It Took A While, But I Finally See Iñaki Godoy As Luffy

Back in 2020, when it was announced that Netflix were going to be doing a live-action adaptation of the colossal manga series, One Piece by legendary mangaka, Eiichiro Oda, there was a notable amount of resistance from fans around the web—myself included. I had just started my journey with the Straw Hats, slowly but steadily reading my way through the “East Blue Saga.” Though only having scratched the surface of this story at the time, even I was unsure of how a live-action adaptation would translate. Because One Piece, more than most shounen, is brilliantly fantastical. It’s set in a massively vivid world with surreal locations and larger-than-life characters that all have a campy quirkiness to them; all of which is emphasized by Oda’s masterful and punchy artwork. I couldn’t see some of these elements being translated well into live-action simply for the reason that manga and anime allow for an exaggeration in tone through its visuals that’s intrinsic to how the story is told through the mediums. When converting said exaggeration with human actors and practical sets, the result is oftentimes gimmick-y at best, and cringey the rest.

The announcement of One Piece came a couple years after Netflix announced that they were working on a live-action remake of another beloved anime series, Cowboy Bebop, which itself was announced a year after the release of Netflix’s horrendous Death Note live-action adaptation. Safe to say, not much confidence was instilled in Netflix to do justice to such a hefty IP. Still, some excitement was regained for Cowboy Bebop when it was revealed that John Cho would be the one to dawn Spike Spiegel’s suit; a casting choice that seemed nearly perfect, at least for me. Unfortunately, we all know how Cowboy Bebop turned out when it eventually released in 2021; lowering our expectations for One Piece even further, irrespective of the fact that Oda himself was supposedly working closely with the production.

Of all the things that make One Piece a difficult property to adapt into live-action, casting its leading man, Monkey D. Luffy, is arguably the toughest. Luffy, though similar in many aspects when compared to his other popular shounen brethren like Goku and Naruto, is also distinctively different. Beyond the absurd fact that he’s made of rubber, there’s an odd optimism to his behaviour. An optimism that could be linked to his youthful nature, sure, but it goes deeper than that. It’s an optimism that’s beyond just the run-of-the-mill shounen protagonist naïveté, as it’s coupled with an almost devil-may-care determination of a desire to be the “king of the pirates.” A fire that’s unrelenting, with an inextinguishable trust for those around him, even when they falter. Couple that with Oda using his art-work to accentuate Luffy’s expressive and explosive personality, making great use of tried and true “squash and stretch” methods to punctuate comedic gags as well as dramatic tension, and it’s easy to have reservations about seeing a human actor embody such a unique character.

One Piece Luffy
Credit: Toei Animation

When the wanted posters that unveiled the actors who would play the iconic Straw Hat Pirates were revealed back in 2021, opinions from fans began flooding the internet. For the most part, things seemed positive, though that energy would be tempered as we’ve learnt by then to not get overzealous when seeing a potentially great cast. When looking up pictures of the then 18-year old Mexican actor, Iñaki Godoy, I was quite satisfied—not that my opinion mattered, but as is the ego of us fans. From his large, expressive eyes, to his wavy hair, to his million-dollar smile, Godoy looked—much like John Cho—to be aesthetically perfect for the role of Luffy. It was also very nice to see an up-and-comer (at least in Hollywood; Godoy has had success in Mexico dating back to 2016) Latino actor get the opportunity to play such an iconic role. Beyond him, the entire cast seemed to at the very least fit the look of the characters they were set to portray, though we’d have to wait and see how the series would actually pan out.

Well, the wait is over and Netflix’s live-action adaptation of One Piece is here. As a fan who is currently five episodes deep into its first season as of writing, I will say that my feelings on these first five episodes ran the gamut of emotions. From the giddiness at seeing the show embrace the campiness of its source material, to cringing at seeing some of that wackiness not landing in the way they did in the manga, to being unsure of how some of the more emotional moments hit on a narrative level—I felt it all. There were three things that were consistent for me, however, two of which still stand as of writing. One, I abhorred some of the shot selections, which I felt made some of the sequences—particularly dialogue scenes—feel amateur and something out of a C-tier SyFy home movie. Two, both the actors who play Nami and Zorro are absolutely nailing their performances, with Emily Rudd in particular adding a mysterious layer to Nami that makes the character her own. And three, Iñaki Godoy’s performance as Luffy felt…off. This last point is the one that I’ve changed my mind on (hence the title of this piece), so let me explain how that happened.

Netflix One Piece
The beginning of The Straw Hats! Credit: Netflix

When watching through the first three episodes, I couldn’t help but feel Godoy’s performance was a tad forced. Every long look he’d give outward towards the horizon with a determined grin felt somewhat awkward, bordering on cringey. The actual writing of his Luffy’s dialogue teetered on the wrong side of campiness and made worse by his delivery, which sounded like he was putting on some kind of tonal affectation. Everything felt as if Godoy was so set on “playing Monkey D. Luffy” that he forgot to ground the character to himself as an actor; something that I felt both Emily Rudd and Mackenyu Maeda did with their performances as Nami and Zorro respectively. Interestingly enough, I found myself more connected to Colton Osorio’s performance as the child version of Luffy during the flashback scenes of Luffy and Shanks. I thought Osorio was not only charismatic, but hit the raw emotional beats very well. I realized, however, that those scenes were far easier to do from an acting standpoint than what was required of Godoy to be able to do for his older Luffy.

Godoy’s task is undoubtedly the toughest amongst the cast. Luffy is arguably the most difficult character to adapt into live-action compared to the rest of One Piece’s extraordinary characters. To be able to find a believability that is equal parts grounded while not losing the wild exuberance of his character is a massive challenge to say the least. Godoy isn’t lacking in an understanding of the character, either. In an insightful interview with Teen Vogue, Iñaki talks extensively about the process of becoming Luffy—vocally, mentally, and physically. He understands Luffy as a character, both his childlike explosiveness as well as his kindness. He would go on to talk about how his goal was not to try and replicate what the voice actors have done for all these years, but rather to find his own Luffy that strides in tandem alongside all of their performances. This is a mature approach for such a young actor, and after five episodes, I must say that Godoy has very much found his version of Luffy that I think works quite well.

Iñaki Godoy
Godoy on Teen Vogue.

Something shifted around episode four where Godoy looked more comfortable in the shoes of Luffy. A part of this comes down to the fact that he’s allowing himself to pull back during some of the more dramatic sequences, delivering lines in a more grounded manner though while still keeping Luffy’s quirky mannerisms intact. Though I still find him making a decision here and there that feels as if he’s “trying to be Luffy,” I can see that he’s finding “his” Luffy with each passing episode. Moreover, there’s a passion in his performance that’s endearing, and listening to him talk about his love for the character only furthers my desire to see him succeed. It also helps that the show itself has seemingly found a rhythm in the way it tells its narrative. Though I still find it to move at far too brisk a pace, and some of the cinematography continues to bewilder me, I’m quite satisfied with how the main cast has come along, and can see myself watching their adventures unfold for the the foreseeable future. And as I do, I would be eager to watch Iñaki Godoy grow into his version of Luffy throughout the trials and tribulations his character will eventually face on The Grand Line.

Shaz Mohsin

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