The only acceptable excuse for not crying at these scenes is dehydration.
One of the biggest mysteries in One Piece is the “Will of the D,” the enigmatic link between powerful characters who share the D middle initial, like Luffy, Roger, Blackbeard, Law, or Ace. My absolute favorite theory about the whole thing is that the D represents a sideways grinning smile because that’s how all members of the D-crew, as I’m sure they’d hate to be called, welcome death.
When Gol D. Roger was put to death, it looked more like a teeth-whitening advert than an execution. That’s because, with his last words telling the world about the location of his treasure, he singlehandedly kickstarted the great age of piracy. The man died smiling from ear to ear because he knew that his death would start something bigger than himself. He knew he was dying for a noble goal.
Other D’s have also done it. The giant Jaguar D. Saul grinned like a maniac while being frozen to death by Aokiji because he was able to first get Robin to safety. Ace was burned to death by Akainu but he died smiling because, in doing so, he saved Luffy’s life.
But while I love the D grin theory, I don’t think that’s what Oda will end up going with, even though it does make a lot of sense because of how important the theme of sacrifice is to One Piece. I’ve argued before that if there was one thing that One Piece was all about, it’s the importance of non-biological family. But if there are two things, it’s the power of laying down your life for something you believe in. And it’s not just the D’s that do it.
Nami and Nojiko’s adoptive mother Bell-mère needed just a few seconds to decide to sacrifice her life for her daughters when Arlong and his gang came calling. Not having the money to pay him for the right to live for the entire family, she calmly took a bullet to the chest (or head, depending on the version) without a hint of hesitation, all for her children. We’ve seen similar scenes of sacrifice before like when Shanks lost an arm protecting Luffy, or when Zeff, oh yeah… RIPPED OFF AND ATE HIS OWN LEG TO SAVE YOUNG SANJI FROM STARVATION!
But Bell-mère’s death hit us hardest of all because of how well the anime built her up in the flashbacks. We’ve gotten to know the whole of her, from the awesome soldier to the good friend and caring mother. We’ve seen all of Bell-mère until she seemed as real to us as she did to Nami and Nojiko. So it shouldn’t have surprised us that she was willing to lay down her life for her daughters. That’s just the kind of person she was, and her encounter with Arlong simply could not have ended any differently. I’m not saying that this made it easier to watch. I’m saying that it made her death a tragedy. But a beautiful one.
There’s a common theme of characters sacrificing their own lives in One Piece, and they only do it because it’s just the logical, extreme conclusion of who they are at their very core. When Tom the shipwright saved Franky’s life by taking the blame for an attack on Water 7 perpetrated by Spandam using Franky’s inventions, he allowed himself to be put on trial again for building Roger’s ship. He knew that admitting to it would mean death but he did it with pride because he was, at heart, a shipwright, and he wanted his protégé/adoptive-son to know exactly what that meant. In this case, it meant dying for something he believed in. That’s also how my favorite sacrifice inthe anime went down.
One of my Top 3 One Piece characters ever is Bon Kurei/Mr. 2/Bentham because of the insane lengths that Bon-chan will go to for his friends, especially during the Impel Down break-out. Near the end, Bon-chan stays behind to help Luffy and the other prisoners escape, and in doing so is faced with Magellan. Now here is this gigantic, borderline unstoppable, Devil-looking monster who is about to bathe Bon-chan in acid, killing him in the most painful way imaginable. And what does Bon-chan do? He yells out “No regrets!” as he prepares to karate-fight Magellan to the very end, all for the sake of friendship. It was a most perfect death for one amazing character.
And, yes, the manga did later reveal that Bon-chan survived the fight, but it didn’t change how we felt about his sacrifice in the moment. It and other similar stories in One Piece were so beautiful because they carried with them heavy costs. People in One Piece have died to protect the ones they loved. They suffered horrible pain and gave up parts of their bodies/their entire ways of life, all because they put others above their own well-being and it was noble and tear-jerking and just *chef’s kiss*
But if I can find one fault with the theme of sacrifice in One Piece, it’s that occasionally Oda will have his characters make these noble decisions to risk their own lives… only to have them survive despite all odds/logic. It happened when Zoro took on all of Luffy’s pain from Kuma in Episode 377. It happened when Wiper survived using the supposedly-lethal Reject Dial three times. And it happened when Pell survived the bomb planted by Crocodile during the Alabasta saga.
But those scenes are exceptions and even so, they don’t ruin the anime. We still feel our hearts skipping a beat when characters decide to risk their lives for the greater good because OP has taught us that, no, survival isn’t guaranteed in this world. It’s not Game of Thrones to be sure, but characters do die in the manga and anime, and this possibility makes any One Piece sacrifice a suspenseful moment of pure awesomeness and beauty.
This article was originally published on Crunchyroll.