One Piece: Long Live The New Flesh

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Unless the rock you’re hiding under doesn’t have streaming, you know that Netflix did a live-action season of the famous anime/manga One Piece.  I found this a curious choice because of the cancellation of Cowboy Bebop.  Ditching a retro space adventure for an over-the-top tale of superhuman piracy felt like choosing a pretty heavy lift.

Of course, I had to check it out, if only for morbid curiosity.  To get me invested One Piece would also be a heavy lift.

One Piece is something I tried to get into several times, across several dubs, and through an issue or two of the manga.  Despite its popularity – and my own love of fun weirdness – It never reached me, and it’s hard to say whyOne Piece should have checked several of my boxes, but apparently left its pen elsewhere.

So, I sat down, watched a few episodes – and found myself really enjoying it.  I dare say I was charmed by it, enough I was disappointed when I had to stop watching.  What was it that made me appreciate this show but not other incarnations?  Beyond, you know, having over two decades of episodes and a wallet-endangering amount of manga?

I realized it was the fact it was live-action and the actors were into it.  There were other reasons, but over and over I kept coming back to the cast.

Iñaki Godoy’s take on Luffy, the ever-cheerful elastic protagonist is charming and sincere – you aren’t sure how much he’s acting.  Emily Rudd’s Nami is relatable, the sane woman among a demented piratical sausage fest.  Jeff Ward’s theatrical pirate Buggy the Clown steals every scene, a sort of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia take on the Joker.  Everyone in the cast does great, embracing their roles with a gusto that suggests a scenery-intensive diet.

I realized that, for me, One Piece worked better live action.  No offense to the fine voice actors associated with it, nor Oda’s manic creativity.  The manga and animated One Piece didn’t connect with me on a human level.  I suspect it was a mix of the art style and over-the-topness were a barrier to me feeling connected to the work.

The live-action One Piece was different.  Gody’s little expressions and accents made Luffy a person.  Mackenyu’s Zorro, the I-hunt-pirates-but-these-are-my-friends bounty hunter projected amusingly straight-faced deadly cool mixed cold befuddlement.  Jacob Romero cries a single tear in a scene that says more than his motormouth character Usopp could say with words.  These weirdos were alive and I was enjoying it.

There is something about a good actor whose voice, expressions, gestures, and postures let them become a character.  The cast seemed to be channeling the characters, making them flesh.  For me they became people.

I’ve often wondered how different media work when translated to others, but would argue animation is perhaps the easiest medium to transfer a creation to.  Seeing One Piece I’m left wondering if that’s always the case, and find myself rethinking assumptions about what form fits what kind of works.

I’m only a few episodes in.  The show has room to disappoint me – but the cast and characters certainly didn’t.

Steven Savage

Wondering How Long We’ll Care

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

We’ve got the SAG-AFTRA strike.  Big Studios and groups like Netflix seem to be very interested in replacing real people with AI – and we know they won’t stop no matter the deals made.  Ron Pearlman and Fran Drescher are apparently leading the Butlerian Jihad early.

As studios, writers, and actors battle I find myself caring about the people – but caring far less about the media produced.  There’s so many reasons not to care about Big Media.

You’d think I’d be thrilled to see Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and Star Trek everywhere!  But it’s so many things are omnipresent it sucks the oxygen out of the room.  Even when something is new, it can be overhyped.  If it’s not everywhere, it’s marketed everywhere and I get tired of it all.  Also damn, how much anime is there now?

The threat of AI replacing actors and writers removes that personal connection to actors and writers and creators.  There was already a gap anyway as groups of writers created shows and episodes, abstracting the connections with the creators.  The headlong rush into AI only threatens to make me care less – I can’t go to a convention and shake hands with a computer program or be inspired to write just as good as a program.

We have plenty of content made already anyway.  I could do with a good review of Fellini, maybe rewatch Gravity Falls again, and I recently threatened to watch all of One Piece for inexplicable reasons.  Plus of course I have tons of books.

Finally, there’s all sorts of small creators new and old I should take a look at.  Maybe I don’t need the big names anymore.  Hell, the small creators are easier to connect with.

Meanwhile all of the above complaints are pretty damned petty considering the planet is in a climate crisis and several countries are falling apart politically and economically.  I’m not going to care about your perfect AI show when the sky turns orange because of a forest fire.

I have a gut feel I’m not alone in the possibility of just kind of losing interest in the big mediascape.  We may have different triggers for giving up, but there’s a lot of possible triggers.  Plus, again, potential world crises create all sorts of possibilities.

Maybe that’s why the “Barbenheimer” meme was so joyful, with people discussing these two very different films as a kind of single phenomena.  It was spontaneous, it was silly, it was self-mocking.  Something just arose out of the big mediascape (and two apparently good films), a very human moment it seems we’re all too lacking.

Maybe it’s a reminder we can care about our media.  But it the chaotic times we face in a strange era of media, I wonder if we’ll remember it as a fond exception.

Steven Savage

Dogs In Space: Dogs With Something To Say

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A good piece of fiction is alive.  It has a personality, a sense of being, and like any living creature, it surprises you.  Those living fictions are the ones that reach us and make an impression, often one that surprises us.

This is why I’m reviewing Dogs in Space.  Not the 1980’s slice-of-life band move.  I’m reviewing the Y7 Netflix series literally about dogs traveling in space to find a new planet for humans.  Truth in advertising indeed.

In Dogs in Space, humanity sends genetically uplifted dogs into space to find a replacement for our used-up Earth.  The story focuses on excitable be-thumbed Corgi named Garbage, captain to an equally eccentric crew of explorers.  Many episodes parody or refer to classic SF tropes, ranging from mildly amusing to laugh-out-loud funny and clever.  The pinnacle of these call-outs sees most of the cast turned into puppies and the adorable chaos that genetically enhanced puppies can get into.

Entertaining enough, but these shenanigans take place in a continuing plot and established world.  Our canine heroes are just a few of the crew of the giant mothership M-BARK, which boasts an entire city of evolved dogs.  Discoveries reveal a larger universe, from powerful aliens aware of Earth to Garbage and company finding another uplifted dog sent on an earlier mission.  There’s a living world inside the colorful and cute cartoon tale – one that could easily spawn a game or spinoffs.

Such a detailed world raises troubling questions, and the show is happy to follow these troublesome threads.  Each uplifted dog has an owner they pine to return to – but are humans manipulating them?  Are humans really worth saving, considering what we did to Earth?  Like any good fiction, Dogs in Space will surprise you and make you think – and throws in some surprises.

Dogs in Space holds a funhouse mirror up to SF, but sometimes it holds a mirror up to you and me – while keeping it’s Y7 rating.

This is why it deserved a review because it’s a fun little show that is well done.  I’m sure that many of us would enjoy a Y7 show (if only with our kids or young siblings) that had dogs making fun of SF tropes.  Instead, the show goes all the way to creating something alive, something good that makes an impression.

I can’t say it’s as good as the Netflix CGI He-Man.  The former is a masterclass in redoing a property and good, concise writing and pacing.  Dogs in Space is more a good example of bringing an idea to life, even with a few clunky or breezed-over bits.

Plus Dogs in Space has adorable dogs doing everything from piloting robots to pulling heists on alien space stations.  It’s just much more than that, its a piece of fiction that comes alive, and that warrants a review.

Steven Savage