The Straw Hat Pirates are growing their ranks.
The audience for Netflix’s One Piece ballooned during the series’ first full week on the service, tallying 19.3M views from September 4 to September 10 and easily making it to the top of Netflix’s English-language TV list for the week. The audience is up nearly a million views from last week, when the adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s manga accumulated 18.5M views in its premiere weekend.
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The eight-episode series still has a ways to go before it could land on the all-time most popular list, but 37.8M views in less than two weeks is still quite a feat. And there’s plenty of time left in the series’ 91-day premiere window to make it happen.
This is quite the win for Netflix, which threw significant resources into the adaptation. There was certainly a lot riding on One Piece, since it was a chance at redemption after the streamer’s failed adaptation of Shinichirō Watanabe‘s anime classic Cowboy Bebop. Canceled after one season, the series was criticized by fans as well as Watanabe himself, who said he couldn’t bear to watch more than a few minutes of it.
Netflix seems to have broken the curse with One Piece. The audience data is the cherry on top of a successful campaign that spanned the globe, prompting the series to go organically viral on social media (there have been more than 4B search impressions for #onepiecenetflix on TikTok alone). But, it didn’t start with a bullish campaign. In order to make One Piece a hit with fans, Netflix and Tomorrow Studios, which also produced Cowboy Bebop, had to go back to the drawing board.
“One of the very fundamental questions Steven [Maeda], Matt [Owens], and I talked about early on is, why do a live action version of this? There’s an amazing manga. There’s a phenomenally successful anime. Why? I felt we have to be able to know that we’re adding something to it, that there’s something that live action will add to this whole fantastic world that the others don’t have and that the enjoyment of which will bring greater pleasure to the anime and greater pleasure to the manga,” Marc Jobst, who directed the first two episodes, told Deadline.
Step one: Find the perfect cast. After a nine-month global search to find Monkey D. Luffy and his rag tag crew, the studio landed on names that were virtually unknown. That certainly isn’t the case anymore, considering star Iñaki Godoy’s social media following has grown 60 times over this summer (and the rest of the cast has seen similar growth). Getting fans on board with the casting was a key element of the campaign that helped build anticipation for the series.
What better way to convince fans to embrace Godoy than to get a sign off from the creator? Prior to the launch of the series, Netflix released a video of the young actor visiting Oda in Tokyo, where he received the kind of praise that any actor might dream of hearing from the beloved creator of their character.
“You’re just like the character I draw in the manga,” Oda told him. “I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.”
In fact, Oda’s approval was paramount to the success of the series. That’s why, in July, the full-length trailer for the series was accompanied by a heartfelt letter from the creator in which he warned fans that there might be significant differences between the manga and the live-action adaptation while also assuring them that he did his best to keep the essence of the story and the characters true to form. He explained there were “numerous” scenes he’d insisted be reshot and others he was unsure of until he saw Godoy perform them.
And, even if fans did have gripes with the series, he said he’d welcome them with open arms, too.
— ONE PIECE(ワンピース) Netflix (@onepiecenetflix) July 22, 2023
Translating a story between visual mediums will almost always require some changes to be made. For One Piece in particular, there are several elements that are easier to believe on the page than they might be on screen — like the powers of the Devil Fruit. Luffy’s infamous ability to twist and stretch to extreme lengths, thanks to the Gum Gum Fruit, are an integral part of the series. But how do you bring that to life on screen without making it look silly?
“You ask all kinds of questions. When it stretches, what actually happens? Do all the hairs on his skin stretch out? Or do they multiply? What happens to his pores? What happens to his T-shirt? Does it stretch with him so it’s all in the same proportion?” Jobst explained. “Then you say, ‘Okay, look, we got to obey physics. Otherwise, it’s just doesn’t make any sense.’ And then you think, ‘Wait a second, having stretchy limbs doesn’t really make sense either. So, does actually obeying the laws of physics make sense?'”
When Luffy releases his gum gum pistol, it has to feel “earned,” Jobst added. “For me, directorally, it’s all about the bits before that, that are important [to] build up to the moment where he needs to unleash that. So that when it happens, it doesn’t feel weird, because he’s just got to the point where he’s got to do this.”
The creators worked extensively to make the series feel as much like the manga as possible, including in the camera work. Characters are often introduced beginning with a close up of their eye, and many scenes were framed to resemble a panel in a cartoon. Fight scenes were also choreographed with a camera operator, so the camera could follow each character through their pivotal action sequences without having to over-utilize jump cuts. The production even commissioned special large format MiniHawk camera lenses to be able to keep up with those demands.
All of those creative choices are meant to make fans feel connected to the live-action version, as if the characters from the pages of Oda’s manga really have come to life.
Netflix has sought to link back to the source material in its marketing campaign, too. In an August photoshoot, the actors recreated the beloved cover of One Piece Volume 11, not only to stoke fans’ excitement but also to highlight how well the cast resembled their animated counterparts. There have also been several interactive elements of the campaign that harken back to the manga. Netflix created an opportunity for fans to insert themselves into the pirate wanted posters from the series and, ultimately, see themselves featured in the end of the trailer.
In all, the Netflix marketing team created more than 70 assets across 18 months in order to boost One Piece to its full potential — nearly all of them aimed at building excitement within the existing fan base. Combined with fan events across the globe and a massive consumer product launch that includes a clothing line in Zara, One Piece is everywhere.
The hope is that the organic chatter from fans will lead to a successful word-of-mouth campaign that will bring new audiences to the series.
“My biggest hope is that we will be able to interest a wider audience than just the One Piece fan base,” Jobst said. “Because in and of itself, it’s about five people who are setting out on a big adventure, and they each carry some baggage with them of what they want to achieve in their lives. But ultimately, we’re better off together than we are on our own. And that’s a story that everybody can relate to, whether you’re a One Piece fan or not.”
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