On the last day of August 2023, Netflix released potentially one of their best “original” series yet; One Piece. I say original in quotes only because, while it technically is an original series by Netflix, it is not actually an original series. It’s a remake of the long-loved manga by the same name, released in July 1997 written and illustrated by at the time twenty-two-year-old Eiichiro Oda. Just two years later that manga, legendary in many ways, would be adapted into an iconic anime series that has now spanned 20 seasons across 22 years totaling a whooping 1,075 episodes, and it’s still going. Suffice it to say, whoever was involved with adapting this into a live-action series with an 8 episode first season was going to have their hands full. With the biggest burden being placed on whoever was cast to fill the stretchy shoes of One Piece’s lead, the optimistic and kindhearted Monkey D. Luffy.
The entire series’ success hinged upon who would be cast as Luffy, and I truly don’t think they could have found a better fit than 20-year-old Mexican-American actor, Iñaki Godoy. Before I dive more into Netflix’s One Piece, allow me to give a little backstory on what the series is all about. See, One Piece follows Luffy, our upbeat and loveable lead who has held the same dream since he was a child, he’s going to be the King of the Pirates. Armed with nothing but his superhuman ability to stretch (he is a man made of rubber, just go with it) Luffy sets off on an adventure across the seas to collect a trusty crew, get the famed “One Piece” treasure, and achieve his dream. Along the way, he proves to be “a different kind of pirate”, by showing kindness to everyone he comes across, sticking up for his friends, and never ever stealing (or well, at least trying not to).
To some surprise considering One Piece is an anime, Luffy is actually Brazillian in the original. Though he does, of course, speak Japanese as his creator Oda hails from Japan. Godoy had a lot going against him. He would be coming into a role that has been portrayed in one way for over twenty years, he was seen as of a different ethnicity, and well…he couldn’t be drawn. So much of the charms and wonder of anime come from the art style. In the original series and manga, Luffy is fully defined by his trademark smile. How does one invoke that same adorable whimsy in a real-life human body? While the reception of Godoy wasn’t bad, there was a clear skepticism amongst the fanbase. Then, the series was released. It was as if Monkey D. Luffy had come to life. Oda himself told Godoy he felt he was made to play the role. He fully embodied his confidence, silliness, and staunch loyalty.
For an anime adaptation, this was a huge step forward for Latinos. The notion that we aren’t just present in the series, but we’re at the center of it. Godoy may embody Luffy, but he is still clearly Mexican. Not only does he look Latino, but his accent acts as an adorable addition to the character. He was the perfect choice, and Godoy’s casting speaks to a slew of brave choices the writers and directors made when adapting this series.
Godoy isn’t the only POC in the Netflix series either. The character of Nojiko, Nami’s adoptive older sister, is now played by Nigerian-South African actress Chioma Umeala, Dominican-American actress Ilia Isorelýs Paulino portrays the ruthless pirate Alvida. In terms of Luffy’s actual crew, the representation is abundant between Godoy himself, the edgy swordsman Zoro portrayed by Japanese actor Mackenyu, and hilarious Jamacian-American actor Jacob Gibson who plays Usopp. Perhaps the bravest decision Netflix made wasn’t their casting, which was so spot-on it’s uncanny, but their dedication to keeping the anime feel throughout the entire show.
Anime is a distinct style of media, with notable theme songs, high-energy catchphrases, and key moments sometimes so over the top they feel more like an episode of Days of Our Lives, than a rough-and-tumble action series. A One Piece adaptation isn’t as unique as it sounds. In fact, many people have tried to adapt anime into live-action, and most usually fail. Look no further than Netflix’s own live-action adaptation of the beloved Death Note anime series. Which was eviscerated by critics and massacred by fans due to its cringe-inducing lines, switch from series to film, and complete disregard for the original content.
The key issue being they try to change too much of the original by adapting it for a modern American household. Netflix’s One Piece fully embraces every aspect of anime. Leaning into the silly screams, the dramatic moments, and even the insane character design. Ones you would only think could work in an illustrated format. In doing so, they make something that could have been their downfall work for them rather than against.
I cannot stop singing the praises of this show, but Netflix’s One Piece really is a masterpiece. It stays true to the heart of the original with the core message to follow your dreams, always stick up for your friends, and always try to see the best in people, even when they don’t see it in themselves. The series was wildly entertaining, every episode felt like its own journey. The plot was always moving, and each time Luffy met another potential crewmember I felt myself already falling in love with them. It was so fun, and silly, and heartwarming that before I knew it, I found myself crying over these characters. Their backstories, and the immense strength they showed in pursuit of their dreams.
I am highly anticipating Netflix greenlighting season 2 of One Piece. Too often we see amazing shows get scrapped before they’ve even begun. Netflix’s One Piece is just starting, Luffy is on his way to becoming King of the Pirates and I want to see Godoy’s version of Luffy achieve it. Earlier this week the producers of the show admitted all the scripts for Season 2 are already written, all they’re waiting for is the go-ahead. So, if you’re interested at all in this series (which you should be, it’s amazing) I highly highly recommend you check out One Piece streaming on Netflix right now.
Or the manga, or the anime series. Whichever works, but I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed.
Update: As of this week, Netflix has officially renewed One Piece for Season 2! While the jury is still out on more potential seasons, the writers are aiming high, hoping for somewhere between six and twelve seasons on Netflix.