This article contains spoilers for the One Piece “Arlong Park” arc.
Live action adaptations of beloved anime have gone about as well as peanut butter mixed with a duracell battery, but only a fool would think that’d stop them from still happening. Unlike previous attempts, though, the latest live-action adaptation is none other than that of One Piece — the masterful and best-selling story from creator Eiichiro Oda. Obviously, such an endeavor has been met with plenty of, to put it nicely, criticism; with the first official teaser having now been released, there’s likely to be plenty more Takes to come.
A series that, underneath the guise of its main character being a silly little goober, has a metric-ton of different plot points, world-building, and political subtext, is going to elicit plenty of questions. Will Oda’s reported involvement be the difference-maker in this latest live-action attempt? How will the rubbery boy’s rubbery powers translate? How scrumptious will Sanji’s cooking look?
These are vitally important questions, all of which will be answered relatively soon when the series starts streaming Aug. 31 on Netflix. However, the biggest questions this writer — that is, the one you’re reading right now, who happens to be a massive fan of One Piece — is most concerned with is how well the Arlong Park arc will be translated.
The Arlong Park arc serves as one where the Straw Hat crew’s navigator Nami (who will be played by Emily Rudd in the live action) is the main character of focus. Initially one of the most secretive characters of the group, Nami’s backstory gets a shine and introduces us to a small, but incredibly powerful group of fishmen led by a lad named Arlong.
Aside from being genuinely scary-looking, Arlong is perhaps best known for his treatment of Nami — taking advantage of her talent as a sea-charter and navigator with the threat of killing the rest of her village if she refuses. Only after accruing a ludicrous sum of money, Arlong claims, will set Nami and her village free.
The arc is, to myself and many other One Piece fans, a classic. You’ll often see questions — or even jokes from the naysayers — online about when the series “gets good”, but I’ve always found it to be a rather uninformed question.
Much of the beginning of One Piece, while still filled with its own share of violence, is mostly treated as a silly, effervescent adventure with a motley crew. Even in the main character’s name — Monkey D. Luffy, the future king of the pirates — there’s silliness to be found. Luffy and his crew go along and put some comically evil evil-doers in their place. And it’s a total blast! Watching a stretchy lad yell about food, a big-nosed sniper cower in fear at every given opportunity, or a green-haired swordsman constantly getting lost for no reason, filled me with blissful joy.
So it isn’t a question of when the series “gets good” but rather when it begins to open up; for my money, that’s the Arlong Park arc. It’s incredibly brutal compared to everything else seen at this point, and even to this day Nami’s backstory remains one of the most profoundly sad of any character in the series. The reasoning behind why she’s almost obnoxiously obsessed with money, her affinity for oranges, and the fate of her adoptive mother all hit you right in the heart.
Plus, it’s one of the first times you get a closer look at the corruption of the World Government — introducing the idea that many of the evil pirates (in this case Arlong’s fishmen crew) are very much allowed to do as they please thanks to the inaction of said government in order to retain the status quo.
All of it builds up to an epic battle, as many Shounen anime often do, but it’s Luffy accepting Nami’s request for help that truly makes the entire ordeal the most memorable. Here I am, somehow tearing up AND being equally amped up to the point where I want to run through a brick wall, all because Luffy gave Nami his hat — the only material possession he cares about.
The story of Arlong doesn’t entirely end with this arc either, as later on in the series during the Sabaody Archipelago and Fishman Island arcs where the plight of the fishmen species is further delved into. Essentially, they’re treated the way mutants are in Marvel comics; they serve as an allegory for the discrimination that permeates throughout our whole society.
Given that the actor playing Arlong (McKinley Belcher III) is Black, it will be particularly interesting to see how the show handles these themes of the character. In the anime and manga, we aren’t immediately shown the hardship of fishmen until much later. This could make for a dicey situation for the optics of the show if it isn’t handled properly and just makes Arlong evil for evil-sake and doesn’t explain his motivations. Nailing the arc not just for what it does for Nami’s character — but Arlong and the subtext of the fishmen, too — is what could truly make or break the series.
I’m not totally sure whether Netflix’s One Piece adaptation will be good; history points alarmingly to the contrary. Just because you have a Game of Thrones–esque budget doesn’t guarantee success; just ask The Flash. Who knows if this will be a catastrophic miss by the studio desperately trying to capture a massive fandom from an entirely different medium of storytelling?
But, really, I think I just find myself believing more and more in human creativity. One Piece is so incredibly special to me and millions of others, and it seems as though its cast and crew feel the same, too. At some point, someone will figure it out. Someone will figure out how to do a proper anime adaptation the same way they figured out comic books, or even Dune, or whatever.
At the very least, the adventure of finding out will give us plenty to talk about. And adventuring into the unknown is one of the many things One Piece is all about.
Netflix’s One Piece premieres Aug. 31.