation by rewriting several scenes for new viewers. You see, the way anime is written is completely different from the way live-action dramas are written. Anime tends to feature more attention-grabbing action and slapstick comedy, making the genre seem “immature” in comparison to Western genres. This makes sense as a lot of anime is targeted towards adolescents, while many Western shows are made for young adults. If the directors of ONE PIECE had simply decided to stick to the original style of the anime, they would likely be ridiculed. But the directors considered this, and they write for different audiences, something that many other adaptations fail to do (It’s their one job! They’re called adaptations for a reason). Characters are portrayed in a way that makes them more human, whereas in anime, everything seems otherworldly.
As of right now, ONE PIECE has a 8.4 star rating on IMDb–one of the best debut performances of a Netflix original series. So it begs the question: will Netflix make another great adaptation? I ask this not only rhetorically but also genuinely, as I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more shows like this in the future.