The cast of Netflix’s live-action One Piece has managed to bring some of the show’s most colorful characters to life, but no one had a tougher job than Iñaki Godoy. The Mexican-born actor’s role as Monkey D. Luffy carries with it not only the lofty expectations of bringing an iconic anime protagonist to life but also the difficulty of bringing complexity to a famously simple character.
It is an impossible situation, really. At the heart of Luffy’s character is how he manages to stay the same across more than 1,000 chapters of the manga. His dedication to his dream or his friends is unerring and endearing, but static characters, especially those with boundless enthusiasm like Luffy, can be grating when they are the consistent focus of a show. The producers mitigate that by adding moments of complexity to the character that the original manga doesn’t have at this point in the story.
Godoy, who was chosen for the role in part because he made Eiichiro Oda laugh during his audition, manages to portray the moments of exuberance and the moments of sincerity well. There is a charm to his earnest smile that carries the show, though he struggles at the few points where he is tasked with balancing the two, particularly in episode six as Luffy struggles with the pressure of being captain of a fractured and injured crew. Smiling through moments of doubt, which is easier to portray in panels on a page, comes across as insincere and naive in this instance.
Honestly, I’m not convinced that anyone else could have portrayed Luffy as faithfully as Iñaki Godoy manages in the first season of the live-action One Piece. His eager smile never feels forced and the dramatic moments he shares with his crew show an intensity that is near-perfect for the character. The added complexity in the writing and in Godoy’s portrayal makes Luffy feel more well-rounded than he does during the early chapters of the manga.
Fans are likely to be enamored with Godoy’s Luffy, especially as the end of the first season clearly sets the stage for future adventures. Whether we get to see these Straw Hats again remains to be seen as Netflix has been tight-lipped about a potential second season, but we’re hopeful we’ll see the Going Merry set sail for the Grand Line sooner rather than later.