We are truly in uncharted waters. Netflix continues to move ahead with its live-action One Piece adaptation. The series got a highlight reel during today’s Netflix Geeked Week showcase. The reel was aimed at assuring fans that the production team was putting their heart and soul into the show. Notably, most of the ships are real, life-sized sets.
There is a time-lapse of the Baratie Bay ship being built, but there were also brief snippets of the deck and a half-completed version of the Going Merry, Alvida’s Miss Love Duck, and what is potentially Foosha Village, where the first arc of the series begins. There was also a mention of Arlong Park’s map room, pointing to the season ending on that arc.
You can see Netflix’s money on display in the sets. These look to be full, life-sized ships for actors to walk and fight on. And once these ships are built, they’re putting them in sizable water tanks. None of this is cheap, and it’s all before we get to any visual effects.
One Piece is going to require significant costuming and visual effects power to truly bring across creator Eiichiro Oda’s unique style. Luffy is the main protagonist and his powers are based around stretching, something that never looks good in live-action. They’ve also cast Buggy the Clown, whose powers split his body up, and the Arlong Park villains, who are all weird fish people.
Again, none of this is cheap. Netflix is throwing money at this show trying to create its next Stranger Things or Squid Game. The problem is two-fold. One, you can’t just manufacture a hit, especially when you’re trying to adapt a well-loved anime. The final product will never truly be like the original, so you have to hope you can chart your own unique course with it.
One Piece is so goddamn weird on its own that you’ve already set yourself up for failure. Cowboy Bebop was solid to not great, and it was honestly much easier to create something close to the original in live-action. I can’t even fathom how One Piece is going to look. Do you have Usopp’s long nose or Arlong’s buzzsaw nose in live-action? Bad cosplay does not look great on a professional television show.
The second issue is Netflix isn’t what it once was. Netflix from years ago could throw money at big deals with famous creators and huge productions that might not pay off. Netflix today is tightening the belt. The streamer is cutting shows much quicker these days, especially when they are expensive propositions.
Cowboy Bebop suffered poor ratings, but its initial viewership was pretty good. The issue was the second-week viewership was down to 59% and Netflix’s internal cutoff metric was 60% at the low-end. An expensive production, bad reviews, and viewership ratings that were right at the cut-off meant the show had to go. You can also look to Jupiter’s Legacy, a superhero series produced by Netflix’s Millarworld. It too had a higher price tag and solid viewership numbers that simply weren’t enough to keep the show around. And Netflix owns that property outright!
Netflix is looking for cheap shows that hit big. It’s found that recently in international shows like Squid Game, La Casa de Papel, and Sex Education. One Piece is neither cheap nor do I see it reaching a wide enough audience to justify its budget. It’s just a very weird property when animated, let alone being redone in live-action.
One Piece for Netflix is a huge boondoggle. It feels like an immense waste of money at a time when the company wants to run lean. I don’t think it’s going to work, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to watch the hell out of this trainwreck. It’s going to either be another spectacular failure or a unique and surprising success a la The Lego Movie. I’m honestly hoping for the latter, to be honest.
Either way, it’s going to be awesome seeing people on real versions of all the ships from the manga. Maybe they can turn them into a tourist destination for One Piece fans to recoup some of that budget.