One Piece. Taz Skylar as Sanji in season 1 of One Piece. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Netflix’s ‘One Piece’ Does a Great Job of Adapting Sanji’s Problematic Behavior

I love One Piece very deeply. But even the most hardcore fans can recognize when an element of a beloved anime and manga will translate poorly to live-action. In the case of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of One Piece, perhaps the most obvious element is how Sanji, the Straw Hat Pirates’ chef, acts around women.

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This behavior was always going to be exceedingly difficult to navigate when translating Sanji into live-action. Because Sanji’s attitude towards women is such a cornerstone of his personality (and role as comic relief), achieving Sanji-ness while updating the character is no small feat. Luckily for us, One Piece live-action (OPLA) and actor Taz Skylar excel in meeting the challenge.

Related: The 10 Best One Piece Characters on Attack of the Fanboy

Sanji in the anime/manga

In the anime/manga, Sanji essentially loses his mind whenever an attractive lady walks by. His eyes turn into hearts. There’s attributes in step with the pervy anime character trope. In extreme cases (especially around mermaids), he will get a nosebleed. He refuses to fight women because it goes against his moral code as a gentleman. He gives Nami and Robin, the two female Straw Hats, highly preferential treatment. Hilariously, women (especially Nami) often take advantage of how easy Sanji is to manipulate—it’s immediately obvious he’ll do anything they say.

You might think this makes Sanji unlikeable, but that’s not the case. Far from it. There are times when I get frustrated with him, sure, but Sanji is one of my favorite characters in One Piece. I’d be lying if I said his lady-inspired meltdowns were never annoying. But more often than not, I do think it’s funny—especially because of how often he’s thwarted. However, everything changes when that character becomes live-action. If Sanji were a real-life man, those scenes played exactly as they are in the anime would feel creepy.

Sanji gets heart-eyes for ladies in the anime 'One Piece'.
(Toei Animation)

Yet Sanji is more than his lady obsession, especially once you get the extra layer of his backstory in the Whole Cake Island arc. He’s a very relatable character, a traumatized kid turned into an adult determined to do good by his friends and his principles. He’s kind and sincere, though he can be salty and short-tempered with people who test his patience. All of these qualities are also cornerstones of his character, which OPLA amply pulls from.

That being said, despite not wanting to fight women (it’s not gentlemanly), I’d pin Sanji as an ally. There’s a bizarre sincerity to his obsession with women. Sanji just doesn’t strike me as predatory. There’s something paradoxically pure about how much he freaks out, like a little boy completely agog at the glamor of Hollywood starlets. The one time he receives a kiss, he even faints.

(A darker side of Sanji’s attitude towards women shows itself at Kamabakka Island, but that’s a larger and very serious hitch in One Piece‘s otherwise rather progressive trans and genderqueer representation, at least by Japan’s conservative standards. As you might guess, this is a complex issue that deserves its own dedicated article.)

Translating Sanji successfully to live-action

The team behind OPLA seems well aware of the tightrope they have to walk with the character. Sanji in OPLA is tweaked so that he doesn’t transform into an excitable idiot whenever a woman’s around. OPLA‘s Sanji reflects his love for ladies via flirtatiousness and suaveness. But an overly flirty guy can still come across as, for lack of a better word, icky.

This is where actor Taz Skylar comes in. Skylar’s natural charm is a huge asset to the character. When he flirts with Nami at the Baratie, or steps in to convince Nojiko to give the Straw Hats a chance, he comes across as having the same underlying sincerity as the anime Sanji. His flirtatiousness works because it is backed up by his boyish earnestness. The sense that Sanji acts this way because he also respects women (in his own Sanji way) shines through too. In fact, Sanji’s the only one to back up Luffy’s intuition that something deeper was happening with Nami.

In episode eight, Sanji opens his arms wide for a hug as Nami runs out from the crumbling Arlong Park. Nami completely bypasses him, instead embracing Zoro and Usopp, leaving Sanji frozen in his smiling anticipation. It’s a Classic Sanji Moment.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.