I realize now I’ve always had the wrong impression of One Piece. In passing, to a dad finding it first in the 2020s, it seemed like a generic hyper-violent, pirate-humored, anime for adolescents. I think you can forgive me for passing such judgment. This franchise (106 volumes to read and 1,071 episodes to watch) happened to be my daughter’s first foray into a series that is far flung from my own cultural touchstones. Also, the TV show and manga are superficially grating: The fights that last for chapters upon chapters (and episodes upon episodes!); the monosyllabic dialogue sometimes ascends to heartfelt one-liners, but often descends into grunts and groans; the character development is simply glacial. Add that to the fact of the newfound freedom given to my daughter choosing a thing that I didn’t introduce her to and, yeah, for me, this was a series that just felt wrong.
Well, as of August 2023, Netflix has dropped, a bold, live-action remake of One Piece, and I can say it now feels right. Just ask my 11-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old best friend who helped me review it. Turns out, the new live-action One Piece is a great co-viewing with parents and tweens. Mild spoilers ahead.
What Is One Piece?
So what is One Piece? Only the biggest and most influential manga ever. This live-action series is just a drop in the media footprint of this hallowed series that began twenty-six years ago. The plot goes something like this: Luffy (played brilliantly in the live action series by Iñaki Godoy), is a brash kid who decides he wants to become Pirate King by finding the so-called One Piece, a mythical treasure hidden by Gol D. Roger. The pirates won’t take a little kid in and by a funny chance he eats a magical “devil fruit” that gives him powers (he’s rubbery and impervious to cannonballs and punches alike) — helping make his dream at least theoretically achievable. He’s not the only game in town with fruit-derived powers. There are many a pirate with their own weird and unique gifts — a clown whose body parts can split apart and pop back together, guys who turn into laser beams or smoke, clawed pirates with cat-like reflexes — and most of them confront Luffy and force him to fight.
Luffy, it turns out, is quite a fighter, but his real skill is in accruing friends and building up a crew. Granted, none of them really want to be pirates but they do believe in Luffy, and he believes in them, defending those friends above all else when he inevitably drags them into mortal peril. The series is full of strange, compelling, comical (and some pretty sinister) enemies. But they appear mostly to test Luffy’s love for his friends, which (spoiler) never once, not for a second, falters. All in all the series is uplifting, heartwarming, and generally cute.
Should Parents Watch One Piece With Kids?
The truth is, watching One Piece with two tweens — seeing it through their eyes — helped me to strip away the repetitive fighting to see instead the just-as repetitive mantras behind it all. “He believes in himself”; “Don’t you ever threaten my friends!”; “Live your dream!” This might be cloying to a cynical adult. But these two find genuine inspiration in the story — and there’s a lot to love in the simplistic and strong morality of a ragtag group of pirates (“a different kind of pirate”).
I asked the kids for their thoughts and, well, they gave it to me straight: “I have read the manga and watched the anime,” said the 12-year-old, and “I think the live-action show is a bit more pointed to a more adult audience while still being pretty appropriate for older children, not for younger children. Buggy is quite scary and it contains a few S-Bombs. The first episode might be fine for the young kids but I think it's best to stop there if they are under the age of nine.”
I couldn’t have put it better.
Yes, there’s a lot of violent imagery to sift through and the manga especially does not zoom away from beheadings and bloody forays. Netflix, thankfully does often look away, so you can let your guard down for a mature 8-year-old, on up. Gol D. Roger’s beheading, a pivotal flashback, happened offscreen (“Oh! We didn’t see it! You’re supposed to see it!” moaned the 11-year-old) and while an evil pirate gets sliced in half, it is, I assure you, comical to even the youngest watcher (laughter from these two). This One Piece in fact seemed targeted to a precocious grade-schooler or a tween. Take the slow pan of Luffy as he picks his nose following a flashback explaining how he got his powers. The girls didn’t even seem to notice this one — it just came natural to a character who defiantly will never ever drop his childhood dream, or it seems, adolescent behaviors. It’s at once goofy and inspiring — and reads the same to kids and parents. What perfect co-viewing.
Is the new One Piece better than the original?
To the question of how does the live action version hold up, the kids give their thumbs up. “This show really captures the true feeling that One Piece gives you and if it continues this way it will be a wonderful watch and I can’t wait for more,” says the 12-year-old. My daughter agrees: “I really like the show in general. I would recommend it.” But for a parent, the question of whether this show is better misses the point. One Piece is bigger than one series. It’s a world and comparing and contrasting between the manga and animated series is something fans are already well versed in. Having a condensed version for a new audience brings out the criticism — and for kids, the critical thinking.
“One thing I don’t get is why is Luffy wearing sneakers?” my daughter asks, noting the sandals are so iconic as to be characters themselves. “I personally feel like it was too fast-paced during the Buggy section,” says the 12-year-old. “It felt a little… empty, story-wise.” “Also he is wearing a white shirt a lot of times,” says the sartorially-minded 11-year-old who thinks the show should have stuck with red. “That is a little strange.” A bigger point of contention: Two characters who had a love that was built out of innocent loyalty rather than biological longing kiss in the Netflix series, a near unpardonable sin to my daughter (“Ew. What were they thinking?”)
Are their criticisms right? Sure. The story is a bit rushed, and some decisions like that wholly unecessary kiss will irk fans. But that’s okay — great even. Because it’s a place for parents to get into One Piece with their kids — and flex a bit of criticism, comprehension, and appreciation for the craft. And maybe more than that … we get to laugh and cheer on perhaps the most optimistic, morally strong protagonist ever written. As Luffy says, “If I give up now, I'm going to regret it.”