This will end in tears

Not Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz). That’s more likely to end in elation, if it ever actually ends. I’m talking about this process of writing about it all the time. I just know that these intermittent blog posts about the series will end up reading like those chapter breaks from Genshiken. They won’t make any sense to anyone who isn’t as hooked as I am, and I’ll start using some ridiculous numerical code to discuss character awesomeness.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ll talk a bit about Nami.

She’s the navigator of the Merry Go, the ship of Luffy’s Straw Hats pirate crew. When we first meet her, she’s a thief who specifically targets pirates, presumably because she doesn’t think very much of them as a group. (Contempt for pirates isn’t a barrier to joining Luffy’s crew. Swordsman Zolo was a bounty hunter who specifically targeted pirates before he signed on with the Straw Hats.)

Nami initially strikes the reader as your typical shônen girl. She’s cute, but she doesn’t smolder. She’s keenly aware of her compatriots’ intellectual shortcomings, but she’s a good sport at the end of the day. She pitches in when things get rough, and she provides some eye candy for the girl-crazy characters (and the fanboys). She seems destined to settle into life as a Straw Hat, dutifully serving as the big sister.

Then she robs them and takes off in a boat while the Straw Hats are getting their asses handed to them.

In the third omnibus edition, collecting the seventh, eighth and ninth volumes, we find out about Nami’s association with a considerably more traditional group of pirates who rely on Nami’s navigational skills and aptitude for deception.

Then we find out why Nami is working with Arlong’s brutish, greedy crew, and we see the lengths she’ll go to in service of her goal.

And by the time all of these things have happened, the reader realizes just how formidable Nami is. She’s playing a very dangerous game, and she’s playing it as well as a person of her age and experience can, but it’s evident that this will end in tears.

But there’s also Luffy, and while Nami is providing the best example yet of Oda’s facility for genuinely moving drama in the midst of wacky mayhem, Luffy is proving that there’s more to the dim rubber kid than there seems. He’s already demonstrated his ridiculous confidence and his ability to clobber much more formidable opponents. With Nami, he displays another essential aspect of his nature, that being his excellent ability to judge the character of others. As Nami’s mystery unfolds and his crewmates are flailing around trying to solve it, Luffy is mysteriously at his ease. He’s waiting, but for what? That’s after the jump.

Luffy is an idiot in a lot of ways, but he knows how to be a friend, and he knows when to be a friend. These pages kill me. If this sequence was just about the bossy girl admitting that she needs the tough boys to save her, it would suck. But it’s about Nami, the character, finally and fully accepting the friendship of Luffy and recognizing the depths of that friendship.

5 Responses to This will end in tears

  1. James Moar says:

    Between Nami being my favourite character and having the best-developed of all the tragic backstories, volume 9 is my favourite volume of the series so far (I’m up to the end of Baroque Works).

    Incidentally, I like that despite this manga looking like the poster child for dumb determination, it actually also gives its intelligent pragmatists like Nami plenty of good moments and a lot of sympathy when they’re in the right.

  2. I love these pages so much myself. That “help” moment is giving me geekbumps as I type.🙂

  3. DanielBT says:

    There’s a more in-depth explaination for why that particular scene works so well here:
    http://www.4thletter.net/2010/03/unforgiven-one-piece-and-suspended-expectations/

    It’s a trope that’s not widely used.

  4. […] Welsh discusses the character of Nami in One […]

  5. Erica says:

    We told you so. If Nami’s arc doesn’t make you a fan, nothing can. This isn’t even the best bit.

    I recall watching this arc for the first time with the wife in anime form. We were laughing about something amusing, then suddenly realized we were both sobbing. I’ve never had that happen before and certainly not with an anime. Then Luffy does something so Luffy-ish and profound that to this day I can’t even *think* about it without crying, and I was hooked.

    Cheers,

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