The popular Japanese manga “One Piece” is coming to Netflix as a live-action series – a development that is both exciting and concerning for fans who have seen mixed success in a growing list of Hollywood adaptations.
The world’s best-selling manga series, chronicling the coming-of-age adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a young pirate with a heart of gold, has already been adapted into an anime TV series with over 900 episodes. There are also 13 animated films, ‘One Piece’ video games and merchandise galore.
Ready to give her verdict is Nina Oiki, a gender and politics researcher at Waseda University in Tokyo, who has been a “One Piece” fan since she was in elementary school. She 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 soon after.
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“I know some people are concerned about what might happen with the Hollywood remake,” she said, noting that previous American attempts to depict Japanese comics and animated works have sometimes proved disappointing.
Past manga movie adaptations have flopped
The 2017 Netflix movie adaptation of ‘Death Note’, a manga and anime about a book that can kill people, was widely criticized as a flop. In December 2021, Netflix canceled ‘Cowboy Bebop’, the live-action adaptation of the western manga and anime of the same name, after just one season.
The cross-pollination of Hollywood and Japan goes back decades. References to Japan, such as the image of a geisha on a screen, abound in the 1982 sci-fi movie “Blade Runner” directed by Ridley Scott.
The film, in turn, influenced anime, including the anime “Blade Runner: Black Lotus” which first aired in 2021.
Japanese pop culture expert Roland Kelts says it’s a “stunning moment for anime,” thanks in part to streaming on platforms like Netflix, which has made entertainment boundless.
More tweaks come on the heels of some success stories
Live-action ‘One Piece’, expected later this year, follows the worldwide success of ‘Demon Slayer’, another manga that started 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 an all-time estimated revenue of $100 billion, according to a 2021 Statista report. Followed by Hello Kitty, the two Japanese products surpass Western offerings such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Star Wars. Hollywood live-action adaptations of other popular Japanese products — from Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 body-swap anime “Your Name” to the giant robot “Gundam” franchise that began in 1979 — are also underway.
Anime is a marketable medium with low production costs
Anime has a low production cost compared to live-action movies, and computer-generated heroes don’t get sick or injured or make offensive comments offscreen as real actors sometimes do, making it a marketable medium, said Kelts, author of “Japanamerica” , which documents the influence of Japanese pop culture in the United States.
“They are stylized and stateless characters. What I mean by that is that anime characters travel very, very well around the world,” said Kelts. “The human celebrities don’t always travel that well.”
Established bestsellers offer the benefit of a built-in fan base, but they are also tightly controlled. Some, like “Ghost in the Shell,” have been criticized for “whitewashing” the Asian original. The 1995 animated film was made into a Hollywood live-action in 2017 amid complaints about the casting of white American actor Scarlett Johansson as the main character – though Asia was largely left out of the debate.
‘One Piece’ starts Iñaki Godoy, Emily Rudd and Mackenyu
Live-action “One Piece” stars Mexican actor Iñaki Godoy (“The Imperfects”) as Luffy — whose nationality is canonically a mystery — alongside American actor Emily Rudd (“The Romanoffs”) as Nami and Japanese-American actor Mackenyu (“Fullmetal Alchemist: Revenge of Scar,” “Fullmetal Alchemist: Final Transmutation”) as Roronoa Zoro.
The main character’s inclusive personality, who attracts more and more companions throughout the story to join his quest, emphasizes the kind of school, office or workplace environment that people crave in modern society, said fan Oiki.
“Luffy is that leader we all want,” she said. “Luffy is a hero, but not an extraordinary hero. He’s one of us. He wants to be king of the pirates, but not to rule, but to let everyone be free.”