Eiichiro Oda's view on justice in One Piece, explored
As one of the longest running shonen manga series of all time, it’s unsurprising that author and illustrator Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece series covers plenty of real-world applicable topics. From racism to found family and everything in between, there’s seemingly no real world issue which escapes Oda’s Odyssey-like series.
One especially interesting topic which Oda often directly and indirectly comments on and addresses throughout One Piece is the topic of justice. More specifically, he frequently addresses how just because one party is in charge or has the law on their side doesn’t necessarily mean they’re just.
It’s an especially intriguing topic which Oda provides a multifaceted argument and discussion for at various points throughout the One Piece series. Furthermore, the mangaka has a clear message on justice throughout the series, both in terms of what true justice is and how what’s called “justice” can often be mislabeled.
One Piece’s commentary on justice throughout suggests Oda feels the topic to be no black and white matter
One of the most interesting aspects of the way in which author and illustrator Eiichiro Oda writes One Piece stems from the commentary on justice he provides within. Despite pirates being considered the villainous scum of the world within the series, they’re often proven to be more just than or equally as just as the series’ Marine forces and the World Government.
For example, most of the major atrocities in the series’ history see the World Government responsible for them. The Oharan Genocide, the near-mass extinction of the Lunarian race, and the censorship of the Void Century’s history all come from the purported side of justice in the series’ world. In other words, all of these tragedies were committed not by pirates, but by Marines and the World Government instead.
It’s this reality which Oda expressly comments on during One Piece’s Marineford War Arc via a brief monologue from then-Shichibukai (an ally to “justice”), Donquixote Doflamingo. His full quote on what “justice” is reads as follows:
“Pirates are evil? The Marines are righteous? These terms have always changed throughout the course of history! Kids who have never seen peace and kids who have never seen war have different values! Those who stand at the top determine what's wrong and what's right! This very place is neutral ground! Justice will prevail, you say? But of course it will! Whoever wins this war becomes justice!”
Essentially, Doflamingo is arguing that “justice” is always the side of righteousness because justice is whatever the victors and rulers of the world deem it to be. Likewise, even if their justice is actually a cruel and evil injustice, it nevertheless becomes “justice” by nature of the ruling class deeming it so.
This specific interpretation of Doflamingo’s speech can be seen in so many areas throughout the One Piece story. However, the Celestial Dragons arguably embody this sentiment more than any other group in the series’ world. There are so many instances of their cruelty which they call justice, but arguably the most telling is when Saint Charloss shoots someone for crossing in front of him during the Sabaody Archipelago Arc.
While this may seem unconscionable to the average reader, the series’ ruling class sees no major issues with this due to the power and privilege they hold in the series. Despite not actually contributing to the founding of the World Government themselves, they’re considered a special, higher class of citizen than the rest of the world due to their lineage.
It’s this corrupt, power-grabbing mentality which trickles down from the top into the World Government and the Marines. While it’s only been confirmed to stem from the Celestial Dragons in general, One Piece’s ongoing final saga will surely show that the enigmatic Imu and the Gorosei have similar thoughts.
While there are clear examples of injustice masquerading as justice in the World Government and the Marines, there are also examples of actual just members of these groups. Saint Donquixote Mjosgard serves as one example among the Celestial Dragons, as does Monkey D. Garp and his protege Koby amongst the Marines. Former Marine Admiral Aokiji, now known as Kuzan, also fell into this category during his service.
All four of these individuals embody a different mindset than that followed by a majority of their respective peers, especially as it relates to Mjosgard. As seen in recent One Piece manga chapters, Mjosgard will even go as far as to interfere with the actions of other Celestial Dragons if he deems them to be particularly wrong.
Likewise, Kuzan was often portrayed as having dichotomous views on justice to his colleague, then-Admiral Akainu. One of the most telling moments of this dichotomy is during the aforementioned Oharan Genocide, which saw Akainu sink a civilian ship in case it was hiding any scholars. However, he didn’t know for a fact that scholars were hiding on board at the time.
Meanwhile, Aokiji is seen choosing to allow One Piece’s Nico Robin, then an 8 year old child, to escape from the island with her life out of respect for colleague Jaguar D. Saul. This sets the stage for their eventual conflict years later, which practically decided who would become Fleet Admiral between them, but symbolically represented a battle of beliefs and ideals.
What’s especially interesting is a quote of Oda’s from 2017. He essentially claims that, from his point of view, “the other side of justice is another justice.” While some may interpret this as Oda calling both the World Government and Marines, and pirates justice, there’s actually a more suitable interpretation of these words to the series’ core themes and morals.
Amongst those on the side of purported “justice,” there are those who can be found to be wholly unjust. Likewise, those on the side of purported “injustice” can be found to be equally as just or even more so as those given the label of “justice.” While it’s impossible to say for sure what Oda means in his aforementioned quote (which he asserts is one of the series’ main themes), this interpretation seems to be the most reconcilable with One Piece’s events, characters, and commentary.
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