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One Piece's whimsy teeters towards nightmare fuel in live action series

Stretchy limbs and dismembered clowns somehow don't completely ruin the viewing experience.

live-action Luffy stretching his mouth wide
Image credit: Netflix

The world of One Piece is a goofy, cartoonish place, with telepathic snails and anthropomorphic octopi wielding six swords at once. Part of the charm of the manga has always been the sense that anything could happen, no matter how ridiculous. That translates wonderfully to animation, where you are only limited by time and budget, but live-action is less forgiving. As soon as the Netflix One Piece adaptation was announced, fans were bracing themselves for stretchy limbs and dismembered clowns throwing daggers to haunt their dreams.

Despite this, One Piece fans have plenty of reasons to celebrate. Netflix has given a good go at recreating Eiichiro Oda’s manga in live-action and the result is easily their best effort to date. Zoro running around with a sword in his mouth translates onto the screen better than I ever thought possible. Even the snail-phones used by Vice Admiral Garp and Nami don’t feel weird because the entire cast embraces the absurdity of the concept and delivers across the board. The practical effects, including the fight choreography, are where the show shines.

It’s the other visuals that fall short at times. When the main character is best known for stretching his mouth and inflating his body to bounce enemies away, any attempt to create a believable live-action version of a show is going to live and die by how well they use their special effects budget and there are some visual hiccups. Luffy’s rubber powers are generally fun and well-presented, but there is an unavoidable element of body horror when he stretches his neck to impossible lengths to deliver his Gum Gum Bell attack in episode four. Buggy the Clown’s power to chop his body into tiny pieces and who spends most of the season as a disembodied clown head is similarly nightmarish, though that is probably more intentional.

One Piece fans should be pleased with how much effort went into the live-action adaptation. This is easily the best version they could have possibly hoped for and the best of a string of bad Netflix adaptations. It isn’t just "not bad" – the live-action One Piece is genuinely good and charming, with a solid cast and a lot of love for the source material, with changes that even improve some of the manga's early flaws. Making the setting work as well as they do is an achievement in itself, even if we must all live with the image of Luffy stretching his lips two feet wide for the rest of our lives.

Despite an ending that clearly sets up the future adventures, we still don't know if One Piece will get a second season.

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