Sunday, April 7, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #22

I continue to be fascinated by the breadth and depth of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece; he's got a lot more going on than just fighting, friendship, and the pursuit of dreams. The Skypeia storyline has been especially rich, and along with the aforementioned hint at the oppression of native people, he's also throwing in some commentary on religion and the ways it can be used to control and oppress people. The big villain of the story is a guy who calls himself Kami Eneru (kami is the Japanese word for "god"), and he rules over the cloud island of Skypeia with an iron fist, demanding total obedience from the people under the threat of immediate death. But he's no god; he's just a human who has the devil fruit-granted powers to transform his body into lightning. This makes him incredibly powerful, but the interesting thing is that his rule is based on religious trappings rather than just tyrannical punishments for disobedience. He's got rituals set up to deal with non-believers (this being One Piece, they involve fighting his awesomely-powered servants before being killed as a sacrifice), and while everyone is constantly afraid of retribution, he's also managed to convince them, possibly through brainwashing and/or Stockholm Syndrome, of the rightness of his actions. This scene from volume 29 is a telling example of the way religion (and other forms of fanaticism) can ensnare people from a young age:




Later, in volume 30, the full extent of Eneru's plan has become clear: having looted Skypeia of its riches, he's going to move on elsewhere, and in a display of Old Testament-style sadism, he plans to annihilate the island and all its inhabitants on his way out the door. In an especially powerful moment, Conis, a young Skypeian woman who Eneru had condemned to death for daring to aid the Straw Hat Pirates, risks her life to warn everyone of their impending doom:








At first, the people refuse to believe her, but since Eneru is distracted elsewhere, his non-response to her blasphemy is enough to make the people question their faith, and the terror on their faces is palpable. It's one thing to live at the whims of a capricious deity, but when he's not even reliable enough to keep his promises not to kill everyone, it's enough to send everyone into a panicked flight for survival, and it's an awful thing to witness.

This is all mostly just background to the main conflict of the story, but it's enough to provide a sense of stakes and gives the battle life-or-death consequences for thousands of people. As ever, I'm blown away by how Oda handles so many characters and events and weaves themes from outside of his crazy world into everything. He contains multitudes.