After literal years of not reading the pirate manga, I am almost 150 chapters into One Piece. All I knew of one of the longest running comics in Shonen Jump history was that Monkey D. Luffy has a rubber body because of something called a Gum Gum Fruit and that all the women are drawn the same. After I had read a whole 80 chapters — I use the past tense because I am currently in the 140s — I could not only say I was reading the pirate manga, but loving it.
That’s almost entirely thanks to the woman who would be the pinkprint for how almost every woman who isn’t old or fat would be drawn for the rest of the mangas over 900 chapters: Nami. I came for the cultural impact of the series, I stayed because Zoro’s kinda hot after the time-skip, but I decided to stan after a key moment in scammer queen Nami’s arc of officially joining the Straw Hats during their conflict with Arlong, the captain of the fish-men.
About half of Nami’s life has been spent scamming her way to wealth for the sake of her home, Coco Village. Arlong and his vicious fish-men keep the people of her village under their webbed thumbs, threatening to level Coco Village and slaughter its people if they don’t regularly pay a hefty financial tribute. After her guardian who took her in after being orphaned was killed before her eyes, Nami dedicated her life to earning 100,000,000 berries (not the fruit, but the currency of One Piece) to buy her village back from Arlong so she, her sister, and all who live there can escape from lives of fear and servitude.
It doesn’t take eating the Future Future Fruit to realize Arlong is going to betray Nami and that’s exactly what he does. After almost a decade of scamming, stealing, even appearing to turn her back on her village as a member of Arlong’s crew, Nami finally accumulates enough berries to buy back her village after one more trip to sea just to have them snatched away by a Navy raid sent in by, you guessed it, Arlong.
Chapter 81 sees Nami in despair. Arlong has betrayed her already slim trust, eight years’ worth of money is gone, and the people of Coco Village have decided to finally storm Arlong Park and choose death in battle over a life in fear.
She takes a knife to her own arm, hacking away at the tattoo branding her as a member of Arlong’s crew, until her hand is finally stubbed by Luffy. For most of the Straw Hats’ stay at Coco Village, Luffy had kept himself separate from the conflict and Nami couldn’t be happier. She has always told her sister and the people of the village to worry not, because no matter how many years it takes, she’ll raise the money on her own and do it with a smile. After years of refusing any hand offered to her, taking the fates of Coco Village and its people on her shoulders alone, never daring let these burdens show on her face, she turns to Luffy:
From the start I loved Nami’s charisma and cunning, so not only did it hurt seeing her so broken, but learning about her lifetime of work being ripped out from under her feet was like a gut-punch that took the wind out of me, even if I saw it coming a mile away. What works about this moment is that this isn’t the only woman on the crew (so far) relying on the men to save her or fight her battles; Nami can hold her own. This is a person who has been balancing a boulder on her shoulders while walking a tightrope for half her life and she just saw someone cut the end of the rope with only a few steps left to walk.
Mangaka Eiichiro Oda uses his trademark hyper-expressive faces and body language to make the reader feel her frustration, her exhaustion, her abject sadness at her life’s work being ruined. It’s not only human, but one of the core tenants of the series that even before you’re at the end of your rope, you can and should turn to your friends for help before you fall.
This chapter also finally made Monkey D. Luffy click for me. I was never endeared to his cluelessness and until this moment, never found any common ground with which I could connect to the stretchy goofball. In this arc, he shows shocking restraint in waiting for Nami to ask for his help herself before taking the fight to Arlong, even though his sense of justice would’ve had him literally throwing hands from a hundred yards away. Oda even lampshades Luffy’s cluelessness, but insists that it’s his consistent lack of complication and stubborn earnestness that makes him a good friend. Even though he had been used and abandoned by Nami for her own ends, all he knows is that she’s his crew mate and you don’t hurt his crew mates. Whether it’s an official of the World Government, a Devil Fruit-powered pirate twice his size, or a whale big enough to swallow a ship whole, if Luffy sees a threat to his friends, he clobbers it. Period.
I don’t think Oda reinvents the wheel with this chapter. In fact, it says something that it took One Piece 80 chapters to really cement my love for it, but it’s also because of all the chapters spent with these characters that I can feel so strongly for them in moments of despair or cheer for them in moments of victory. When Luffy passed his treasured hat to Nami for safe keeping and bellowed in determination, it felt right and it felt good. When Nami looked on with tears in her eyes, I wanted to reach out and tell her to rest; after eight years of toil and hardship, just rest and let your friends help.
Oda’s artwork is often sexist, transphobic, and fatphobic. I didn’t think One Piece would ever be a series for me. However, there’s a reason this series is fast approaching its thousandth chapter. This was the chapter and the simple, but deeply felt character work within was the one that made me understand why. Yo ho ho.
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