Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Piece 55: Attack of the Okama

I swear, the middle chunk of this volume is One Piece gone Bruno. Bon Clay has always been a pretty outrageous dude; the okama stereotype writ extra large, he winds up looking like the straight man when he stumbles into the lair of Emporio Ivonkov, the Okama King. Ivonkov has a head five times too large for his body, dresses in full Rocky Horror drag -- with a FISHNET CAPE -- and has an ultimate move called the Death Wink. And his Devil Fruit powers revolve around controlling hormones -- shortly after he's introduced, he pokes a man with his fingernails, and turns the dude into a woman. He and his transsexual transgendered army of freedom are partying hard to prepare for the coming revolution.
The okama stereotype has gradually become a real problem for me -- I now take trotting that stereotype out wholesale as a sure sign of hack writing, and refuse to watch anything that uses that. The almost total lack of nuanced, realistic portrayals of alternative lifestyles is a big part of it (Arai Hideki and, oddly, Oku Hiroya are two of the few who have bothered) but I've gradually come to realize that it isn't just the cliche that bothers me -- like all stereotypes, it IS based on a character type from the real world -- but that the hack's portrayal of it fundamentally misunderstands why outrageously over the top okama WORK. Every flamboyant button-pushing exhibitionist I've known got a pass on their more inappropriate shticks because they were FUCKING FUNNY. Yet in most anime, the actual characters are disgusted, annoyed, or confused by the okama characters. If the other characters don't even like the fucker, why would I want to see them?
This is why One Piece, for all it's indulging and exploiting of the stereotype, fundamentally GETS IT. Bon Clay is considered HILARIOUS. Ivonkov's immensely dumb NOT jokes DESTROY his audience. We're given feedback from the start that these are likable, energetic people. And then they get to be really fucking heroic.
Glancing back, apparently I didn't talk about One Piece 54, or if I did, I didn't tag it. I was pretty thrown by volume 53's abrupt cast dispersal, but once I saw where he was headed with this, I knew once again that I should never doubt Oda for a second. This arc has been a real treat, both with old characters popping up again, and new characters. My personal favorite is Inazuma, who engages in furious battles while holding a glass of brandy in one hand.


  1. Everything you ever say about One Piece makes it sound phenomenal, but I read the first, like, three volumes or so and was not feeling it at all. Is there any specific installment you can point me at and say "this is when it all comes together", or am I just doomed to Not Get It?

  2. I enjoyed it right off the bat, but I don't think I really went "holy shit" until shortly after Sanji showed up.
    Certainly it almost lost me when Usopp was introduced; I don't think Usopp worked at all till Chopper was introduced twenty odd volumes later.

  3. Chopper is actually introduced about a dozen volumes after Usopp is.

    I agree that One Piece really starts to take off when Arlong is introduced (volume eight, I think). My favorite pre-Skypiea arc is probably Drum Island where Oda begins to really emphasize the environment.

  4. The Arlong arc has the first genuine emotional resolution, but I'm not actually sure it stood out as anything amazing up to that point.
    I was specifically referring to the bit where Hawkeye suddenly appears in the middle of the battle, fucks up Zoro, and sails the fuck away again; I saw that as the first real stab at a larger mythology beyond what these books usually manage.
    Of course, lots of stuff looks different in hindsight...

  5. The existence of a secret community, buried within the Worlds Most Awfulest Prison, where body and gender are mutable and the party never ends, made my jaw drop. Medical journals could publish papers about this volume.