The creative new Netflix series “One Piece” is working to restore the reputation of piracy.
The genre-bending eight-episode first season (out of four; now streaming) of the long-running (and wildly popular) Japanese manga introduces a fantasy landscape of rousing outlaws, determined lawmen, and even some angry fish-people, with superpowers and a sense of humor thrown in to liven things up.
A young gang of buccaneers embarks on a treasure hunt and helps people along the way in this action-packed mashup of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Scott Pilgrim,” with a sprinkling of Doctor Who-style comedy, as a bighearted, swashbuckling response to “Stranger Things.”
People have been searching the oceans for Gold Roger’s stolen wealth for 22 years without success. Monkey D. Luffy (Iaki Godoy), a noisy but sincere character who never leaves home without his distinctive straw hat, with lofty ambitions to find the fabled “One Piece” and ascend to the position of pirate king. Additionally, Luffy can bend and stretch his body to ridiculous degrees as a result of eating a piece of Devil Fruit as a young child.
Luffy encounters the Marines, an armed group commanded by the temperamental Vice Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), who maintains the peace on the high seas with an iron fist, while searching for a map to the legendary Grand Line, an oceanic route thought to offer both danger and great riches.
He also meets Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu Arata), a stoic green-coiffed pirate hunter who is highly skilled with the three swords that never leave his side, and Nami (Emily Rudd), a cunning orange-haired thief looking for the same map.
The three different loners band together and set sail in large part due to Luffy’s contagious charm. However, the Marines are closing in quickly, and the strangeness in the wide waters is intensifying.
Jolly Rogers fly, some characters resemble those from an old-school pirate movie, while others are dressed in modern Hawaiian shirts, crop tops, and, in the instance of one person with a sawfish-like visage, a trapper hat. The bad guys are like a continuous parade of vintage He-Man villains, complete with a strange clown pirate, a scheming butler with long Freddy Krueger-style claws, and a boastful warlord with an impossibly big blade. Instead of smartphones, there are snail phones.
It’s a fairly crazy show to see, and because there are so many different genres present—from slapstick comedy to slasher horror—there is some tonal whiplash. However, the action in “One Piece” doesn’t go absolutely crazy, and the narration is often well-paced.
Our heroes go on multi-episode adventures where they find a ship, crash a fine-dining restaurant shaped like a big-mouth bass, and pick up new crew members including charming cook Sanji (Taz Skylar) and slingshot marksman Usopp (Jacob Romero).
But while “One Piece” (which also gave rise to an animated series in 1999) has a strong Saturday morning cartoon atmosphere, it’s also packed with violent language, intense violence, and intense themes. If you have any young bucs in the house beg to check it out, be careful.
Both the lore of “One Piece” and the cast’s new faces will be unfamiliar to American viewers: Rudd played a supporting role in Netflix’s “Fear Street” trilogy, and Arata is the son of legendary martial arts film star Sonny Chiba.
The character of exuberant Luffy, played by Godoy, serves as the show’s driving force and provides “One Piece” with a crucial, unwavering moral compass. Despite the fact that pirates are generally plundering, scurrilous individuals and bad things happen to them, Luffy stands up for his friends and those who are in need. In one of his many attempts to win over hearts and minds, he asks, “Who says pirates have to be scary?”
“One Piece” gives a lot of vibrant goodies to feast on, from entertaining oddballs to huge fights.