The popular manga One Piece becomes a live action on Netflix: because it risks being a failure

Making a good adaptation, starting from a book, a comic or a video game, is not easy. There are exceptions, sure. Like “The Last of Us”, available on Sky and NOW. But other experiences, like Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop,” haven’t fared equally well. Because they end up changing the source material too much, and badly (in the case of “Cowboy Bebop” we are talking about a cult anime, appreciated and loved all over the world, always distributed by the streaming platform). Or because they are afraid and cannot find an alternative way to the original source.

With “One Piece”, arriving on Netflix, the discussion is even more convoluted. First, we must start from an assumption. Television, like cinema, has run out of ideas. Or rather: it’s hard to find new ones. He has used books, great sagas, he has revived successful films and old TV series; it has tried to innovate, without however forgetting the past; and tried to find a new gold vein between ideas and references.

Manga, with its incredible success, is definitely the next step in this industrial process. And they are also because, thanks to their anime versions, they have reached every country. “One Piece” is an edge case. We are talking about the best-selling manga in the world (about 520 million copies). With a ten-year history, which has been able to enter the common imagination. It’s not “Dragon Ball”, thank goodness. But it comes enormously close to Akira Toriyama’s masterpiece, above all for the influence it has had, and still has, on entire generations.

This diffusion, however, represents not only a great opportunity (there are, potentially, millions and millions of viewers who can’t wait to be able to watch the live action of “One Piece”), but also a challenge. Because, clearly, expectations are sky high. And the public is ready to split over anything. Also, as has already happened, on a poster. Comparisons, criticisms and analyzes begin; the first pessimists begin to arrive, and to define Netflix’s work as approximate.

It’s a bet, this series of “One Piece”. A bet that has the same chances of success and failure. Fifty fifty. In the first case, Netflix could further expand its production, starting a new saga consisting of several seasons (to be clear: the manga signed by Eiichirō Oda, published in Italy by Star Comics, has not yet reached a conclusion). In the second case, however, Netflix could find itself in an extremely similar situation to that of “Cowboy Bebop” and be forced to retract and take a step back.

The question, with “One Piece”, is quite specific. The protagonists of the manga, such as Monkey D. Luffy, are endowed with extraordinary powers. And recreating those powers, like the ability to stretch one’s limbs, is difficult on television. Not only for the costs to be faced, but also for the type of commitment that is required of the effects department.

In addition, the tone of the story maintains a constant balance between surrealism and drama: and even this, on the small screen, is difficult to stage. There is always the risk of going further and ending up in parody. In the so-called cosplay effect. And everything could appear fake and distant. Too clean or too new. Or too exaggerated.

With American comics, it’s a different matter; and given the amount of adaptations, between big and small screen, it is evident. The manga, both for the culture from which it derives and also for the freedom an author can enjoy in print, is a unique language, not so easy to understand for those who, like Netflix, come from another context. Meanwhile, however, we know that the live action series of “One Piece” will be distributed this year (as stated in the first promotional image). Probably, and it’s just a guess, this summer. Or, to take advantage of Christmas and the winter holidays, between November and December. We’ll see. Fans, for now, appear to be deeply conflicted.

The popular manga One Piece becomes a live action on Netflix: because it risks being a failure