When it comes to adapting the world's most popular manga/anime into live-action, it turns out that building boats big enough to sail the Grand Line was the easy part. It's the Devil Fruit that make things tricky.
One Piece hits Netflix this week, and marks the streaming platform's second big-name anime adaptation following 2021's Cowboy Bebop. But while Cowboy Bebop is a sci-fi series that travels across planets and stars, all of its main characters are normal humans. Not so with One Piece! This series (originally created by Eiichiro Oda, who also worked on the Netflix adaptation) is about pirates searching for a legendary treasure, but several of these scalawags are distinctly not normal humans. The world of One Piece contains the mysterious Devil Fruit, no two of which are alike. Eating one takes away one's ability to swim, but bestows a unique superpower in turn.
Protagonist Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy), for instance, ate the Gum-Gum Fruit, which allows him to stretch his body in all directions. Marc Jobst, who directed the first two episodes, said that figuring out how to show Luffy's stretching on screen was one of the biggest technical challenges of the show.
"We had so many meetings about this," Jobst tells EW. "We did lots of tests and we had lots of conversations in order to figure out, how does this work? Do all his hairs spread apart when he stretches? What happens to all the pores? Does it stretch at the same thickness all the way through, or does it go noodly and look silly? Do the clothes stretch with him or does he stretch out of the clothes? We tested so many different things. You think, 'well, okay, it's got to obey the laws of physics.' And then you look at it and you think, 'well, sometimes.' In the end, you've just got to go with what looks right."
Netflix Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy in Netflix's 'One Piece.'
Stretchy powers look fun in comics and cartoons, but are difficult to translate to live-action. Just look at Disney's Ms. Marvel series, which notably altered Kamala Khan's powers from changing the size of her body to manipulating energy. For Jobst and the One Piece team, the key to capturing Luffy's Gum-Gum powers was moving the camera along with his stretches.
Luffy aspires to be no less than the King of the Pirates. Befitting his grand ambitions as a champion of the seas, he has names for all his different moves. The most basic is the Gum-Gum Pistol, in which he stretches his arm backwards to unleash a powerful punch against rival pirate Alvida (Ilia Isorelýs Paulino). Then, at the end of the first episode, when Luffy teams up with new friends Zoro (Mackenyu) and Nami (Emily Rudd) to defeat the pirate-hunting marine "Axe-Hand" Morgan (Langley Kirkwood), he unleashes the Gum-Gum Whip.
"In the Alvida fight, it was less about showing the stretchy skills and more about showing the fun that he was having with the stretch," Jobst says. " He stretches out his arm and the camera goes out with it, you take it out into the black, then you turn the camera around and you show the hit."
Jobst continues, "With Morgan, it was really about using the camera to convey the energy of what he was doing. For the Gum-Gum Whip, we moved the camera onto Morgan and Zoro, and then we had a yank board on Morgan so that as soon as the camera came to that bang, Morgan was quickly yanked out of the way. So you were immediately into that next beat rather than concentrating on, 'wait, did his shorts go with him, or…?'"
Casey Crafford/Netflix Luffy fights marines in Netflix's 'One Piece.'
It doesn't take long for Luffy to meet another Devil Fruit user. Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward) ate the Chop-Chop Fruit, which means he can split his body apart and manipulate the limbs individually. This, in turn, makes it very hard for Luffy and friends to defeat or even hurt him. But Buggy posed an even bigger challenge for Jobst and the other filmmakers.
"I don't think any of us had quite done anything like that before," Jobst says of Buggy. "There was a period where someone would say, 'let's talk about Buggy,' and everyone else would go, 'oh no, is it lunchtime?' But then we sat around the table and were very honest with each other. The key thing was not to restrict the designers with practicalities. We just told them to go bonkers and come up with something glorious and mad, and then we'd figure out how to do it."
The battle with Buggy involves the clown splitting his limbs up to attack Luffy and friends individually.
"Our prosthetics guy, Yako, came up with this white glove that you could put your hand in and then green-screen away the arm, so you could manipulate a hand without seeing the rest of the limb," Jobst says. "We ran with that for a little bit, but then you start to work on it in rehearsal and you realize it's limited by always being at human height. It was really important to me that we went beyond that because audiences are super savvy these days and would figure it out. We had to find another way of getting limbs coming from high and low and all different directions."
Netflix Jeff Ward as Buggy the Clown on Netflix's 'One Piece.'
Jobst continues, "Yako built all these wonderful prosthetic limbs with sticks on the end, and there'd be somebody who'd be kind of pushing them around on set. When Nami is hitting the different limbs, we were literally throwing limbs at her. That was important because what you can't do in any visual effect is the physicality of a hit."
For all the special effects, Jobst says that what really drew him to One Piece was the characters themselves.
"You can have all the visual effects and the pyrotechnics, but if you don't have a really believable, authentic performance in the center of your frame, nobody cares," Jobst says. "I feel like all of these actors have delivered something committed and heartfelt."
You can get a taste of those performances in the exclusive clip above, wherein Luffy and his fledgling crew discuss their next steps. The first season of One Piece is streaming now on Netflix.
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