Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy and Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in the Netflix series "One Piece."
CNN  — 

“One Piece” is based on one of the most popular manga series ever, with a quarter-century’s worth of history filling its sails. And if you haven’t familiarized yourself with it yet, this live-action Netflix series version of the outlandish pirate adventure feels like a poor place to start, offering scant incentive to bother trying to catch up now.

Instead, the eight-episode first season falls prey to the pitfalls associated with trying to translate a very different art form to live-action life, a challenge Netflix already experienced with the short-lived “Cowboy Bebop.” The difficulties can be seen in “One Piece’s” all-over-the-map tone, which at various times feels like a children’s series, a surreal dream filtered through the mind of director David Lynch and a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie produced while on hallucinogenic drugs.

The basic plot involves a young aspiring pirate named Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy, whose character always refers to himself by saying his whole name), who is on a quest to find a legendary, long-missing treasure known as the One Piece, a feat that would allow him to fulfill his goal of proclaiming himself the king of pirates.

Pursued by a ruthless authority known as the Marines, Luffy assembles a grudging and eccentric crew that includes the gifted swordsman Roronoa Zoro (Mackenyu), the thief Nami (Emily Rudd) and the slingshot-wielding Usopp (Jacob Romero).

Oh, and did we mention that Monkey can stretch like Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, having eaten magical fruit that has turned him into rubber, only one of the extraordinary powers on display among friends and foes – like the ill-tempered clown pirate whose body parts operate independently?

As odd as much of that sounds, the main impediment to buying into “One Piece” hinges on its wild fluctuations, which can go from edgier-than-expected violence to whimsy at the drop of a straw hat – emblematic of all the influences that Eiichiro Oda has woven into the source material, but seemingly beyond the ability of the show’s creators (Matt Owens and Steven Maeda) to wrestle into something that consistently engages the uninitiated.

Billed by the Daily Beast as “the most-hyped Netflix show of the year,” “One Piece” has clearly been assembled with tender loving care and no small amount of Netflix’s money, conjuring the occasional giant monster, elaborate action sequences and sword fights, as well as bizarre makeup that looks like rejected outtakes from “The Lord of Rings.” Plus, Netflix has added more than 380 episodes of the animated series to the service, so this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Getting a firm handle on the show, however, is as elusive as the treasure, and while the legions of existing fans will likely eagerly enlist in this ocean-faring adventure, and who knows, they might find plenty of company; still, those who just want to see what the fuss is all about will likely be left feeling high and dry.

“One Piece” premieres August 31 on Netflix.