In a recent interview, One Piece‘s author Eiichiro Oda revealed the hidden inspiration for one of the biggest revelations in the history of his manga: Luffy’s Gear Fifth transformation. The unusual and cartoonish style of this form has divided the fandom, but Oda explains that there is a very specific reason behind it.
Fans of One Piece were completely astonished when the series revealed that Luffy’s iconic powers did not, in fact, derive from the Gomu Gomu no Mi, but from a much more powerful Devil Fruit, the Hito Hito no Mi, Model: Nika. Even more surprising were the abilities displayed by Luffy after awakening his Devil Fruit and entering Gear Fifth, a bizarre set of powers that included the ability to alter his body and surroundings according to his imagination. The result looked like something out of a cartoon, with eyes popping out to signal shock, legs turning into wheels when speeding up, and so on. The formal explanation was that Nika’s powers granted its user “absolute freedom”, but there is actually a lot more behind that.
Issue #34 of Weekly Shonen Jump contains an interview with Eiichiro Oda and Detective Conan‘s Gosho Aoyama (which can be seen below in a translation provided by Twitter user @Orojapan1), where the two legendary mangaka discuss their respective careers. When asked about turning points in their respective stories, Oda answered that, to him, Luffy’s Gear Fifth was a very important development and something that he had been planning for a long time. The reason is that Oda was actually not happy about One Piece becoming too “serious”, especially in terms of its battles, to meet modern fans’ expectations. He wanted to go back to a more playful style, and that’s what Gear Fifth is for. Oda even went as far as saying “Think of it as I suddenly drew ‘Tom and Jerry’“.
Luffy’s Gear Fifth, then, expresses Oda’s creative freedom and his desire to go back to the more comical roots of his manga. The author was aware that some fans could react negatively to Gear Fifth, but he still went for it. Oda also makes a very interesting reference to manga in the past. He says that, when he started working as an assistant, it was normal to have an expressionist style with, for example, light bulbs over characters’ heads when they were thinking. However, these expressions that were a symbol of manga were progressively lost. Readers (especially of battle manga) wanted a more serious style and authors adapted to it to meet their expectations, but Oda always hated it.
Luffy’s Gear Fifth, then, is a homage to One Piece‘s predecessors and to the formulas they created. Eiichiro Oda boldly stated in this interview that he does not want One Piece to become a serious manga, so he decided to make the battles playful again, and created Gear Fifth for that purpose. Just like Nika’s powers grant its user “absolute freedom”, so One Piece‘s creator expressed his desire for creative freedom with Luffy’s Gear Fifth, which is also a homage to manga’s rich history and traditions.
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