SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of “One Piece,” now streaming on Netflix.
“One Piece” lodged two cannonballs at its viewers in its first season, one coming halfway through the pirate manga TV adaptation, and the other at the very end.
First up was both a big reveal and a deviation from “One Piece” creator Eiichiro Oda’s original story: aspiring pirate king Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) telling his Straw Hat Pirates gang that Vice-Admiral Garp (Vincent Regan), the chief marine who has been leading the massive search for them all season, is actually Luffy’s grandfather. While Garp’s identity in the Netflix show is exactly what it is in the manga, this revelation was moved way up in the “One Piece” storyline in order to get it into the first season, which in eight episodes covers roughly the first 100 chapters of the manga.
“Obviously Garp was not in the first 100 chapters to any great degree, other than, I think, seeing him in the beginning,” said “One Piece” co-showrunner Steven Maeda, who led the series alongside Matt Owens in collaboration with Oda. “But one of the decisions that I made early on was wanting to have an antagonist in pursuit. And Garp seemed to lend himself so well to the idea of pursuers coming after Luffy and company. It was a change we made in order to keep the jeopardy up, and to feel like there were big stakes.
“And, of course, with Garp, the big reveal in the middle of the season is, ‘Grandpa?’” Maeda continued. “Garp in the manga is not revealed to be grandpa until chapter 300-something, in a very different way.”
But Maeda says he and Owens didn’t make that choice — which came with Oda’s blessing, as did all the other differences between the TV series and the manga — just for the shock factor. He wanted it to be the surprise answer that explained why Garp, “this hardcore Marine” has been “chasing after this kid.”
“And then exactly halfway through the season, that’s why,” Maeda said. “This is about trying to protect him. This is about trying to teach him and it’s where Garp feels he has failed.”
Bringing Garp’s story into the first season also allowed the “One Piece” writers to do more sooner with Luffy’s friend Koby (Morgan Davies), an aspiring Marine he meets in the show’s pilot episode. Luffy meets Koby within the first few chapters the “One Piece” manga, but Koby doesn’t show up again in the manga for many issues.
“Koby is very much the Marine version of Luffy,” Maeda says. “He’s a young guy who wants to be a Marine as much as Luffy wants to be a pirate, and it felt like it was wonderful symmetry to have them on these parallel paths, and friendly with each other but now friendly with each other and being on opposite sides.”
The second surprise comes in the season finale after we say goodbye to Luffy and his assembled Straw Hat Pirates — Nami (Emily Rudd), Zoro (Mackenyu), Sanji (Taz Skylar) and Usopp (Jacob Romero Gibson) — as they finally set a clear course for the great Blue Sea’s “Grand Line,” the rumored location of the “one piece” treasure of executed Pirate King Gold Roger (Michael Dorman). A mid-credits scene then shows the back of a mysterious figure with white hair, who is smoking two cigars at once, one of which he uses to burn the image of Luffy’s face on his bounty poster.
Who is this? Well, Maeda won’t explicitly tell us. However, “One Piece” manga readers will likely guess that these very specific details point to the comic’s infamous villain Smoker — who has white hair and is always seen smoking two cigars at once.
“I don’t want to confirm or deny at this point,” Maeda said. “But it’s a good mystery, I think, and should have people guessing and wondering what’s going on.”
In fact, Maeda won’t tell us anything about where the story goes from here, and what he and Owens have plotted out for a Season 2, which has not yet been picked up at Netflix.
“It’s a worthwhile ask — and answers will be forthcoming,” Maeda said, adding that adapting decades worth of Oda’s ongoing manga is “massive and it’s huge” and they need a minute to catch their breath before steering farther out to sea — and the writers strike would need to be resolved as well.
“I don’t want to speak on the continuation of ‘One Piece’ at this point in time, just because this first season was such a bear,” Maeda said. “It was a wonderful challenge, but it took years out of our lives and I want to really let the focus be on that for the launch.”
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