There are three words that will strike joy in the heart of any adult with a penchant for nostalgia: Saturday morning cartoons. Enter Netflix’s One Piece—the live-action adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s beloved manga series that premiered August 31—which manages to capture all of the bombastic magic of those same childhood weekends spent curled up on the sofa, bowl of sugary-sweet cereal in hand, with an outrageously fun series blasting out on the TV.
So, the big question: Who’s the most powerful pirate on the seven seas? The answer is a resoundingly loud “Monkey D. Luffy!” As fans of the original source material will be all too aware, this one follows the adventures of the carefree and almost frighteningly optimistic Luffy. We first meet him stranded at sea, with only a barrel and a straw hat to his name. Still, the rubber-skinned teen isn’t going to let that stop him. Much like any good Disney protagonist, he has a dream: to find the so-called One Piece (hey, that’s the name of the show), an elusive treasure belonging to the legendary pirate, Gol D. Rogers.
Over the course of the series, Luffy recruits a gang of ragtag misfits to help him on his quest: Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji—or the Straw Hats, as they prefer to be known. Together, they travel along the perilous Grand Line route, hopping from island to island, and facing more dangerous foes than you can shake a stereotypical peg leg at along the way. Will they ever track down the treasure, though? And will Luffy ever be named King of the Pirates?
If you had low expectations for this particular adaptation, you’d be forgiven: Netflix doesn’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to breathing life into Japanese manga and anime (here’s looking at you, Cowboy Bebop). One Piece, though, has proven itself to be the exception to the rule. And, sure, a lot of that is down to a powerhouse performance from our outrageously charismatic lead—all hail Iñaki Godoy, a true star in the making—and the show’s eye-watering budget. (Netflix allegedly threw down around $18 million for each of the show’s eight one-hour episodes.) It is also, however, because of the sheer fun of it all. Swashbuckling pirates! Adventure! Fish people! Animals that double up as [checks notes] telephones! Pirate ships aplenty (some adorned with pink love hearts and glitter cannons, some with oversized goats)! Characters you’ll love from the very first moment you meet them and many you’ll hate at first sight, too!
There is a lot of lore from the original source material packed into this one. A lot of lore. And, as is the nature of the TV adaptation beast, some of that lore (along with some characters and storylines) have had to be omitted along the way. Others, though, have been expanded for the better: Koby, for example, isn’t just a sidekick who silently takes his lumps anymore. Instead, he’s been given BFF status. He’s inspired by Luffy, sure, but they come out of this as equals—or co-leads, if you prefer. Those among you who are fond of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may prefer to think of him as the Cameron to Luffy’s Ferris (albeit a Cameron who has already driven his dad’s Ferrari into oblivion and been given a very welcome esteem boost as a result).
Another major plus point for Netflix’s One Piece? Its instantly recognizable aesthetic, of course. Even a cursory glance makes it abundantly clear that a lot of love and care has gone into all of its lush world building, and don’t even get us started on those gorgeously choreographed fight scenes. Like we said: major Saturday morning cartoons vibes.
Oh sure, Luffy’s oh-so-stretchy superpowers may send us rocketing down the uncanny valley. (If there’s one thing we’ve learned from The Fantastic Four, it’s this: Live-action stretching is very hard to do well.) And sure, a sudden bend and snap from our lead may take us out of all of that swashbuckling fun for a bit. On the whole, though, it still feels whimsical and fantastical, with healthy doses of cartoonish violence thrown in for good measure. (A head gets caved in with a mace in the very first episode.)
So, is this one accessible to those among us who haven’t spent hours poring over the original manga series? Well, we’ve got good news on that front: There’s nothing more grounding than a good pirate-based adventure, no matter how absurd things may get. Like a path sketched out on, say, a well-worn treasure map, it follows a route that’s been well-traveled by others before it. And, yes, that route may now be frequented by literal monsters, but it’s still the same high-energy hijinks we crave from this genre. Even better? There’s still a battered wooden chest filled with gold to be found at the end of it all, if only we persevere.
Swashbuckling, guys: It never fails to bring a smile to our faces. So grab a bowl of cereal, then, and build yourself a sofa fort, because One Piece has your weekend plans sorted.
One Piece premiered August 31 on Netflix