Eiichiro Oda was 21 when he wrote the one-shot manga that would later become One Piece, which was published just a year after Oda’s idol and biggest influence, Akira Toriyama, finished his epic manga Dragon Ball. The idea of generational clashes and the passing of the torch is pivotal to the world and story of One Piece. Shanks literally gives a piece of himself to save Luffy, who represents the next generation of pirates. Garp heavily mentors Koby. In the background of the main story, the world of One Piece is rapidly changing, and it’s up to the new kids to shape it.
This episode, we get another example of this in Sanji, the cook we met last episode. Guess what? He too has a rather sad backstory, arguably the saddest one yet. Turns out young Sanji was a small-time cook in a ship’s galley until Zeff’s Cook Pirates raided the ship. The old man took an interest in Sanji’s cooking, particularly Sanji’s talk of the All Blue. Unfortunately, there was a shipwreck, and they were the only two survivors, stranded on a tiny island together. Zeff split their limited amount of food in two and decided they were to stand watch on opposite ends of the island until help arrived. After 70 days, Sanji, half-dead and with food long gone, decided he was going to take some of the old man’s food. But, much to his surprise, Zeff had only a big bag of treasure and no food — he had given it all to Sanji in the first place. How did Zeff survive? He cut off his own leg and ate it! Like Shanks, Zeff literally sacrificed a limb to save a child he owed nothing to.
More than Shanks’s big moment, this scene is given more time to marinate and for the audience to feel the emotional weight behind it, so it hits harder. Turns out Zeff had also searched for the All Blue his whole life, but now he’s too old and says it’s time for the young. Zeff tells Sanji the All Blue is real and Sanji has to find it to fulfill both of their dreams.
In the present, the Straw Hats are in shock over Zoro’s defeat. Nami takes charge and tells Luffy to find a doctor while she stops the bleeding. He finds Zeff, who uses his skills learned from cooking to stitch Zoro up, but Zoro’s still caught between life and death after losing so much blood. While the episode still finds moments of levity, we get a surprisingly emotional and somber moment with Luffy, who can’t find the words to say to Zoro when we know he usually can’t stop talking (Iñaki Godoy is excellent at not just the goofier side of the Straw Hat but the vulnerable side too). Sanji tells Luffy that being captain is the toughest job because of the hard choices you have to make, like those Zeff did when they were castaways. Nami tells him the same, still angry that Luffy could have prevented this and did nothing, but Luffy repeats that he simply cannot stand in the way of someone’s dreams. For the first time since Shanks lost an arm to save him, Luffy realizes the cost of a life at sea, of having people depend on you.
The fishmen we met in a previous episode arrive at the restaurant with Buggy’s disembodied head in a bag and Arlong the Saw leading them. This episode clearly uses the fishmen as an allegory for people of color with Arlong talking about how they are second-class citizens on the surface, forced to do manual labor for humans, who think themselves superior. As he argues, fishmen are superior — stronger and faster (and given the world of the show is mostly water and small islands, he has a point here).
The moment Nami hears about the fishmen, she panics and begs Luffy to run away, to protect his own and leave. But Luffy can’t do that. He can’t leave innocents to suffer because of him, as Arlong is threatening to kill people until he finds Luffy. This is the last straw for Nami, who already warned Luffy to make the tough choices. If he doesn’t listen, Nami’s going to make her own tough choice. The navigator, who has mostly acted as the captain so far, goes over to Arlong and reveals she has been part of his crew for years. She was always going to betray Luffy and hand over the Grand Line map.
Or was she? After all, she was begging Luffy to run away with her onboard, so for a brief moment, her friends mattered more than whatever loyalty she has for Arlong. Except Luffy broke her trust, and now it’s too late. Luffy tries to fight the fishmen, but Arlong is too strong and nearly kills him. Only Nami and Sanji’s intervention saves him. The Straw Hats are now without a full crew and without a map.
After Nami’s betrayal, Luffy finally finds the words to say to Zoro. He talks about the fight Zoro missed out on before confessing that he messed up everything because of how much fun they were having and now they’ve lost so much. He knows what to say now, and it’s so simple: “I need you, Zoro.” And, of course, that does it. The swordsman lives, and he awakes, telling Luffy he didn’t do anything wrong — he did act like a captain. While I’ve talked about how Zoro seemed to just be along for the ride, never truly disagreeing with Luffy but also not truly committed to his cause, that changes here. Zoro vows to stand by Luffy’s side, as his first mate, until they find the One Piece or die trying. He’s finally an official nakama. As is Usopp, who lightens the mood with his tall tales.
But they won’t be alone in their mission to rescue Nami. Sanji is joining too — after Zeff once again makes the tough choice as a captain and Old Yellers Sanji into leaving, knowing he stayed with him out of a sense of obligation for Zeff’s sacrifice but also recognizing he’s wasting that sacrifice by not following their dream. Maybe it’s the fantastic acting by Craig Fairbrass and Taz Skylar, or maybe it’s that these two episodes have had a bit more breathing room than the others, but Sanji’s and Zeff’s story was beautifully told and makes more of an impact than the other backstories so far. The good-bye between Sanji and Zeff, two stoic men who try their best not to show emotion but still do, is rather impactful.
Meanwhile, Mihawk confesses to Garp that he let Luffy go because he’s curious to see what happens. He might be a Warlord of the Sea, but he still won’t listen to orders. Garp, of course, is furious. Koby tries to defend Luffy, arguing that it didn’t matter what Garp tried to do with his grandson — maybe Luffy was always built to be a pirate and nothing was going to change that. The old vice-admiral agrees and decides to change tactics, taking the gloves off and setting out to really bring Luffy to justice this time.
X Marks the Spot
• It’s a small detail, but the fact that the live-action adaptation keeps giving the crew different outfits is pretty cool — and hopefully means the Straw Hats bathe more frequently than in the manga.
• Sanji may not have a curled eyebrow like his cartoon counterpart does, but the episode’s logo has one!
• This may be an American production shooting in South Africa, but it’s neat to see so much Japanese food in the show, from talk of sashimi, to Sanji making onigiri — best known as jelly doughnuts in the U.S. — for the crew.
• Once more, One Piece pulls details from the larger story, making things feel connected and fleshed out even if they’re out of order a little bit. While trying to tell Zoro stories to see if he wakes up, Nami reads from the story of Mont Blanc Noland, a historical figure in the One Piece world who will feature in a later story arc. Of course, she’d know the story; we know several of the crew members know it by the time it becomes relevant. What’s more, Luffy already interprets the story a bit differently, believing Noland did find the city but lost it.
• This is probably nothing, but we see a guy with a spotted cow hat in the background in the Baratie. Trafalgar?