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In a ‘One Piece’ Episode Full Of Highlights, I’m Entirely Here for the Candlelit Sexual Tension Between Sanji and Zoro

The ultimate tsundere duo

Sanji gingerly tends to an incredibly wounded Zoro in One Piece 1033

Peek around the various corners of the One Piece anime internet, and you’ll hear the same sentiment resounding: episode 1033, “The Conclusion! Luffy’s Accelerating Fist of the Supreme King,” was an absolutely incredible episode—not quite on episode 1015 level, in my opinion, but excellent. There was absolutely breathtaking animation across the entire episode, for one. Plus, after weeks of very little development in the Onigashima war as a whole (WHERE IS MY ROBIN AND BLACK MARIA FIGHT?! WHO’S WHO’S-WHO?!), there were significant developments in this episode for multiple fights. For example, who the hell knew a cloud could make me start tearing up? Then again, this is the exact same series that made me bawl over a boat.

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for One Piece episode 1033, which actually had events happen in it.

But it says a lot that in an episode that ended with Luffy getting beaten by Kaido and falling to (what would be for normal people) certain death, the final scene isn’t the scene that I wanted to talk about the most after the episode. It wasn’t even poor Zeus, nor was it the fact that my girl Nami very nearly died. No. No, no, no. It was Sanji and Zoro.

The Wano arc is, quite literally, the buildup for One Piece‘s final act. It’s an arc that endeavors to bring 25 years’ worth of world- and character-building to a point where this epic series could reach a conclusion soon-ish. That means Luffy having to lose to Kaido, and having all three of the most cowardly Straw Hats facing incredibly formidable foes. Yet, with any series, there are threads that you wonder if they will ever be picked up. And so, I was THRILLED when episode 1033 gave me the kind scene between Sanji and Zoro I’ve always wanted but have never dared to dream of: one with tons of sexual tension.

Before we get to the scene itself, let’s get some background. I have, since the beginning of One Piece, always thought of Zoro as gay in my headcanon. This hasn’t been addressed or proven in the series explicitly, but he definitely shows absolutely no sexual interest in women. Having no lustful reaction after the oiran, the most beautiful woman in Wano, literally slept on top of him proved that much canonically. (Similarly, Luffy’s asexuality was proven pre-timeskip by the ineffectiveness of Hancock’s Mero-Mero powers on him—while she was naked—and was subsequently confirmed by Oda.) The additional jump to thinking Zoro is gay is merely My Hunch, but a quick look around on Reddit and Twitter will show you I’m definitely not the only one with this hunch.

On the surface, Sanji is straight as all hell. Aggressively straight. Too straight? I don’t doubt for a second that Sanji’s attracted to women. He’s almost died from blood loss instigated by sexual arousal several times. I do doubt he’s only attracted to women. (A quick aside, but I also think Sanji may be closeted but gender queer. See: his extreme excitement for inhabiting Nami’s body in Punk Hazard and the ease with which he briefly identified one of the women of the ever-problematic Kama Bakka Island.)

Anyway, this all brings us to the old anime archetype of the “tsundere.” While tsunderes are most famously featured in romantic situations, they show up all over anime. A tsundere is a character who starts out as haughty, argumentative, icy, or hostile to someone, only to slowly “melt down” and become affectionate towards them—or, at the very least, caring. Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Asuka Langley is considered the “textbook example” of a tsundere. For a non-female example, many point to Vegeta from Dragon Ball and the titular character from Inuyasha.

Zoro and Sanji’s constant arguing is a cornerstone of the Straw Hat pirates’ dynamic. They literally cannot inhabit the same space without insulting each other. Someone was able to compile a video of them bickering for over twelve minutes straight. They even bicker in the current OP. At some point, it’s just like … guys, get a freaking room and get it over with.

Essentially, I’ve been wondering for a good while if Zoro and Sanji comprise a dual tsundere situation, which brings us to episode 1033. Because they got the room. They didn’t fully get it over with, because Zoro is near-death, but they at least got the room.

Law—perching immaculately on Sanji’s shoulder for a hot second—informs Sanji that Zoro has incurred “20 or 30 broken bones” from his fight with Big Mom and Kaido. Sanji complains, a lot, both before and after he tends to Zoro’s wounds. But he does tend to Zoro, and the difference between this scene and every scene around it is stark.

For one, the whole goddamn thing takes place by candle light. CANDLE LIGHT! I know Zoro’s all broken and bandaged like a “trussed ham,” can you get any sexier than that? In a very One Piece kind of way, the “trussed ham” quip moves into a line which is genuinely sexy: “You’re not that appetizing,” says Sanji, before the camera zooms in on his mouth as he lights a cigarette with the one candle.

Additionally, there’s no music. It’s just them talking, getting around their haughty one-liners so Sanji can care for Zoro, and so they can express their mutual concern for their captain. No music in One Piece is generally designated for intense, emotional scenes. Even if I’m totally wrong about the sexual tension (I’m not, though), this will still go down in One Piece history as the moment in which Zoro and Sanji finally understand that they have to grow beyond their childish bickering.

I’ve even taken this straight to the source.

Honestly, at the end of the day, I do kind of ship Nami and Sanji. That look Nami gave Sanji when he returned to the Sunny towards the end of Whole Cake Island? MY HEART. But if One Piece ends with Sanji and Zoro opening up a soba-and-sake restaurant together—MY HEART.

(featured image: Toei Animation)

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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.