Emerging from my lurking cause I've been sitting on my feelings on the Gum Gum Fruit also being the Nika Fruit, and the developments of the past 3-4 chapters for a little while and I think I've got some thoughts settled.
I was very concerned about the direction Oda would take all of these developments when we started getting the info dumps from Who's Who about the government going after the Gum Gum Fruit, the namedropping of Nika and the visual call backs to Luffy at the Skypiea parties, and the Elders discussing a "legendary" fruit with a different name. I, like a lot of people, (especially older sections of the fanbase) do not like the idea of the "chosen one" narrative with all the special powers and destiny and whatnot. Like I'm watching through Naruto for the first time, and my motivation to watch has dropped significantly now that I'm at the part of Shippuden where it leans hard into Naruto's parents, the seemingly genetic nature of chakra as a power system, and the very on-the-nose "chosen one" stuff. I'm not going to sit here and be like "Naruto used to be about hard work vs. talent" (because quite frankly I don't agree with that, the biggest theme in the series is the idea of "strength through bonds"), but I do think it does ultimately undercut earlier moments and established character dynamics from earlier in the series that were effective.
So I say all of that to say that I sympathize with (some of) the criticisms I've seen over the past few weeks, cause I've also been really concerned of One Piece falling into that same fate as Naruto. While there are some, uh, extreme reactions imo, I think there are a lot of fair points to be critical of. But to be honest, now that we're here on the other side of 1044, I personally feel content with the direction the series is going, and I think Oda's landed this well enough to earn my trust going forward. I think "Joyboy" being seeded early post-timeskip, and the sun/dawn association being present from pretty much day 1 help this land for me in terms of the buildup to these developments. I do think the Who's Who exposition dump is clumsy storytelling that takes away from giving Jimbe a better encounter and more time to shine. But I also think the combination of the Joyboy/Sun/Dawn stuff and it being pretty easy to contextualize why we're getting this erased history and confidential information from this source (a former secret government agent turned high ranking member of an emperor's crew) at this late point in the journey bring me to terms with it, even if the presentation of information is a bit sloppy. I accept that this has probably been in the cards for a while, even if some specifics weren't ironed out until recently (which we can only speculate on to begin with).
I'm very relieved with how he's handled the power itself. Because really the only thing that has changed here is the classification of the fruit. It doesn't really touch the abilities of the fruit. Luffy is still, at the end of the day, a rubber human who must rely on creative applications of his abilities to not only hold his own but to unlock to true nature of the fruit. Like it didn't imbue him with special hidden powers from the outset that have quietly been working in the background undercutting the legitimacy of Luffy's past accomplishments. I think there's been a lot of jumping-to-conclusions based on the way things like scans have translated and framed these new developments. Like Luffy is not literally a god, and he doesn't have the ability to warp reality. He's got the powers of someone who lived in the past who was a rubber person, who has the epithet of a "god". I never bought that Nika is a literal "sun god", not in the same series that delivers an arc like Skypiea in which our protagonist punches someone with a god complex, and there's a flashback that opens with illustrating a conflict between religious tradition and scientific rationalism. Oda has to stick the landing on what exactly Devil Fruit are, how they work, where they come from, how they're made, etc. But I also buy Greg's idea of it being a mixture of both a Paramecia and a Zoan, and if Nika is just a Lunarian with rubber (Paramecia) abilities, who was then used as the basis of a Zoan fruit, I can see that landing fine. Again again, he's still a rubber person and been a rubber person. It's that the ability is only limited by the creativity of its user, and for someone as off-the-wall and free as Luffy, it's the perfect fruit. Luffy being who Luffy is, possessing the personality traits he does and having the experiences he's had, is what's allowed him to get here using this fruit. And while I can understand the criticism that this power-up feels unearned/comes out of nowhere… Idk it's pretty hard for me to understand perspective without thinking about how Luffy just suddenly comes out in Enies Lobby with both Second and Third Gears, after no build up or explanation of how Luffy came up with or developed these abilities what-so-ever. It's sudden then, and it's sudden now, but it also didn't bother me that much then, and it's not really bothering me much now. In large part because...
I'm having an absolute blast with Gear 5. I love these powers, I love the goofy ass Looney Tunes/Popeye aesthetic and all the visual gags. And just reading week-to-week for the past 10 years, this is to me some of the funniest, most exciting content in the whole series. Kaido's eyes popping out as Luffy's arm drags him away kills me. Seeing just how creative Luffy can get with these abilities is fun! I know some aren't happy with how goofy it is, I see a lot of comments about this robbing the fight of "tension" and being some tonal whiplash, which you know, to each their own. But for me, I also feel like I just got some of the most tense content I've read in the series week-to-week with Kaido's finishing blow on Luffy, and then the narrator box declaring "Winner: Kaido, King of the Beasts". One of One Piece's biggest strengths is its ability to pull these tonal shifts, and while I definitely agree that this is easily one of the most extreme cases, it works for me. I feel you if you think this is too rapid of a shift. But I think for me though the ping-ponging between absolute despair and joyous laughter works because it's so extreme. The idea of Luffy bringing genuine laughter to the people Kaido has robbed that from through his tyranny and the effects of SMILE sounds so satisfying, but for that to work I feel like you have to juxtapose those two ends of the spectrum here at the climax. To me it's not One Piece without stuff like this. And look, at the end of the day I'm just having fun with this. Luffy's out here doin some Tex Avery shit! Give me funny, goofy, cartoony One Piece that doesn't hold back in both how serious and how silly it all is.