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One Piece – Realizing Belonging

Season One of the live action adaptation of One Piece introduces a classic Japanese story to a whole new audience. Embracing the tropes and quirks of both the shonen manga and anime versions, the live action One Piece is entirely invested without taking itself too seriously. This leads to a light-hearted and fun pirate adventure that isn’t afraid to tackle some surprisingly deep questions. Like most anime, One Piece isn’t written from a Christian world view, and there are moments where viewers will notice some moral relativism among other things. However, like all good stories, One Piece also clearly contains seeds of the Truth that can inspire viewers to identify the presence of Jesus Truth in their own lives. Perhaps the most poignant example of this comes from one of the darkest moments of the season: Nami’s betrayal of her crew.

Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Luffy, and Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in “One Piece.”  © 2023 Netflix. All Rights Reserved.

Navigator Nami (Emily Rudd) falls into the goofy Luffy’s (Iñaki Godoy) pirate crew rather unwillingly after she and Luffy help one another steal an important map from the Marines. Nami’s distaste for pirates is abundantly clear, but Luffy insists that he is “a different kind of pirate” – a good pirate. But what that could possibly mean, Nami struggles to understand. As their rag-tag crew of misfits grows through Luffy’s extensions of charity to those most in need, Nami begins to feel affection toward their crew, even venturing to use the word ‘friend’ to describe them. But in the end, she abandons the crew to return to an abusive gang that has blackmailed her into their employ. She hands over the map Luffy had entrusted to her to the gang leader, Arlong (McKinley Belcher III), hoping it can help her to buy the freedom of her home village from the gang. But Arlong is a deceiver. He has no intention of sparing Nami’s village, regardless of the services she renders or payments she offers. Nami the betrayer is betrayed. Now in her betrayal, Nami has lost both her crew of friends and her beloved village.

In a heart-rending scene, Nami falls to her knees in a dark orchard as her village burns. She weeps with rage as she looks at the tattoo on her arm that brands her as the property of Arlong’s violent, deceitful gang. Screaming with despair, she yanks out her weapon and begins to stab at the tattoo…

Until a hand grabs her wrist, halting her self-injury mid-swing.

Nami looks up to see Luffy standing over her.

He had come to look for her. He had come to bring her back.

Nami snaps at him that she told him to go away, and that he doesn’t understand what is going on but Luffy stays standing beside her.

Finally, weeping, Nami looks up at Luffy in total humility and helplessness, and brokenly begs: “Luffy… help me.”

And Luffy’s response?

Without a word, he slowly removes the straw hat that was his most precious possession – the hat that had been given to him by the closest thing he had to a father, the hat after which he had named his crew, the hat he didn’t let anyone mess with – and places it gently but firmly on Nami’s head.

Peter Gadiot as Shanks, and Colton Osorio as  Young Luffy in “One Piece.”  © 2023 Netflix. All Rights Reserved.

Suddenly, Nami is clothed with a love and belonging she could never earn. It is a gift, freely given. It is the mark of a belonging which, unlike her hated tattoo, speaks not of bondage, but of an unconditional and unbreakable familial bond.

Finally Luffy speaks one sentence in reply, “Of course I will.”

Emily Rudd as Nami and Iñaki Godoy as Luffy in “One Piece.”  © 2023 Netflix. All Rights Reserved.

The scene is incredibly moving. Not only because it speaks of the heart of Luffy for Nami… but because it echoes the heart of Christ for us.

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak… I will feed them with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:16)

Each of us can think of a time when we betrayed God through sin, when we turned our back on him to do things our own way, to pursue our own plans and desires independent of him. If we sit with it long enough, we can each understand the mark of injury this left on us and on others. We know what it is to have given ourselves over to someone or something other than our King, to have betrayed a good Friend for something else. We know what it is to realize that we are undeserving of the loyalty and love of that Friend.

And yet, Christ does not abandon us to our sin. He comes after us. Each time we turn to accept him anew, he responds much as Luffy did. He reminds us of who we are to him, of our belonging. He brings us to himself. He fights for us.

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

After this touching scene, Luffy fights Arlong for Nami’s freedom – a freedom that Nami now knows she cannot win for herself. After an intense battle, Luffy brings Arlong’s prized palace down over both of them. Finally emerging victorious from the dust and rubble, Luffy looks directly at Nami and shouts to her by name an affirmation of mutual belonging:

“Nami! You are our friend! We are your crew!”

And as viewers, we are reminded of the mutual belonging the Lord offers to us.

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3)

Jacob Romero Gibson, Emily Rudd, Iñaki Godoy, Taz Skylar, and Mackenyu in “One Piece.”  © 2023 Netflix. All Rights Reserved.

You belong to Christ. Not in a belonging of bondage, but in a bond of unconditional love. In him, you have a home. In him, you have a family.

If you, like Nami, are facing an internal battle to accept this belonging into all of who you are, bring your struggle to Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There, pour out anything that is preventing you from accepting his love fully, and ask his forgiveness, grace, and help in humility and trust.

Let him put his ‘straw hat’ on your head. Let him whisper those words of assurance to your wounded soul: “Of course I will.”  Know that you are his beloved friend, and that he is yours.

Season 1 of the live action One Piece is available for streaming on Netflix.

Meet the Author

Sr. Hosea Rupprecht

Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis. 

Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media. 

For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.

Proclaiming the gospel through the media.

In a world that yearns to receive the Good News, we seek through the various aspects of our mission to be instruments of mercy, hope, and love.

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