One Piece anime's LGBTQ+ presence shines a light on the difficulty of proper representation
One of the most beloved aspects of creator, author, and illustrator Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece manga and anime series is its unflinching look at real-world issues and problems. From slavery to racism to corrupt governments and everything in between, the series will often pull from real-life tragedy and human error in order to create a compelling story.
While Oda often does a fantastic job of providing consistently serious and meaningful commentary, there are times where some of his commentary gives One Piece fans conflicting messages on real life issues, sometimes to startling extents.
A great example of this contradiction stems from the representation of queer people in the series, achieved through One Piece’s okama folk. Used as a real-life analog to various genderqueer people and others in the LGTBQ+ community, Oda’s analog is unfortunately inconsistent in terms of presentation and message.
One Piece’s conflicting presentation of LGBTQ+ people shows difficulty in balancing jokes with serious commentary
As highlighted in a Reddit post by user u/therealblabyloo, the One Piece anime and manga series can, at times, provide conflicting commentary on genderqueer and other LGBTQ+ folk.
When first introduced, the okama are established as a “radical gender-abolitionist group all about freedom and self expression.”
These values are also representative of the real life morals and goals of the LGBTQ+ movement, given that most people in the LGBTQ+ community rally for the freedom to express themselves without worrying about being judged, shunned, or having their rights taken away from them for doing so.
However, this is in stark contrast to how they’re later portrayed during both One Piece’s Fishman Island saga and the Summit War saga. Here, the group is essentially portrayed as a stereotype for a cheap joke which isn't particularly effective. While humor is obviously subjective, a cheap pop at transphobic humor isn't necessarily the most inventive means of comic relief.
On the other hand, the portrayal of the okama seen in Impel Down is one which symbolizes what most LGBTQ+ folk believe and fight for themselves. Such a great representation juxtaposed with an awful one for cheap laughs makes it even more frustrating. Although readers may disagree about the significance and comedic value of each respective scene, the dichotomous nature of these representations are nevertheless present.
It’s also worth emphasizing that, as fans have seen more of One Piece’s Revolutionary Army, there are plenty of additional great representations of LGBTQ+ folk to point to. However, Oda’s commentary on the matter is undoubtedly haunted by the shoe-horned in portrayal-based "joke," which is both done in general and as a companion to Vinsmoke Sanji’s obsession with women.
To make jokes at the expense of a group of people simply trying to live their lives is inexcusable. While Oda may have been trying to write his series in the way he knows best, it still doesn't justify participation in such behavior. This rings especially true when seeing that Oda is capable of representing such groups both as they deserve and want to be seen.