Has any character divided an anime fandom as completely and utterly as One Piece’s Sanji? The answer is probably yes.
But why is Sanji – and Sanji in particular – so frustrating? It’s a curious combination of excellent character design, unfortunate running gags, and frustratingly wasted potential. Amongst the Strawhats, he is both the character who gets some of the best one-liners and panels, and the one who would most habitually make me want to run into the next room. Which is quite a feat!
So. What better way to have some catharsis and bring peace to an already contentious topic than to rank the best and worst arcs?
It’s obvious to say before the start that all of these opinions are subjective. With a story as complex and wide-ranging as One Piece it’s possible to remove from original context and oversimplify and-
Oh who cares let’s start with the worst.
Oda! Come pick up your character, he’s making a mess on Aisle 13.
Two years after we last see our crew united, Sanji immediately KOs himself through a nosebleed by looking at a mermaid. We love character development!
I do not care that this incident serves as an introduction to the intricate caste system on Fishman Island. I simply do not care. Having your top-3 character nerf himself with a misogynistic gag is just bad writing. Has a person ever come so dangerously close to shutting the manga and walking away 600 chapters in? Come so close to learning Japanese just to personally write to Oda? I honestly doubt it.
I would say more about this arc but I’ve already forgotten it.
Marineford/Post-Timeskip/New World liminal space
We started so well in Sabaody with the Strawhats sacrificing themselves for each other, and then immediately nosedived into Sanji-hates-okama territory. Which isn’t exactly unexpected. But while some would find this (hell, expect this) to be a wonderful character-building experience – maybe for a certain character to overcome his prejudices and for Oda to wipe out the by-now-dated joke once and for all – it instead comes back stronger than ever. It’s sort of a shame.
This all wouldn’t be quite so bad if weren’t for the fact, as others have noted, that we simply haven’t seen any real benefit to being on ‘Hell Island’. While others have found unique developments – even in less-than-ideal situations – here it’s another case of the gag coming in the way of the plot. Sanji’s character never seems to move past this – at least, not yet, and it’s looking unlikely.
Just when we have the chance to redeem Sanji in the New World, the Punk Hazard bodyswitching incident happens. I would be concerned if I had to explain why Sanji entering Nami’s body (metaphorically?) was weird, but just in case we’ve forgotten: within minutes of being within his beloved, he’s trying to take nudes. Zeff’s respect for women shines bright in his adopted son!
This arc does have its redeeming moments. Chivalrous Sanji makes an appearance (rescuing Tashigi and, um, a samurai’s head). There is also something wonderfully cathartic in seeing a character achieving his demented dream, having Nami send Zoro with him so that he’ll be too busy arguing to fulfil the creepy part, and immediately having it work. The bodyswapping in general is a clever dynamic – it’s interesting to see how individual characters respond to physical limitations – but there’s definitely something unsettling about a guy being very happy to be bodyswapped with a woman.
Although, quite frankly, Smoker in Tashigi’s body disturbed me more.
So many good moments arise in this arc – Zoro v Kuma being the pinnacle (hey, remember Sanji was there for that?). And, self-interested as it may be, crashing Nami’s wedding doesn’t seem like such a bad thing – maybe this could be the much-awaited turnaround?
Then, mid-fight, we are introduced to the wonderful fact that Sanji has always wanted the invisibility fruit. Why? To spy on naked women.
Ah, One Piece. You play with my emotions.
Katie Knight (@codaevermore) is a Classics grad and librarian working in the UK. She spent her first lockdown discovering the Death Note Musical. She’s spending her second lockdown trying to catch up on 5 years of One Piece (before its 1000th chapter).