I can’t be the only one that was weirded out when I first heard about One Piece and discovered that the main character’s power was being made of rubber.
Physically and psychologically, it doesn’t seem like an attractive or powerful trait to give the main character, unlike other shōnen super-powers like fire or raw energy. But I think I just got it. Something that perfectly explains such a weird choice in a main character’s power.
The answer is flexibility. Adaptability. Stretching and filling the missing pieces accordingly. Both rubber and, I believe, Luffy too, can do both of these things. And that, really, is one of the most exciting abilities to give a protagonist: the capability of perfectly adapting to every situation and every foe, thus beating them without fail. What he can’t overcome at first he can simply adapt and win. So what drove me to that conclusion?
A lot of shōnen have transformations for the main character. One Piece has Gears. Since their first introduction, Gears weren’t a linear evolution like DBZ’s SSJ1-SSJ2-SSJ3. No, they filled different purposes. Different holes to be filled. When you need the greatest speed, you have Gear Second.
When you need the greatest impact, you have Gear Third.
When your life is on the line and nothing else will beat the enemy, you can combine gears at the cost of putting your own life at risk. From the get go, gears were about adapting to different challenges. And then came Gear Fourth.
Gear Fourth and its (as of now) three different forms threw a wrench in what people used to think about Gears. Instead of being a single power-up, it’s instead three very different loosely-tied forms that, like the regular gears before it, serve to do different things: Boundman is seemingly the balance between offense and defense, Snakeman is seemingly the offensive form, and Tankman is seemingly the defensive form. And it’s exactly this concept, plus gear combination like we saw in the end of the Thriller Bark arc, that drove me to the conclusion that Luffy’s power of rubber relates to flexibility: by combining different Gears (second or third or both) with different Gear Fourth forms, Luffy can become, by far, the most adaptable fighter in all of One Piece, without even taking things like Devil Fruit Awakening and more Gears into consideration.
Think about it. By counting Gear Second + Third as one “gear”, and combing gears accordingly, he would have a whopping 12 different “forms”. If he needed to beat, in the future, let’s say, Kizaru, who has godlike speed, Luffy could combine Snakeman and Gear Second. If he needed to beat an opponent with immense strength but low defense, he could combine Tankman with Gear Third. If he needed a trump card with every option covered, by combining Boundman with both Gear Second and Third he would have every stat extremely high. If he has to be stealthy and end everything in one blow without alerting the enemy Snakeman + the other two Gears would do the job.
There are so many different possibilities it’s difficult to grasp how many. It would truly bring a whole new level to the iconic phrase he used many times when being shot with bullets: “because (I’m made of) rubber”, this time not to an enemy shooter, but in response to why his opponent lost. Whatever his enemy’s weak point is, he could take advantage of it. By powering up the stat needs the most.
*Theory by Iron_Overheat