Nami, Big Mom, and Zeus
I just want to say again how incredibly well written Big Mom is as a character. She’s a character as often in conflict with herself as she is with other characters in the story. Oda wasted no time here in subverting our expectations. I was very much anticipating a one-on-one fight between Nami and Ulti. Operating with that assumption, I believed Law and Kid would arrive to distract Big Mom, leaving Nami to deal with Ulti alone and wow, was I wrong about the timing.
I think Oda intentionally hinted toward a Nami vs. Ulti fight, particularly when Nami expressed her need for greater power output to take Ulti down for good. With Hera replacing Zeus in Big Mom’s lineup of Homies, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Nami and Zeus to reconcile, giving Nami the power she needed to prevail. I even considered, in keeping with Lola’s promise to Nami, that Big Mom would let Nami keep Zeus to protect Tama – that she would respect Nami’s shared ‘motherly’ instinct to protect Tama. Which, turned out not to be the case. And I was very happy to be wrong.
Big Mom’s attack on Ulti was brutal and certainly looks like it should have killed her, though I suspect, given the durability of ancient zoans, Ulti will be very much alive. The death of Zeus was even more brutal and unexpected. Oda plays on multiple tropes here to subvert our expectations several times before Hera finally consumes him.
Where I miscalculated was in underestimating the brutal / tyrannical side of Big Mom’s character. Yes, she has this motherly instinct, but it’s not a selfless parental love. Her desire to protect Tama does nothing to deter her anger toward the Straw Hats and despite Tama’s pleas, moves in for the kill. When Tama throws in her lot with Nami and Usopp, Olin’s rage extends to Tama herself – and this is perfectly in line with the Big Mom we came to know on Whole Cake Island. Her motivation may be pure, to create a nation where all the races of the One Piece world live in harmony, but it’s a manufactured dystopian candyland where people are forced to live under her tyrannical thumb.
We saw on WCI the punishment received by children who disobey and so her maternal care for Otama turns to rage when Tama ‘rebels’. In many ways, Big Mom is the inversion of Whitebeard, exemplified by the conversation between Big Mom and Marco in chapter 993 (I believe). Whitebeard was the good father and treated his crew like his children. He attempted to pay the price for the sins of his son, Ace, who went rogue in pursuit of Blackbeard. He forgave Squard for his betrayal. Big Mom conversely treats her children like her crew – meant to serve her every whim. There’s perfect harmony only so long as everything and everyone behaves to Big Mom’s liking.
We saw that Linlin was victimized and manipulated as a child by Streussen and Mother Carmel, but she started as a child with pure intention. There is however a brutal, monstrous side to Big Mom which is as much in conflict with her sweet caring side as are other characters in the story. This makes her such an interesting and dynamic presence both within the Wano story arc an throughout the New World. She is most certainly the most interesting antagonist Luffy has encountered in quite some time, so I hope her story does not end here on Wano (I don’t believe that it will). I just have to say again how much I love what Oda is doing with her character. Despite the fact that Big Mom stole Nami’s thunder here, I think the tone reversal from the previous chapter was really effective.
This week Oda reminded us in more than one way that despite their growth, the Emperors are still an unrivaled force of Nature in the New World…
Before getting to that final scene, I want to briefly mention Eustass Kid coming to the rescue! Very distinct Vegeta vibes from this scene. He’s not here for the purpose of rescuing Nami, Usopp, and Tama, but heir joy at seeing his arrival struck me as really interesting. Though Law, unlike the Grand Fleet captains will likely not ‘bend the knee’ to Luffy before his discovery of One Piece and coronation as the future Pirate King, he’s certainly not an antagonistic rival in the same vein as Blackbeared. Given his harsh, brutal nature, I expected Kid would occupy the later category of pirate, but I’m getting the sense here that I have been misreading Kid’s character – and that perhaps, like Law, he will occupy a similar role in the narrative – a rival mostly on friendly terms with the Straw Hats, acting as ally more so than adversary. I could be reading too much into this scene, but I get the impression that, like Vegata, his sharp (jaggy) edges, may be softened over time by exposure to Luffy and the Straw Hats.
Kaido and Luffy
Okay, now e come to the final, surprising twist – Luffy has been completely defeated (off-panel) by Kaido and sent plummeting from Onigashima to presumably the sea below. And… this is exactly what I expected was going to happen. In last week’s chapter, Yamato hastened her approach to the roof when Momo told her the fight had dwindled to just Luffy and Kaido. She lingered on the phrase ‘one on one …’, which to me seemed a direct callback to the narration box accompanying Kaido’s introduction. ‘In a one on one fight, always bet on Kaido.’
This ties into a theory I have posted in the past regarding Kaido’s inability to be killed. I believe that as an Eastern style Dragon, Kaido’s Devil Fruit affords him incredibly good fortune. The Beast Pirates and the upper echelon of the subsidiary Donquixote Family have names themed after card games, or in other words, games of chance. Gambling has been a recurring motif throughout this entire story saga. And now, I think we have a very good idea of how this ability or power might work. Though subtle, Yamato’s words here indicate that this good luck or good fortune factor kicks in when Kaido engages someone in one-on-one combat. We see evidence for this in chapter 970 – pure, dumb luck saves Kaido from what would have been certain death at the hands of Kozuki Oden. Even when overpowered, Kaido comes out on top. In a one-on-one fight, always bet on Kaido.
It's interesting that Oda chose to off-panel Luffy’s defeat, perhaps intentionally masking the means by which Kaido emerged victorious. Regardless, I think this underscores the fact that Luffy can’t go it alone in this fight, despite his newly mastery of conqueror’s haki.
I didn’t believe this was the final phase of the fight between Luffy and Kaido, given the ongoing situation with Onigashima flying to the Flower Capitol and the fact that none of the fights on the lower levels have yet been resolved. Luffy was also far too confident and the situation wasn’t nearly desperate enough for his fight with Kaido to be nearing a conclusion. I expected Yamato would arrive in time to see Luffy lose, but now it seems she will arrive alone on the roof to face her father. It will be really interesting to see their first exchange of dialogue and perhaps could trigger a flashback, filling in details about both of their pasts, perhaps revealing what makes Kaido so unkillable (like the aforementioned good fortune factor).
Where things go from here is the real question. I don’t know if Oda will logistically be able to create a clean break between acts, but Luffy’s defeat certainly makes that a far stronger possibility. Kaido says that without Luffy’s body as proof, the Straw Hats won’t believe he’s dead. This, to me, implies Luffy will be out of the picture for a length of time. Whether that’s only until (near)Dawn or a prolonged length of time remains to be seen, but it implies Kaido is about to rampage through the castle, given that he’s now left unchecked, proclaiming Luffy’s death. The Straw Hats of course will never stop believing in Luffy – holding out hope until he finally returns with the means to defeat Kaido…
And this opens up the door for another theory I have posted:
Despite Luffy’s progress and new mastery of Conqueror’s Haki I felt he was not yet desperate enough for this to be the final phase of his battle against Kaido. Yamato’s words in the previous chapter were foreboding and signaled Luffy’s parity with Kaido would be short-lived. If the above theory is correct, both the good fortune factor and the one-on-one activation, then Luffy will need allies to fight by his side. But didn’t that scene already unfold with Zoro, Law, Kid, and Killer? I suppose Yamato could fight by Luffy’s side, but it still doesn’t seem like enough.
I have two ideas on how Luffy may achieve victory. If Kaido’s Devil Fruit is responsible for his inability to be killed, then perhaps Momo’s artificial Devil Fruit, made from Kaido’s, imbues Momo with the same good fortune, and thus Wano’s future shogun may be the key to ending Kaido’s winning streak. Moreover, we must consider Toki’s prophecy of ‘Nine Shadows’. This could mean nine individuals fighting by Luffy’s side, but it’s hard to imagine the scattered allies returning to fight by Luffy’s side. Zoro’s out of commission. Law and Kid are likely to soon be busy with Big Mom. And so I am still partial to the idea that the literal Nine Shadows of the Nine Scabbards will be imbued into Luffy in accordance with this prophecy. Oda reminded us of Moria recently during the intermission between Acts 1 and 2 and again in Oden’s flashback. I could easily envision Teach recruiting Moria with the promise he help Moria get revenge on Kaido. It’s an alliance built on mutual self-interest. Moria gets his revenge and Teach perhaps picks up some powerful Devil Fruit. I don’t imagine Blackbeard himself will arrive on Wano, but perhaps Moria and a few of his Titanic Captains. Admittedly, a lot still needs to happen for this theory to pan out. Now that Luffy’s plummeting to the sea below, he is certainly in need of a savior, perhaps of the unlikely sort.