clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy stretching his face in One Piece. Image: Netflix

Filed under:

How Netflix’s One Piece brought Luffy’s impossibly stretchy powers to live action

“At what point do you keep it anatomically correct? Or do you just go full cartoon with it?”

Toussaint Egan is an associate curation editor, out to highlight the best movies, TV, anime, comics, and games. He has been writing professionally for over 8 years.

Creating a live-action adaptation of a beloved anime franchise is always precarious. Aside from the inherent narrative and tonal challenges that come with adapting a popular story from one medium to another, there’s also the question of how a live-action series should go about emulating the iconic cartoonish qualities intrinsic to animation. For Scott Ramsey and Victor Scalise, the visual effects supervisors on Netflix’s live-action series based on Eiichiro Oda’s adventure fantasy manga One Piece, that question presented itself in the form of the series protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and his elastic “Gum Gum” stretchy powers.

Luffy’s stretchy powers are as synonymous with One Piece as Goku’s Kamehameha ki blast is with Dragon Ball. After devouring a mysterious Gum-Gum Fruit in a youthful moment of absent-minded hunger, Luffy is cursed with the extraordinary ability to stretch and contort his body like rubber at the cost of life-threatening vulnerability to all forms of water. These powers open up a world of expressive possibilities in both Oda’s manga and its long-running anime adaptation, but presented a significant hurdle in bringing the world of One Piece to the medium of live-action television.

Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy reeling back to punch a marine in mid-air while bouncing off the body of another marine with his leg in One Piece. Photo: Casey Crafford/Netflix

“It’s not like he can just like, think, and [his rubber powers] are going to throw out,” Scalise told Polygon about the process of conceptualizing Luffy’s powers on-screen. “He doesn’t just have the ability to do stuff without some sort of movement and inertia that drives the movement of his body parts.

“We did go through lots of stages, just in terms of the development of the look, because the original thought was: We didn’t want him to feel too much like the other stretchy superheroes out there. And we wanted to keep it fast.”

Witnessing Luffy’s elasticized fighting abilities in the live-action series is a real treat, and easily one of the most impressive visual effects feats of the entire show. Whether it’s sweeping his leg like a gigantic pole to knock a cadre of marines off their feet or being pulled in several different directions like a Stretch Armstrong while being tortured by Buggy the Clown, seeing Luffy’s Gum Gum abilities brought to life is always a delight, never veering too far either into grotesque body-horror or uncanny unbelievability.

A gif of Luffy jumping and roundhouse kicking, with his leg stretching a few dozen feet as he kicks Image: Netflix

The scene of Luffy using his signature “Gum Gum Pistol,” a Looney Tunes-esque exaggeration of a sucker punch, to knock the villainous pirate captain Alvida off her boat in the series’ first episode proved to be the benchmark all subsequent scenes of Luffy’s powers were measured against. It took more than a year to get the look of the sequence finalized.

“It went through [showrunners] Steven Maeda and Matt Owens, all the way up to Netflix and Mr. Oda himself,” Ramsey told Polygon. “It just took a long time to get that development look right.”

Part of getting that look right was deciding how much of Luffy’s musculature to emphasize in the texture and surface of his body while he uses his powers. “We looked at a lot of different things,” Scalise says. “Like: What’s the surface tension on his skin? Do we want to see muscles or, for example, his belly button while his body morphs? At what point do you keep it anatomically correct? Or do you just go full cartoon with it? I feel like all the Luffy stuff is grounded in a way that, if these physics could exist, this is what [Gum Gum powers] would really do.”

Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy pointing his finger outward while atop the deck of a pirate ship in broad daylight in One Piece. Image: Netflix

But one of the most pivotal elements in depicting Luffy’s live-action Gum Gum powers was the physical performance of Iñaki Godoy, who portrays the Straw Hat Pirate Captain in Netflix’s series. “He’s a total pro,Ramsey says of his experience working with Godoy on-set. “He’s only 18 years old, but he acts like he’s 35. And probably one of the nicest guys you’re going to work with.”

Godoy’s performance as Luffy perfectly captures the youthful delight and undaunted determination of a young teenager leaping feet-first into the dangerous and exotic world of piracy in pursuit of his lifelong dream. Netflix’s One Piece adaptation has overcome a lot of challenges in its journey to television screens, not the least of which was finding the right actor to bring Luffy’s rubbery antics to life. But like Luffy puffing up to volley a cannonball, Netflix’s One Piece rose to the occasion here. And it made it look weird and cool to boot.


A new Devil May Cry anime is coming to Netflix


A year ago, Netflix earned its place in the Cyberpunk canon


Netflix’s Onimusha resurrects Toshiro Mifune as a demon-slaying samurai

View all stories in Anime

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon