If a group of characters get together in a fictional setting, we inevitably start wondering which ones will make out. We can't help it. After years of seeing them in sitcoms and movies, concepts like the "Will They/Won't They" couple and the "Forbidden Relationship" are embedded in our pop-culture consciousness. Two good-looking people bicker in the sitcom's pilot episode? They'll kiss by the season finale. The quirky co-worker seems determined to get the solemn, nerdy employee to live a little bit? You can already hear the wedding bells.
This feeling extends to anime, too, and we've watched it happen a lot: Vegeta got with Bulma, Hinata got with Naruto, Ichigo got with Orihime. But there is a certain anime series that has shied away from grand displays of romance like this, despite being entirely about how we need to love one another. And if you've read the title of this article, you know what that series is: One Piece.
Now, One Piece is not entirely romance-less. Creator Eiichiro Oda has said that since One Piece is for young boys, there will be no relationships among the members of the Straw Hat Crew, so much of the "romance" that does show up is of the goofy, unrequited variety. Most notably this occurs with Sanji and, well, every woman that he meets on the Grand Line, because no matter what, Sanji gonna Sanji, apparently. The chef's declarations of love are frequent, but luckily, very few people have even slightly entertained him on the prospect of matrimony. And so Sanji is left where he should be, with his heart on his sleeve (and his eyes.)
But Oda has also said that the crew is "in love" with adventure in Chapter 317 (Ya know, ROMANCE DAWN and all,) and while they definitely embrace the thrill and danger and fulfillment that comes with sailing around and discovering new places and dismantling Shichibukai dictatorships, they're also very much in love with each other. And that's one of the most important messages of One Piece as a whole—How one of the best loves you can have is a love for your friends.
Throughout One Piece, the Straw Hats have constantly shown their affection for each other, whether it's through literal embraces (If Luffy hasn't seen you in a while, he can and will throw his whole body at you) or openness (The Straw Hats freely cry around each other all the time, as their captain has made it clear through phrases like "Say you want to live!" and "Say what you really want!" that, above all things, he values emotional honesty).
They're also willing to stand up for each other in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, pushing past their weaknesses because they know they're needed and valued. Heck, Usopp's entire character arc thus far is based around his acknowledgment that his crew loves him unconditionally, thus making him braver at times than he ever thought he could be. Robin's arc is built around her once thinking that no one would ever accept her or even want her on this earth, and now she knows, absolutely, that the Straw Hats will never let her down.
Many of them have announced that Luffy WILL be King of the Pirates, and what is that if not love? It's certainly devotion against all odds. And that's why I'm uncomfortable with anyone that tries to make a huge stink about how their love for their friends is different from their romantic love. Like, duh, of course, it is. I don't need the reason why I'm not buying roses for my boy Jon (Though if you want roses, bro, I got you) but I am buying them for my wife explained to me. But it's also the kind of thing that keeps dudes from hugging and instead places them in this weird handshake purgatory. It's the kind of thing that makes people unsure of what they can share with others. It traps people in this mindset that if they can't talk about something with their romantic partner, then they just can't talk about it at all.
We often use the phrase "It takes a village" when referring to child-rearing because it can be tough and it's great for a kid to have so much help and positive influence. But it's also applicable to the emotional upkeep of an adult person, and you could use the phrase "It takes a crew" and apply it to One Piece. Because none of the members of the Straw Hats would have the amount of inner strength that they do without the love of the others. And I know that the love and support of my own friends has been incredible for me, and I can only hope to return it to them.
In short, while One Piece may not have a lot of what we typically consider "romance" in fiction, it is truly a tale about love. And I hope that, by reading it, you become more open to sharing yours. Presumably by getting all of your friends to read and watch One Piece. Nothing says "I adore you" like some dope anime.
What is your favorite declaration in One Piece? What is the most important message that you've taken from this silly, awesome pirate manga? Let me know in the comments!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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