The Cruel Beauty of Arlong Park.

I believe that all anime fans, or fans of any other form of media have a very specific moment where they fall in love with it. I don’t mean the first time you watch something and think to yourself ‘yeah, I enjoyed that.’ No, the moment I’m talking about is something a lot more specific. It’s that feeling you get when you realize you’re absolutely hooked. It’s that day where you look at your phone, or alarm clock back in my day, and realize that it’s suddenly 3 A.M and you have to get up at 7. It’s a moment of such pure joy, having discovered something that really matters to you.
For me, that moment was the very first time I watched the Arlong Park arc in One Piece. To be more specific, it was the moment where Nami looked up, tears in her eyes, and asked Luffy to help her. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen this moment, and it’s so absolutely amazing that even just writing about it is making me tear up once again.

I was still a teenager when I was first introduced to anime. Of course, like so many before me, I had seen shows like Pokemon, Dragonball Z, Beyblade and Shaman King on TV, but I didn’t quite know that these were anime, and not just different looking cartoons. Although at the end of the day, anime were just cartoons in a different style most of the time, so I wasn’t really wrong.

And yes, Avatar can be an anime, no one cares as long as it’s good.

But when I was really introduced to anime, was when a classmate of mine was talking to a friend of his. They were both watching a show, and it sounded pretty cool, but I had no idea what it was. That’s when I was told that they were talking about anime and in my head I went ‘pffft, weirdos.’ This was back in 2009, when anime wasn’t as mainstream as it is now, but it was still up and coming. It was kind of weird to like anime, more so than it is today.
But they seemed so excited and I couldn’t help but want to get some of that excitement, so I ended up starting to watch anime too. The shows I got recommended were Nyan koi, because my friend instantly recognized that I would be a degenerate, and One Piece, the show they were talking about. I decided to give both of them a shot, and I can shamelessly say that I thought both were pretty good. And although I was enjoying the early bits of One Piece, I didn’t think of it as more than a fun cartoon with a cool artstyle. Yes, Baratie was a pretty interesting arc and back then Sanji quickly became my favorite character. Then Nami left.

When Nami left the crew, in my head I went: “huh, she can just do that?” Obviously that wasn’t going to fly with the rest of the crew, but still, it seemed like a very bold story progression. And even when the arc started I wasn’t quite sure about these strange fishmen, and the direction the story was taking. Well, to make a long story short, there’s a reason my cat is called Nami.
We get Nami’s emotional backstory throughout this arc and it is heart wrenching to watch. What is even crazier to me is that there is more to the story that gets revealed a decade of writing later. Blew my mind when it happened, but we’re not including that here today. What I want to talk about today is the emotional conclusion to the story, which happens in two parts and is masterfully executed.

After getting Nami’s backstory, and having the Straw Hats run around the island for a while, some hijinx with Zoro and Hachi, we start getting to the meat of the story. Nami is done with Arlong, her frustration and pain has reached the limit and she breaks down, violently stabbing her Arlong tattoo. When Luffy stops her she pleads him to help her. I’m tearing up writing this because I love this arc so much. What Luffy does next makes the emotional impact of this moment so much bigger than I thought it could. Up until now we have been told time and time again how important the straw hat is to Luffy. Buggy damages it and it’s the first time we see Luffy get angry, he is super careful with it whenever he can, and protects it with his life. But this time around, he leaves it with Nami while he goes to kick Arlong’s ass. Straw Hat Luffy gives his most prized possession to Nami while he goes to defeat her demons. It’s beautiful. I can look at it every single day and still bawl my eyes out every time. This beautiful moment is followed up by the Straw Hats walking to Arlong Park, which is a goosebumps inducing moment for sure. These goofy looking guys who have been mostly messing around and been silly have no smiles on their faces anymore. Nami is one of them, and someone hurt her. They will pay.

This brings us to the second part of the emotional conclusion. I will gladly admit that the fights themselves, although creative, aren’t the most interesting fights I’ve ever watched. I can name several fights in the story that were way cooler, especially some of the more recent ones. But when it comes to pure emotional impact, this fight, as well as the one in Enies Lobby several hundred chapters later, are easily at the top. In the conclusion of the fight, Luffy breaks Arlong’s face, destroys his base and destroys Nami’s map making room. The maps she’s been making for Arlong, and not for herself, scatter to the winds. Nami is now free. The combination of these two moments, and the conclusion to this arc was the moment I never looked back.

Although it’s not without flaws, One Piece is still my favorite piece of media. It reached chapter 1000 just before I am writing this piece, and it inspired me to talk about my favorite moment of the series. It’s not like there aren’t amazing, hype inducing, gut wrenching or mind blowing moments later on. It is just that the emotional conclusion to Arlong Park was so incredibly well done that I truly believe nothing will ever surpass it. If there is any piece of advice I can give someone who isn’t sure to watch this series, it’s to give it a shot and watch the first +/- 50 episodes. I believe that will be enough to know if you like it or not, and I promise you that it will include one of the most amazing moments I have ever seen.
There are many amazing arcs in One Piece just like the one I talked about today, and I plan to look at a lot of them in more detail at a later date, but I had to start off by writing about the moment I fell in love with the series. It would bring me great joy if I could convince just a single person to give the show a chance. There’s a lot to unpack that’s hidden behind a goofy artstyle and a seriously daunting amount of episodes. Please leave a comment if you have a moment from a series where you fell in love with it as well.

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