In a bold new direction for One Piece, the live-action adaptation from Netflix dared to make a major change: Showrunners have cut the resident pervert. Now, Sanji — the beloved cook of the Straw Hats and aficionado of women everywhere — is no longer outwardly a creep to women. He still seems to have a crush on Nami, but he no longer reacts with heart-shaped eyes and bursting bloody noses. Thank goodness.
A lot of the early adventures in the live-action One Piece follow Luffy as he starts to search for members for his new pirate crew. Among them is Sanji, a suave chef played by Taz Skylar. The live-action series changes a lot about Sanji from the source material. Fans of the anime and manga will notice immediately that he no longer rocks his character-defining swirled eyebrow and now has a sultry British accent, but from the jump his character is different. The first time Sanji meets Nami in the anime and manga, he is immediately “in love” and over-the-top horny for her, but here he’s merely charming. This is good; this is actually a relatively tame example of Sanji’s unquenchable thirst, as his obsession with seeing women’s bodies escalates. In later arcs, he fantasizes about eating a Devil Fruit to make him invisible so he can peep on women, and feels Nami’s body up during a body-swap episode.
Sanji falls into what some would call the “chivalrous pervert character” trope because he doesn’t just chase women, he also cannot physically fight them… literally. “Sanji doesn’t have a ‘policy’ of not kicking women; the truth is that he actually CAN’T kick them,” creator Eiichiro Oda said in a column. Initially, this inherent ability of Sanji’s could be interpreted as a positive lesson for young boys, but these aspects tend to have an insidious side. In it, Sanji’s more gallant antics can excuse his overly sexual tendencies — or worse, frame his obsession with women as something positive rather than degrading. By that logic, one could excuse Sanji’s perverted antics because he cares about women so much. But this framing doesn’t question his behavior at all and instead frames Sanji as virtuous even while he refuses to fight formidable opponents at times, solely because of their gender.
I would say it’s controversial, but it’s not, because this particular trope appears as a regular fixture in manga and anime. The basic line of thought often parroted by fans is that shonen as a genre is written to appeal to young boys; the perverted character then enables young boys to fantasize about these women through that character’s gaze and also provides comedic relief when needed. The gag appears in many other shonen series, like Naruto, My Hero Academia, and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Even kid-friendly anime series like Pokémon had characters like Brock, who would ask every single Nurse Joy or Officer Jenny to marry him.
But the new version of Sanji no longer bothers women. It’s not that Sanji isn’t interested in women; he’s just a lot more respectful about it. In his introductory scene, Sanji offers Nami several drinks and offers her “something sweet for someone sweet.” It’s a change I think the show and the character actually benefit from, given the scene can proceed with minimal interruption and viewers don’t need to deal with any sort of derailed conversations that happen due to Sanji’s immediate lustful reaction to a woman. For whatever charm the original character has, horny blood-spurting pushes the boundaries of live-action One Piece at least.
Sanji is, in so many ways, such a wonderful character and a joy to have along for the adventure. He rocks a memorable design and zany kicking powers. He develops emotionally, and over time we get to really see him express his emotions, and he’ll cry for his crewmates. Additionally, I always liked that it wasn’t a mom type that took on the role of cooking, but a gruff man. Sanji has multiple sides, and this change just goes to show that Sanji never actually needed the perverted bit to be likable or memorable. Now, I get to enjoy his character with no caveats.
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