As you might have guessed from the banner, we’re talking about One Piece today. Eiichiro Oda’s world has a lot going on in it, but I’m actually not going to delve in deep to that. I actually want to discuss my favorite aspect of the characters. Yes, it’s a bit tangential to my world-building, but the fact that the world allows the characters to do this is very important. So, what is it that is so amazing about these characters?
All of them are allowed to feel. Really feel.
No one is too cool, too powerful, or too pretty to feel the full spectrum of emotions.
Luffy is basically unfiltered emotion, but that’s another story.
All too often characters, no matter the medium, fall into stereotypes. The loner. The cool guy. The weakling. The goofball. The femme fatale. The cute girl. The villain. The hero. The mentor. Truly the list could go on forever.
Now, while all these stereotypes can be fully developed and be shown to the reader/watcher/player to have emotions beyond their role, they rarely are allowed to openly express those emotions. We might learn of them through flashbacks, internal monologues, or moments of the character alone, but those characters are not allowed to show them in front of others.
The cool or manly guy isn’t going to be sad (besides brooding) in front of people. The femme fatale isn’t going to act silly even if in private she’s a sucker for bad puns. The weakling and goofball might get angry, but no one will take them seriously. And the pretty girl will always cry beautifully.
This happens for several reasons.
- Sometimes a character has a genuine reason to not show certain emotions. If presented well, this is okay. Someone who is surrounded by enemies is going to close off to prevent attack.
- Sometimes the writer is too lazy to break them out of their mold. This is not okay.
- Gender expectations. Despite all the progress to break away from “traditional” ideas of what each gender should be like, these ideas persist. Men shouldn’t cry. Women should be demure. The cool or many guy isn’t going to be openly sad or cry because that would show a weakness (i.e. it’s what women do). The femme fatale isn’t going to spout every bad pun that comes to mind because she’s supposed to be sexualized danger and mystery.
- Societal mockery. This one goes along with gendered expectations. When a character breaks those expectations they become open to societal mockery, and it is often expected. If writers don’t want to deal with that, either to avoid it and be criticized for unrealistic scenarios or force their character to confront the mocker, then it is easier to maintain the stereotype.
There are surely more reasons, but I’m calling them the big ones. And it is for that reason that the world of One Piece is so amazing. It has removed reasons three and four from consideration. Oda decided, whether consciously or not, that in his world there are no gender constraints or societal mockery that can stop someone from feeling whatever they need to feel.
Let’s take a look at the two coolest characters of the Strawhat Crew. (I wanted to include Sabo, Law, and Ace in the coolest, but that’d be so many pictures, so we’ll stick to the Strawhats.)
Look at them! Don’t Zoro and Sanji look cool? Now, being too cool for school, they definitely shouldn’t cry, or if they do, it’s got to be cool, frustrated, manly crying.
Nope! Ugly cry away, boys. But surely being cool, they aren’t going to act silly or goofy or get excited about uncool things.
And they’re way too cool to be scared.
Huh, look at that, they sure seem to be enjoying themselves. But, these are men, and as any women who doesn’t exist in a media bubble knows, guys are allowed to do more than their female counterparts who are almost always trapped in “being pretty.” So let’s look at the women.
Lack of numbers aside, Nami and Robin seem to fit the bill of beautiful women. They’d never be allowed to ugly cry,
and be badass.
The goofy can be badass and the badass can be goofy. Someone can be both seductive and silly. Everyone can be happy, sad, angry, indignant, exasperated, arrogant, frustrated, thrilled, and so much more whenever they want without any negative repercussions.
That is the beauty of this world. Rather than constraining what they are allowed to show to others, it embraces those emotions. In fact, the usual response from other characters (who aren’t villains meant to vex them all) is an overwhelming sense of empathy. The struggle of one character becomes a catalyst for others to take up the fight, one’s triumph a reason for all to celebrate.
By allowing the characters to openly show these emotions, the reader/audience is able to viscerally connect with them. So, before you constrain yourself to a world of social expectations of emotion, imagine what you could do if your world allowed anyone to show all of their emotions. It could be amazing.