Non-Cis-Male Characters Turned The Tide In The Onigashima Battle in ‘One Piece’ Episode 1038 and It Was Glorious
When you think of a shounen series, chances are that One Piece will be one of the first titles to spring to mind. “Shounen” literally means “young boy,” and, naturally, the shounen genre tends to center on young boys aiming to do badass things. Given this angle, it’s not surprising that, even as the female audience for shounen has grown ridiculously large, the genre still sometimes struggles with placing capable women in its stories. Or a trans character, for that matter. One Piece, ever since its origins, has purposefully defied that trend. Episode 1038 of the anime, then, did something quietly remarkable: it centered the triumphs of three non-cis-male characters—two cis women, one trans man—and cut those triumphs with nothing else.
Spoilers for One Piece Episode 1038 ahead!
Hell, look at the episode title for 1038: “Nami’s Lethal Attack! Otama’s Desperate Challenge!” After the newly-badass-in-the-manga Heart Pirates save Luffy and Shinobu saves Mononosuke, we head to the meat of the episode, which is dramatic as all hell. Episode 1038 is THE turning point for the Onigashima Battle, when the Wano forces go from “probably mostly losing” to “actually kind of winning.” Most of that dramatic upset is thanks to a determined eight-year-old girl, and it does an excellent job of showing how Nami’s and Yamato’s actions make that upset possible.
For ages, Nami has been regarded as one of the “weaker” Straw Hats, along with Usopp and Chopper. (Although, in her words, she’s not weak, she’s just a coward.) But in episode 1038, she defeats one of the Tobi Roppo—one of Kaido’s most elite officers. Sure, Big Mom had blasted Ulti real good because Nami’s big strike. And, yes, Nami would have missed if not for Zeus, the sentient ex-cloud which now lives in her Clima-Tact (I love One Piece). But Zeus is now part of Nami’s attack, due entirely to Nami’s own merits as a … er … nicer person than Big Mom. So I consider Ulti’s downfall ultimately to be a Win for Nami. The episode certainly celebrates it as such.
This creates the first huge break in the Beast Pirates’ bravado. Bao Huang is so shocked by what she just witnessed, she accidentally tells the entire island that two of the six Tobi Roppo are now defeated. (The other knockout, Page One, was Big Mom’s handiwork.) One of the grunt’s reactions is incredibly telling: “Don’t tell me we’re losing!” Nami’s victory also creates the opening for the truly big victory here: Tama’s speech.
This is an epic moment in the manga, to be sure, but the anime really goes all out with Tama’s big order, which switches thousands of the Beast Pirates’ strongest soldiers to the Wano/Luffy side. She is literally bathed in angelic golden light. You can even see that angelic golden light enveloping her as she is well in the background of one shot. It’s incredibly intentional. Hell, she gets an orchestral version of “We Are.” Whenever “We Are” comes out as score, you know the scene at hand is a really important one.
She is the queen. She is the angel. She is the savior. This freaking eight-year-old girl, with a very large line of embattled little girls aided by the Straw Hats behind her in the narrative. Except this one saves the freaking day. Without this one eight-year-old girl, who knows how many beloved characters we would have had to say tearful goodbyes too. That number will now certainly be less. Even among manga fans, who Know All The Things, it’s not up for too much argument to say that Tama is the MVP of the Onigashima Battle.
And then, just as a little treat, we finally get the start of the battle between Kaido and Yamato. Father and son. (You have to endure some manga spoilers for the full explanation, but Yamato is later confirmed to identify as a trans man.) When, at the end of episode 1037, Kaido asked if Yamato would really attack his father and he replied, “I came here to cut those ties!,” I screamed and punched the air triumphantly several times. I did the same when I reached that line in the manga, too. Except, that time, I was on a train and very much in public. Badass as hell.
The Yamato battle also happens to be stunningly animated. (The Nami sequence, too, deserves a huge round of applause.) The sequence called back to the many highlights of episode 1033. You love to see so much care shown for a fan-favorite character making what is, admittedly, a very badass but ultimately underdog stand. Yamato knows full well he’s buying time for Luffy to show up again. And that’s what makes Yamato so crucial to this turning point as well.
With Law and Kid wrapped up in fighting Big Mom, there’s no one on Onigashima who could last more than thirty seconds against Kaido by themselves. Yamato can last well beyond thirty seconds. Without him, Kaido goes on a rampage and kills all the remaining strong forces opposing the Beast Pirates. Luffy would come back too late. Tama’s big moment be damned, the Beast Pirates win.
And just like that, the episode is over. After I took a second to calm down from the glory of Yamato’s incredible badassery, I realized something. One Piece is a shounen. But we were just handed an episode where the three major story points, which took up almost all the episode’s airtime, centered on characters who were not cis men. And not only that, these three characters were responsible for turning a ridiculously against-all-odds battle into one that our buddies could actually win. Even though it had all the trappings of a shounen—the big flashy fights and epic moves—the titular, literal “shounen” were nowhere near the center stage. And that’s incredible, no?
This all happens in the manga, of course. But to place these three occurrences in the same episode in the anime, back-to-back, is very striking. One Piece‘s cast is, indeed, changing to reflect its audience more. You love to see it.
Image credit: Toei Animation
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