One of my favorite childhood memories is waking up early every Saturday morning, grabbing my bowl of cereal, and sitting on the couch ready to watch the newest One Piece episode with my brothers. Anime has changed my life and that of many others.
Even though it was created in the ’50s, the Japanese media found success in the ’80s and ’90s with the release of globally recognized titles like Akira, Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto. However, only recently has anime become a truly global juggernaut.
2023 has been a significant year for One Piece in particular. The main character, Monkey D. Luffy is getting his own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He will be the first anime character to be included in one of the most iconic American events since Goku from Dragon Ball in 2018. This is a big deal for all One Piece fans, but it’s also very special to me as I’ve been following along with Luffy’s transformational journey since childhood.
When Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece first hit shelves in 1997, it started out as a typical shonen manga about a young boy’s journey to becoming the greatest pirate ever. Shonen manga is an editorial category of mangas targeting an audience of adolescent boys and is usually action-packed with little plot or character development.
However, One Piece stood out with its ability to transport you to its fictional world while still addressing real-life situations that many can relate to. Each character comes with their own compelling backstory that creates layers of meaning in each story arc and helps the audience get to know the characters on a deeper level.
While One Piece is hardly the only anime to have gained more popularity recently, it is the first anime to have a successful Netflix live-action adaptation. One of the biggest things fans look for with a live-action adaptation is the production’s staying as true to the source material as possible.
Fans were disappointed in Netflix’s past live-action adaptations of Death Note, Cowboy Bebop, and Fullmetal Alchemist because of poor casting and oddly paced scripts. They felt there was no on-screen chemistry between important characters and that the plot was rushed.
It’s no wonder that One Piece fans were apprehensive when a live-action adaptation was announced. However, Netflix learned from its past mistakes and wisely hired One Piece super fan, Matt Owens, as showrunner and executive producer on the project. He did not disappoint.
Owens interacted with fellow fans via social media in what seemed to be an attempt to ease some of the tension surrounding accuracy and staying true to the source material. He answered questions and provided clarity about plot direction once the show actually aired.
Netflix also knocked it out of the park when it came to casting, even flying out the manga’s creator, Eiichiro Oda, to LA to be a part of the casting process.
While each and every character casting has been flawless, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy and Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp are my favorites so far. Their ability to capture the personalities of the characters while adapting to live-action pacing has been impressive.
All of these well-executed aspects now have the numbers to back them up. Within the first week of release, the adaptation received a phenomenal 18.5 million views and was number one in the streaming platform’s Top 10 across 84 countries, narrowly passing the records that were previously held by series such as Wednesday and season four of Stranger Things, which held the number one spot in 83 countries at the time of their release.
Another way to enjoy anime is by watching them in the theater. It has been a surreal feeling to watch action-packed anime movies on the big screen, in public, with other people, instead of in the comfort of a blanket fort on my bedroom floor.
In the past year, the One Piece franchise has held special screenings of previously released movies such as One Piece Film: GOLD and One Piece: STAMPEDE, and its highest-grossing movie to date, One Piece Film: RED, which grossed over US$246.5 million worldwide, making it the 6th highest-grossing anime and Japanese film of all-time, surpassing new gen anime films Jujutsu Kaisen: 0 and timeless classics like Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle. It may not seem like much in the world of today’s Hollywood blockbusters, but it is a noteworthy accomplishment for anime/manga and its community of fans.
Alongside other popular anime like Attack on Titan, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Demon Slayer. One Piece has made a name for itself in the industry, setting and breaking records with each passing day.
For Macy’s to make it official and give Luffy his very own balloon is a major nod to anime fans across the world. It’s amazing to see this level of recognition on a global scale, and I hope the open-mindedness we’ve seen only continues to grow.