With projects on hold thanks to the strikes and strife within the industry, nerds and geeks seem to be heading for a content famine. Luckily, there are still a few big new shows to offer fans of anime, cartoons, and comics something to obsess over. From the continuing tales of Adventure Time favorites to live-action versions of beloved previously-drawn characters in One Piece and Ahsoka, the latest installment of UNBINGED looks at what to watch this week.
One Piece (Netflix)
Netflix doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to adapting beloved anime series into live action. Cowboy Bebop left a lot to be desired while Death Note practically spit on the source material (with the exception of Ryuk, of course). So One Piece fans have every right to be apprehensive about the new show. Adapting a 1000+ episode series with a complicated lore, evolving characters, and multifarious storylines that go on for years is not an easy task. But breathe easy, folks. The Straw Hat Pirates are safe, sound, and apparently, in good hands with the streaming service.
Based on the beloved manga and its anime adaptation, One Piece is a fantasy series that follows wannabe pirate Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) – a young lad with stretching abilities thanks to his poor choice in snacks. Luffy and his misfit crew that make up the Straw Hat Pirates — along with every buccaneer, thief, and plunderer with a ship — are on the hunt for the lost treasure of Gold Roger, the former King of the Pirates. At his execution, he challenged the world to find “his treasure,” the mythical “One Piece” and be named the new Pirate King. His final words inspired a new age of piracy, thus beginning our tale.
With each episode, we learn more of this water-laden world and Luffy himself, as the story alternates from the formation of the Straw Hat crew to young Luffy and his mentor, the pirate Shanks. The colorful world of One Piece is on full display in this series, from the outrageously designed Buggy the Clown and Arlong the Saw to the horrific cryptids and creatures that lurk deep below the water. Despite the caricatures, the ruthlessness and perils of the sea stay at the forefront, with thrills and chills galore.
One Piece shines in casting, too. Godoy as the rubbery, constantly chipper Luffy is a delight in the role, while his crew would make any die-hard fan happy. Emily Rudd as Numi and Mackenyu (son of actor Sonny Chiba) as Zoro help bring 2D versions of their counterparts to life with their portrayals, which still come off as animated, but never cartoonish.
Though it doesn’t follow the story exactly, One Piece manages to capture the crux of the source’s tempestuous tales. The well-adapted narrative fits the live-action medium nicely and the cast brings it all to life in a likable way. The result is a family-friendly swashbuckling adventure that shows Netflix noted its past follies when it comes to playing with fan-favorite material, and decided to sail in an inspired new direction.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake (MAX)
Several years ago, fans said farewell to white-eared hat-wearing Finn and his bestie dog Jake as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time went off the air after nearly a decade. But the goodbye was only temporary, as the residents of the Land of Ooo returned for a handful of HBO/MAX specials. Thanks to the streaming wars and nostalgia-seeking viewers more was to come. We return once again to the world Pendleton Ward created, or rather, the fan fiction world created by the fictional characters Ward created that somehow got a life of their own.
In the original Adventure Time, the Ice King (back when he was completely unhinged due to his sanity-depleting crown) wrote a series of fanfics titled “Fionna and Cake.” Presented as the ramblings of a madman and based on his frenemies Finn and Jake, the gender-swapped duo featured tomboy Fionna (voiced by Madeleine Martin) and her anthropomorphic cat starring in offshoot episodes within the episodes.
Now Fionna and her feline BFF have their own show. And things are not as sunny as they once were. Fionna Campbell is a twenty-something slacker living a paycheck-to-paycheck existence in menial jobs that barely cover her rent. She has a handful of good, yet oddly familiar friends, but she wishes for a more magical life. Meanwhile, former Ice King Simon Petrikov isn’t quite adjusting to life in Ooo without his magic. In his depressed state, he attempts to bring back his former sweetie/current god Betty, which ends up conjuring Fionna and Cake, and brings them to Ooo.
For fans of the original series, Fionna and Cake is a dream come true. It’s an honest to goodness continuation of Adventure Time, complete with grown-up Finn, now beefy with age and sporting a full beard and many of the originals most beloved characters. And the core vibe of the original show is intact– the melancholy and surreality, the colorful art, etc– which made it a hit with audiences of all ages.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake feels like the original even as it tackles more adult themes such as despondency and apathy. Ward’s creation once again reaches above and beyond its animated cells to grip at the heartstrings of viewers, creating a whimsical and ludicrous world that is still captivating. And with that, we welcome back Fionna and Cake. And Prismo and Simon and Finn and all the inhabitants of Ooo. Their absurd yet emotive comedic antics are exactly what we need in these unsteady times. Like a hug from fantastical old friends.
Star Wars: Ahsoka (Disney+)
Over the last few years, Star Wars fans have developed a complicated relationship with the franchise. On one hand, enthusiasts have been feasting on movies, shows, cartoons, and theme park attractions that cost a year’s salary to experience. Disney’s greed quickly saw an oversaturated market and so we got some lackluster entries, shitty hotels, and Porg plushies, causing the desire for more galactic adventures to diminish.
The galaxy is in desperate need of a savior that makes sense and gives new life to the lore, but will it be Star Wars: Ahsoka?
Ahsoka is a Togruta (sentient humanoid with cone-like horns and white facial pigments), which fans were first introduced to as a pre-teen training under Anakin Skywalker in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars back in 2008. She returned in animated form in Star Wars Rebels in 2014, before she finally made the leap to flesh and blood in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Now in her own series, Ahsoka (played by Rosario Dawson) follows the former Jedi after the fall of the Galactic Empire as she hunts for old adversaries and lost friends with the help of her former Padawan, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).
Written and co-directed by Star Wars messiah Dave Filoni, Ahsoka sees him doing what he does best: bridging the gap between feature films and the extended universe. But this time around, there is a distinct focus on female empowerment and leadership thanks to the femme-led cast. But the world of Ahsoka isn’t an easy romp. The show will be quite complicated for most newbies, especially those who only have the movies under their belt and a Grogu t-shirt. Those who skipped out on Rebels and Clone Wars might be a bit lost in space when it comes to these characters, politics, and past narratives.
To understand the show, Ahsoka asks its audience to do a lot of homework, and there’s much to cover. Hardcore fans will appreciate the poignant relationships that have been carefully cultivated since they were in toon form, but others will find the show slow-moving and bogged down in politics. Still, the essence of good vs. bad is at the forefront of any great hero saga and it deserves to be explored.
Breathing new life into a galaxy far, far away is difficult, especially when the fan base seems to want familiarity –Ahsoka is basically a live-action version of Rebels: Season 5. Still, like the Disney hit Andor, Ahsoka has enough going for it to help steer it in a fresh direction, setting it apart from Indiana Jones, recent Marvel movies, and a few previous Star Wars outings that failed to do so.