Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Episode 1 of One Piece.After months of anticipation, of little teases, first looks, and letters from original creator Eiichiro Oda himself, Netflix’s live-action One Piece adaptation is finally here. The story of One Piece is simple at its core: Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) wants to become the King of the Pirates, and assembles a rag-tag crew to help him get there. But will he succeed? And how does this story fare in adaptation to a new medium? With 20+ years of history in this franchise, and its continued existence as an ongoing Manga and anime series, how does Netflix bridge that divide between longtime fans and those discovering the story for the first time?
- ‘The Chosen’ Season 4: Release Window, Cast, Plot, and Everything We Know So Far
- Sarwat Gilani Headlines Zindagi-Applause Partnership Opener ‘Farar’ (EXCLUSIVE)
- How Luffy Is Reflected in His Ship in the ‘One Piece’ Live-Action Series
- ‘East New York,’ ‘True Lies’ Both Canceled at CBS After One Season
- Sprawling Epic ‘Yellowstone’ Was Never Meant to Be Confined to Cable
Episode 1, “Romance Dawn,” opens with a pulpy-adventure-style narration from Ian McShane, who explains that this world is populated with pirates, all chasing adventure on the high seas. But it’s not pirates in general we’re interested in, it’s one pirate in particular. Not Luffy — not yet, anyway — but Gold Roger (Michael Dorman), finally apprehended and facing execution in Loguetown. There’s no way out for him, and he knows it, so instead he uses his last words to issue a call to action: “Free yourselves, take to the seas, my treasure is yours to find.” That treasure is, of course, the titular One Piece, and the prospect is enough to incite a riot in the crowd, much to the fury of Vice-Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), and kick-start a new age of piracy.
22 years later, the treasure remains unfound, but not for long if Monkey D. Luffy has anything to say about it. The self-styled future king of the pirates has taken to the seas without a crew in order to track down the legendary treasure but finds himself in a bind almost immediately when his less-than-watertight dinghy springs a leak and, unfortunately for someone who wants to make their life on the seas, he can’t swim. In only his first scene, Godoy shows why he was the perfect person to take on the role of perpetual-optimist Luffy, showing a cartoon-character-like enthusiasm in every line he delivers.
Ever resourceful, Luffy stuffs himself into a barrel to stay afloat as his boat goes under and unknowingly bobs in the direction of a ship battle between some hapless sailors and Captain Alvida (Ilia Isorelýs Paulino), a pirate whose all-pink aesthetic shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking she isn’t as bloodthirsty as they come. Alvida is the first noticeable update made to reflect how times have changed since the Manga was first published in 1997, as in the series her primary character trait seems to be hubris: she believes herself to be the most fearsome pirate on the seas, despite evidence to the contrary. In the Manga, she made constant exclamations of being the most beautiful pirate on the seas, the joke being that she is fat, rendering the statement untrue. Given the alternative, the arrogance is a far better move.
Alvida’s crew takes the sailors captive and interrogates them as to the whereabouts of Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), the pirate hunter. Their captain tells her that they took him to Sixis Island, but Alvida doesn’t believe that, claiming that he must be after her, specifically, given how fierce a pirate she is. The captain reluctantly admits that while Zoro did have a list of pirates he was pursuing, Alvida didn’t make the cut, and he is bludgeoned to death for his trouble, leaving cabin boy Koby (Morgan Davies) to clean up the blood. Miserable as Koby is with his lot in life, things take a turn when Luffy bursts out of one of the barrels the crew hauled on board and starts looking for something to eat. Koby is skeptical when Luffy reveals himself to be a pirate, since the cabin boy has a less-than-stellar view of pirates overall, and Luffy doesn’t fit the bill of thieving murderer. This prompts Luffy to tell Koby all about the pirates he grew up with, throwing us into our first flashback to his childhood.
In Windmill village, a young Luffy (Colton Osorio) sneaks onto the deck of Captain Shanks’ (Peter Gadiot) ship to welcome the crew back to town and to ask, not for the first time, if he can join the crew. Shanks is harsh with the boy, dismissing his desire to be a pirate, but reasoning with his crew that it’s better that Luffy be disappointed now than killed later. Luffy, deciding that a face scar like Shanks’ will prove he’s got what it takes, stabs himself just below his eye.
Despite this explanation, Koby still doesn’t understand why anyone would want to be a pirate, but it’s easy to understand his confusion. Whereas life under Alvida is brutal and uncertain, Shanks and his crew embody the sort of romantic ideal of piracy. They’re free, they can roam the seas as they see fit, seeking adventure, and Shanks’ crew are on the whole fairly decent men, despite being pirates (though Gadiot makes such a charming pirate captain that arguably the whole pirate thing is part of his appeal). With a role model like Shanks, it’s immediately understandable why someone as kind and happy-go-lucky as Luffy doesn’t hold the word “pirate” with the same distain as everyone else he comes across.
Koby, for instance, does not share Luffy’s belief that a life of piracy equals a life of freedom, given the harsh conditions under which he lives on Alvida’s crew. Luffy suggests that if Koby is that unhappy, that he just leave, something Koby insists is impossible. The cabin boy is, however, willing to help Luffy escape, so the two sneak up to the deck, their subtlty only lasting until Luufy inadvertently smashes an oar into a bell, rousing everyone including Alvida. When Koby doesn’t immediately fall in line, Luffy’s honesty gets them both in trouble when he cheerfully reveals how much Koby dislikes Alvida, angering the pirate captain. A fight breaks out on deck, where Luffy both bounces a bullet out of his own chest and stretches his limbs past the point of human possibility before knocking Alvida into the sea. That puts enough fear into the crew that they happily give him and Koby a boat and enough food for them to get to their next destination.
With Koby understandably baffled, Luffy explains his ability to stretch like rubber. Following his attempt to give himself a face scar worthy of a pirate, Luffy gets a stern talking-to from Shanks, who says it’s not the scars that make the pirate but rather the lesson behind them. This particular lesson goes right over Luffy’s head, and he storms off to poke through the crew’s haul. There he finds a strange-looking fruit — the Gum Gum Fruit — and with an appetite like his, he wastes no time in eating it. Back in the pub, the pirate crew are accosted by Higuma (Tamer Burjaq) and his band of bandits, a far less cheerful group than Shanks and co. Higuma tries to start a fight with Shanks by breaking a bottle of whiskey, which Shanks just laughs off and cleans up. Higuma leaves, disgusted by the non-confrontational display.
Equally disgusted is Luffy, who yells at Shanks and tells him he ought to have fought back instead of laughing it off with the crew. Shanks uses this as an opportunity to remind Luffy he’s not ready to join them, which makes the little boy storm off. Or at least attempt to. In a bid to stop him, Shanks grabs his wrist, only Luffy keeps going, and going, and going, his arm now rubbery and several feet long, much to everyone’s horror. This one short scene goes so far as to explain how it is Luffy became the man he is in the present timeline, one who would sooner face conflict with a smile, resorting to his fists only when pushed. It might have taken nearly a decade, but he internalized Shanks’ lessons at the end of the day.
In the present day, Luffy is prepared to hit the Grand Line with Koby and go in search of the treasure, that is until Koby points out they don’t actually have a map. Unbothered, he asks Koby what his goal in life is, and Koby admits he wants to be a Marine. Despite Marines and pirates being sworn enemies, Luffy resolves to help him, as helping a friend achieve their dreams is a bigger deal to him than any perceived politics. They chart a course for the closest Marine base, which will enable Koby to join up, and Luffy to get the map he needs.
On Sixis Island, the big bad pirate hunter Roronoa Zoro kneels alone in candlelit shrine until he is joined by Mr. 7 (Ben Kgosimore), a representative of Baroque Works. Though the name is enough to make Manga and anime fans sit up and pay attention, this is the only significant reference to Baroque Works we really get. It does indicate however, at least to me, that the One Piece creatives are optimistic about getting a second season — Baroque Works are the primary antagonists in the next story arc — and are laying the groundwork early. One person not appearing in that next arc, though, is Mr. 7, whose attempts to recruit Zoro go poorly when he tries to engage the pirate hunter in a fight, and instead ends up on the forest floor, his top half lying several feet from his bottom half.
Elsewhere on the East Blue, a young woman named Nami (Emily Rudd) lies unconscious in a small rowboat, until she is found by two pirates whose motives are less than selfless. They offer her assistance in exchange for the treasure chest she is carrying with her. She protests, but is shoved aside, and it’s only when she sails away with their larger, better-outfitted boat that the two pirates realize they’ve been played.
All roads — or sea lanes, I suppose — lead to Shells Town, the home of the 153rd Marine Branch under the leadership of Axe-Hand Morgan (Langley Kirkwood), where Koby and Luffy arrive and set out to find a way into the base so Luffy can grab his map. But first things first, he can’t complete a heist on an empty stomach, and so the two head for the nearest tavern. Also at the same establishment are Zoro — hauling both halves of Mr. 7 in a bag — and Nami, working her charms on an unsuspecting Marine.
Zoro is approached by Rika, the young daughter of the innkeeper, bearing a gift of chocolate-covered rice balls. A momentary distraction causes Rika to collide with Helmeppo (Aidan Scott), the son of Captain Morgan and the very worst sort of nepo baby who thinks they’ve earned their station in life rather than having it handed to them. He squashes Rika’s culinary creation and tries to berate her further until Zoro steps in, tries and compliments the food, and attempts to get Helmeppo to apologize. When that goes badly he kicks the ass of every single Marine in the bar without ever fully drawing one of his swords, impressing Luffy, and giving Nami the chance to steal the uniform of the Marine she was flirting with. The fight leaves Koby disillusioned about the role the Marines play in the world, until Luffy encourages him to not see things in such stark black and white. Good and bad pirates logically means there must be good and bad Marines too. Bolstered, Koby agrees to help Luffy get his ship ready to leave as soon as he finds the map.
Zoro has Helmeppo take him to see Captain Morgan so he can claim the bounty on Mr. 7. Captain Morgan offers him a position in the Marines, which Zoro declines. Morgan then counters by saying that Zoro will get paid only after serving the sentence for assaulting a Marine, namely seven days strung up in the base courtyard. With seven days of starvation preferable to a lifetime in service to the Marines, Zoro agrees to the terms. Out in the yard, Zoro is tied up in the hot sun, and soon joined by Helmeppo, who is carrying one of his swords. Helmeppo taunts Zoro, feeling awfully brave now that the bounty hunter is unable to actually fight back, before pointing out that Morgan is unlikely to actually let Zoro leave after seven days. That, more than anything else, seems to finally break the stoic pirate hunter’s resolve.
Luffy accidentally comes across Zoro in the training yard, and impressed by what he’s seen so far, offers Zoro a place in his pirate crew. Zoro declines — he is, after all a pirate hunter — and after some light prompting. from Luffy reveals that he once made a promise to become the world’s greatest swordsman. Because Luffy is nothing if not a hypeman, he unties Zoro so that the swordsman can go pursue his dream rather than being trapped in the yard, expecting nothing in return. Now free and able to reclaim his three swords, Zoro breaks into Helmeppo’s room, and catches him in a bit of a compromising position, forgoing the chance to kill him in favor of something much worse: a terrible haircut.
Inside the base, and now dressed like a Marine, Nami pokes around the map room looking for a map of the Grand Line. Her attempt to lie her way through it blows up in her face when the Marine whose uniform she stole happens upon her, and a small fight breaks out. Making things more complicated is Luffy’s sudden arrival via a hole in the ceiling. While he’s perfectly happy to just leave Nami to her own devices, Nami follows him towards Morgan’s office where the Grand Line maps are kept. The two are unexpectedly found by Morgan himself, who believes Nami’s lie about being a Marine recruit escorting a prisoner, and lets them go about their business.
The two finally make it to the office, where Luffy tells Nami all about his dream of becoming King of the Pirates. Like Zoro, she scoffs at the idea, countering that her own life of crime is less a choice and more one born of necessity. They run out of time to crack Morgan’s safe when the captain realizes he’s been tricked and comes to take his revenge. Needing a quick exit, Luffy yanks the safe out of the floor, and the weight sends him and Nami flying through the window and back into the courtyard. Cornered by a whole squad of Marines, the two try to fight their way out, and are soon joined by Zoro, who passes up the chance at a quick exit in order to help them. He might be serious and occasionally surly, but no one ever accused him of being heartless. Their success prompts Luffy to introduce them collectively to Morgan as a crew, something both Zoro and Nami are very quick to deny.
Where the Manga introduces Zoro and Nami into the narrative separately, bringing them both in together and this early is a brilliant move on the part of the series, not only because it saves narrative time, but also because it helps establish dynamics that much quicker. It’s not just the dynamic of each crew member in relation to Luffy, but also in relation to each other. The result is it feels less like “Luffy and the Straw Hats” and more just “The Straw Hats.” And if Zoro and Nami’s quick snippy exchange in the courtyard just so happened to reawaken a shippy part of my brain that’s been dormant since I was in high school, well, I’ll just keep that to myself (for now).
The trio takes out Captain Morgan fairly quickly, with Zoro finally demonstrating how exactly he uses three swords and once, and Luffy knocking out the Marine Captain after calling out his finishing move, “Gum Gum Whip.” Zoro points out that calling out the finishing move isn’t really a thing, but Luffy remains undeterred. The three head back to Nami’s ship with the safe in tow. Helmeppo attempts to stop them, already imagining the rewards he’ll get for bringing them in, until he is knocked out by Koby, who has come to say goodbye before he enlists.
Out on the seas, Vice-Admiral Garp gets a call warning him that pirates led by a captain in a straw hat have taken maps from Shells Town. The information is enough to get him to veer from their pursuit of Baroque Works to follow this lead instead. Elsewhere, in a circus tent, a pirate named Cabaji (Sven Ruygork), who witnessed the entire Shells Town bar fight, delivers his report to his boss, the first major villain of the season, one who wants that Grand Line map for himself: Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward).
All eight episodes of One Piece are streaming on Netflix now.