When we think of character arcs, we usually think of change and growth.The depressed, angry loner learns to fight for his friends and a positive cause.The cheery guy faces the harsh reality of the world and is slowly morphed into a villain.The naive, plucky sidekick tests their mettle through hardship and emerges on the other side a competent leader.There is a definitive Point A and a fairly contrasting Point B. Many beloved fictional characters go through arcs, and they're often pretty satisfying as getting us emotionally involved in a character's arc means that we're watching good storytelling at work.
But then there's this guy:
That's Luffy from One Piece, a pirate captain that doesn't look like he's changed a whole lot since his first appearance.Sure, he's gained a big scar on his chest, a bigger crew, and one of the biggest bounties in the sea, but he's still very silly He's still prone to goofing off when he might not need to be.He still rushes ahead into battle when it would be more tactical to go with a strategic plan.And his leadership style and the way he deals with his "family" remains pretty much unchanged since his first meeting with Zoro in Episode 2. One could say that he's a little more serious after Ace died and the time skip happened, but not by much.
Finally, while Luffy has certainly had more "Oh, man! It's Straw Hat Luffy!" moments, those seem to come less because of Luffy's intentions and more because of people's responses to him.As the Straw Hats have gained notoriety, the usual reaction has changed from "Who do you think you are?" to "IT'S LUFFY AND THE STRAW HATS." Any time he shows up now, it's an event.Luffy's code hasn't changed. The amount of people that know about it have.
Now, on paper, this looks odd. One Piece has been going on for over 20 years, telling a story that is intensely serialized rather than episodic.It feels like a given that Luffy's personality should've shifted more over time, eventually causing him to act like someone who was "befitting" of the title of the future King of the Pirates. He has experienced so many tough battles and a few moments of such great loss that he should feel more openly burdened by time.And if it was most other characters, I'd understand this.I' d want to see someone that reflects their trials, not one who gets the reset button pushed on them at the end of every arc.
But I think wanting that for Luffy misses the point of Luffy.
One Piece, at least to me, isn't a story about Luffy becoming a different kind of person.He's not meant to evolve into a better or worse figure.All attempts to change him or his status, whether by calling him a hero and trying to get him to commit to something that wasn't his idea (he can barely stick to Trafalgar Law's plan to take down Kaido) have been met with his indifference or his annoyance. Things that would test another character's faith in their mission or make them reconsider And a lot of that is because Luffy is stubborn, but there's something more important at work here.
Think about how much you know about Gol D. Roger. He's arguably the most important character in the series, launching a new age of pirates by telling them about his dope treasure. But we don't know about his ins and outs.We barely know anything about his personality other than the fact that he was loud, joyous, and very strong.All we've learned are the things that he did and the legacy that he left.He isn't a character so much as he's a legend , having more in common with myth than man.
And one of the reasons that Luffy is so often compared to Roger by other characters is because, in the grand scheme of One Piece, that's who he's going to end up being, too. Years from now, people on the Grand Line won't recall Luffy's emotional progression, but rather that he was a guy that, when he was in Loguetown about to be decapitated, smiled in the face of death.The will not dive into the intricacies of his internal dilemmas but instead remain in awe of the fact that he burned down the government flag and took on the world.The advancements in his personality will not provide an inspiring lesson. , the thing he will give the future is the fact that he promised the terrifying Big Mom that he would fight her in the New World and make Fishman Island his territory.
Luffy isn't on a path to growing up, and I don't think he ever really will be. Instead, his journey will eventually be just as fabled as Roger's, equal parts fact and rumor.That's just how legends end up, and Luffy is, without a doubt, legendary.
What is your favorite Luffy moment? Is he one of your favorite anime protagonists? Let me know in the comments!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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