Best-Selling Manga Series Brought to Life by Netflix
Boasting over 500 million copies in circulation, One Piece is the best-selling manga series in history and is popular around the world.
Netflix has now produced a live action series of One Piece and the first season became available for streaming 31 August 2023. The production has garnered impressive reviews from both critics and audiences. A second series has already been announced and will probably be released in the next couple of years.
The Netflix series is bringing One Piece to a global audience and was made with the aim of attracting viewers who have not seen or read the story before.
What are Japanese manga?
Manga are graphic novels or Japanese comics usually published in black and white that are read by people of all ages in Japan. The medium encompasses a broad range of genres including action, comedy, drama, horror, adventure, romance and fantasy. Manga has its origins in scrolls dating back to the 12th century, but the term manga was not in common usage until the late 18th century.
Modern manga has been a significant feature of Japanese publishing since the 1950s. The interest in creating manga may have been inspired by American comics brought to Japan by GIs during the American occupation of the country after World War II. Further cultural influences doubtless piqued the interest of managaka (writers and graphic artists who create manga). Those influences would have included western television programmes and cartoons.
How popular is manga?
Since the 1950s the manga market in Japan has grown continuously and had reached a value of ¥675.9 billion in 2022. The global manga market was valued at USD 11.68 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a rate of 16.5% annually in the comings years. The top four publishers of comics globally are now the popular manga publishers – Shueisha, Kodansha, Kadokawa and Shogakukan.
What is One Piece?
One Piece is a massively popular manga series written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. It was first published in 1997 and has been serialised in Shueisha’s shōnen manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump since then.
One Piece follows the story of the pirate with the straw hat Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, the Straw Hat Pirates. They explore their world in search of the One Piece, a fabled treasure left behind by the “King of the Pirates” to anyone who can find it and claim title as the next pirate king.
The anime is mainly about a life of freedom, with Luffy being the living embodiment of this philosophy. We see this very clearly in one scene of the anime when Luffy teaches Koby the cabin boy that he can stand up to the pirate Alvida and can follow his dream of one day becoming a Navy officer.
A life of freedom is not the only message thrown at us by the writer as there are also themes of friendship, brotherhood, community, integrity, revolution and so on. The list expands as fans find new ways of perceiving the story as each chapter comes out.
The world in which Monkey D. Luffy and his crew operate in features humans and other races such as fish people, giants and anthropomorphic animals. It is ruled by the “World Government” and its seas are protected by The Navy. Two enormous oceans are divided by a huge mountain range called the Red Line. Within the oceans sits the Grand Line, an area of calmed ocean inhabited by ship eating monsters. Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates face many dangers when navigating their fantasy world.
One Piece, Japan’s highest-selling manga series, has been developed into numerous Anime movies, television series and one-off television productions. It has won many awards and is admired for its storytelling, art and humour. By 2022, copies of One Piece were in circulation in 61 countries around the world.
What about the Netflix series?
Netflix took the decision to produce a live action adaptation of One Piece in 2017. Filming began in January 2022 and was completed by August 2022 and was overseen by Matt Owens as showrunner and writer of the show with close collaboration with the creator of the source material, Eiichiro Oda.
After Matt Owens pitched the anime adaptation to the creator of its source material, Oda sensei said “I have 100% faith in you”
The Live-action adaptation was filmed in South Africa, Mexico and the Canary Islands. It cost $138 million to complete. One piece fans will finally be able to see the straw hat pirates in a live-action setting with Luffy portrayed by Iñaki Godoy, the Navigator Nami played by Emily Rudd, the pirate hunter Roronoa Zoro by none other than Mackenyu Arata who has been in countless Japanese live-action adaptations of other beloved anime series such as Full metal alchemist and Knights of the Zodiac.
Interviews of the cast show how they have been fans of the show long before the show was even announced with Emily Rudd and Mackenyu stating they grew up watching the anime.
It largely remains faithful to Eiichiro Oda’s original work but some structural changes to the plot were made with Oda’s approval. The action scenes are well choreographed and the Visual effects team has managed to do a great job with what could have been a CGI nightmare.
Eiichiro Oda was an executive producer of the show which has proved to be a significant hit. The second series has already been announced and fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of its proposed release date. The production team announced it will start working as soon as the Hollywood Actors and Writers strikes are resolved.
Japanese manga and translation
Manga publications have attracted a global audience but translating them for an international readership isn’t easy.
Publishers have always wrestled with the question of how to present manga to western audiences. Should they remain faithful to the Japanese originals or significantly adapt the original material? It is hard to strike the right balance.
Manga features visual and cultural concepts that are unique to Japan and Japanese creativity. Japanese boasts a different reading system to that used in Europe and America. The content of speech bubbles can be difficult to render as translations into western languages can result in content that is much longer than the original Japanese.
Translators may aim to remain faithful to the original meanings of any dialogue, but certain expressions may sound awkward or can simply not make sense to readers outside of Japan. The repetition of words is more common in Japanese and could seem strange when used in other languages. In addition, the Japanese language features different
levels of politeness or formality than many other languages and relies heavily on context.
The approach of publishers to the translation of Japanese manga has certainly changed over the years as those involved have continually grappled with how to present the stories. These days, many manga titles published in the west are more faithful to the originals than they would have been in the past. They are now often published in black and white and are designed to be read in the Japanese style.
Even the producers of the Netflix series struggled at times to reconcile their wish to be faithful to the original work with the need to create programming that would appeal to a global market. It was crucial to satisfy existing fans of One Piece while also attracting a new audience. It would appear that the series has largely succeeded in striking the right balance.
The success story of the Netflix Live-action series gives us hope for more Japanese original stories to come to the west in a live-action format. There have been countless American attempts at adapting anime into a series or movie with some backlash from anime fans. Seeing Netflix’ announcement for season 2 narrated by none other than Oda leaves us to realise we have’t seen the last of the Straw Hat crew yet. The translation of the story from a Japanese medium to a very much Western one has proved to work for now. Lets see what they can keep up when the crew enter the “Grand Line”.