Screenshot from One Piece 1071 of Luffy in Gear 5

Gear 5 Is Emblematic of Everything I Love About ‘One Piece’

24 years ago, when the One Piece anime began, Monkey D. Luffy was just some high-spirited kid from a small village. When he uttered, “I’ll become king of the pirates,” we believed in him because we liked him, and because everything we know about shounen manga tells us that our main character will achieve his lofty goals. But that doesn’t mean that Luffy becoming king of the pirates, at that moment, was believable.

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One Piece is so far-reaching that there are many ways you can frame its long narrative journey (which began with Eiichiro Oda’s manga, still running since 1997). But one way to look at One Piece is as a journey in which that famous cry of “I’ll become king of the pirates!” becomes a very real possibility. Contrary to all the bizarre “wow, this character is suddenly overpowered” happenstances that sometimes pop up in other shounen, we’ve watched 24 years’ worth of animation as Luffy has slowly, painstakingly, and believably gotten stronger.

Finally, on the 1,071st episode of One Piece, Luffy gains the powerup that makes you fully believe he can beat almost anyone to become king of the pirates. His Devil Fruit power “awakens,” and he unlocks Gear 5.

When a character gets an ultimate power, in shounen as well as action series around the world, it is almost always the pinnacle of their coolness. Think of Dragon Ball’s Super Saiyan, which basically makes Goku look super-extra cool (the hair!) and accentuates his muscles just so. Everything we know about this trope has led us to assume ultimate powerups, especially for male characters, are macho and badass.

But with Gear 5, Eiichiro Oda intentionally rebels against this trend. Luffy’s ultimate powerup doesn’t make him cooler; it makes him more ridiculous. Instead of becoming a buffer, taller badass (à la Snakeman), Luffy at one point inflates his upper torso while excitedly shouting, “Muscle! Muscle!” Gear 5 turns Luffy quite literally into a Looney Tune, complete with all the animation tropes and sound effects that go with it.

The brilliance of Gear 5 animated

Eiichiro Oda’s Gear 5 manga panels made me laugh out loud. They’re stunning, because despite being “static” drawings, they clearly communicate American cartoon tropes from the 1940s. Oda said he took inspiration for Gear 5 primarily from Tom & Jerry and was bummed that the cartoony humor of Looney Tunes had fallen out of style.

That’s why everyone who had read the manga was losing their minds in anticipation of Gear 5 getting animated. It was simply made to be animated, and dear (sun) god, episode 1071 did not disappoint. (Also, the remix of the classic “Overtaken” cue with the Gear 5 Drums of Liberation basically broke me.)

It’s a stunning, striking mashup. An anime referencing Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes?! But mixing a Super Saiyan sound effect in with all the “boi-oings“?! I’ve simply never seen anything quite like these sequences before in my life. The closest comparison I thought of was Who Framed Roger Rabbit? My partner mentioned Cuphead. But both of those are American studios celebrating American animation. Looney Tunes being channeled through one of the most ubiquitous shounen anime creates something as unique as it is (somewhat paradoxically) obviously reverent.

The pace of these sequences is also stunning. The parade of tropes and the action itself all happen so fast. If and when you weren’t laughing, your expression was basically the same as Kaido’s during this brilliant little moment (which I’d be willing to bet real money was a nod to the painted extreme closeups made famous by Ren & Stimpy and perpetuated by SpongeBob SquarePants).

Kaido's "oh shit" face from One Piece 1071

We’ve been told over and over again that Kaido is the toughest being in the world of One Piece. He’s a big, serious, macho manly man. He’s also a terrible dad, a drunk, and endlessly cruel, but even someone like Kaido can’t resist getting pulled into Gear 5’s toon logic and bending to Luffy’s new world. I imagined Kaido stepping in for Roger Rabbit: “I can give ya stars! Look! Look!

Gear 5 perfectly illustrates why One Piece is so special

Throughout social media, I’ve seen a few posts opining something like, “If One Piece was always this ridiculous, I would have started watching a long time ago!” And friends, it is. Never forget that this is a world where the phones are living snails that go “buhdupbuhdupbuhdupbuhdup” when they ring. Gear 5 is simply the moment when One Piece’s ridiculousness has most obviously defied the stereotypes of the shounen genre it’s so closely associated with.

Considering that there is definitely a strain of One Piece fans who like more “macho”-y shounen fights, this was a risky move from Eiichiro Oda. Simply put, it was ballsy, and to the man’s infinite credit, he did it because part of him wanted to “disgust” that kind of fan. Here he is talking about Gear 5 in an interview from 2022, as translated by Twitter/X user Sandman:

I drew Gear 5 as a big joke, knowing that my readers would be disgusted by it. Battle manga becomes more serious when they follow readers’ expectations. I hated that. I didn’t want my manga to be too serious, so I had fun achieving it with the fight against Kaido.

Eiichiro Oda, Weekly Shounen Jump interview from 2022

Absolute king shenanigans, if you ask me, and we’ve not even touched the fact that all of this is happening while One Piece essentially reaches its biggest climax so far. The Gum-Gum Fruit isn’t what he thought it was. Luffy is the second coming of the “Joyboy” mentioned in the Poneglyphs and on whatever’s at Laugh Tale, and Joyboy is also known as the “Warrior of Liberation,” a mythical hero who saves people from a tyrannical government—very heavy and political! And it’s happening concurrent with Luffy’s eyes popping out of their sockets.

All of this is exactly why I love One Piece. It’s a story that has made me cry many, many times. Hell, it’s a story that has made me cry because of a boat. The struggles and traumas of its countless characters have all hit hard and deep, and their triumphs have made me cheer (or cry again).

But somehow, magically, it is simultaneously a series that absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. Way back in its first saga, it was the kind of manga where Luffy shoved an old set of shark teeth in his mouth during the middle of a climactic battle. Now, he’s Jerry the Mouse, or Roadrunner. It suits him.

(featured image: Toei Animation)

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.