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Netflix’s One Piece owes so much to actor Iñaki Godoy’s take on Luffy

Give him more in season 2!

Iñaki Godoy as Luffy, standing and looking at something in wonder Image: Netflix
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

“One Piece” can mean many things, even to One Piece fans: There’s the anime, the manga, and now the new live-action show on Netflix. But it’s also the treasure where the anime (or manga or Netflix show) gets its name — the “One Piece” that pirate Gol D. Roger left behind and that everyone in the world of the manga (or Netflix show or anime) is seeking for themselves.

In whatever form you find it, there’s one thing that One Piece has to be about, and that’s Monkey D. Luffy. He’s more than just a hero or the center of the story; he’s the glue that holds the universe together, a happy-go-lucky goof who believes and inspires to mammoth degrees. So it was vital that Netflix found the right guy to lead its adaptation. And God bless ’em, showrunners Matt Owens and Steven Maeda found Iñaki Godoy, Luffy incarnate.

Luffy is a deceptively difficult role to play: He has to be kinda dim while still being endearing, the sort of chap for whom everything goes right eventually, thanks to some alchemic mix of fighting and luck. Even when that might frustrate — either a viewer, reader, or even one of Luffy’s Straw Hat crew — it should still feel like he’s always getting what he deserves (everything in the world??). And all the while, he has to anchor the whole story and embody that trademark shonen huff and foolhardiness. Luffy is the sort of role that, when done well, you might not even think about what a tightrope act it is to play.

Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) standing at a table with his Straw Hat crew gathered around while he explains a plan Photo: Casey Crafford/Netflix

In Godoy’s hands, you don’t have to: He is tailor-made for Luffy. In the live-action One Piece, the 20-year-old Mexican actor is incandescent, an incorrigible goober who delights in everything (be it sweet or sour) that comes his way. It can be hard to translate the ease of a carefree comic character, particularly when that comic volleys between epic fights, grounded emotion, and outsized comedy. But Godoy is completely at ease. With a single line reading he can sell a world in which everyone is looking for a treasure called the One Piece that no one fully believes exists, and certainly not to the extent that Luffy does as he keeps telling people he’ll pay them with it once he finds it. But you want to believe.

Consider the scene in which Luffy meets Sanji (Taz Skylar) at Baratie. He’s at first suckered in by his second greatest passion (food), but before too long, his discussions with Sanji run the gamut of caring for those around you to how to best be a pirate. That arc puts Luffy through his paces as he struggles to understand his place as a leader. Godoy is fully capable of all of them, and gamely conveys Luffy’s unique blend of heart, love, fight, and hunger.

And ultimately, One Piece can’t quite make room for all Godoy’s Luffy can be. Sure, Luffy is there, overseeing and captaining (whatever that means for Luffy at this stage) the affairs of his crew. He’s the one who gets the big showdown with Arlong, and who steps in to back up his friends where he can. But the sheer task of adapting One Piece means the writers pivot around the more clearly laid conflicts, like Nami (Emily Rudd) or Zoro (Mackenyu) struggling to honor their pasts. Luffy gets sidelined in a story he should be at the center of, because their problems seem easier to understand.

But like the character he plays, Godoy stretched beyond what seemed possible, and made it look easy and fun the whole time. Knowing they have such an ace in the hole hopefully sets the showrunners up for more Luffy-centric stories in season 2. After all, he’s an international treasure One Piece.

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