As One Piece readers and fans, we all know how the story goes. In the first chapter of One Piece, Luffy end up being captured by Higuma and Shanks had no choice but to save him, losing his arm in the process. Or did he?
This theory and analytical reading cover why I didn’t think he really lost his arm, but gave it away purposely instead. It also tries to discover who Shanks really was and why he made that choice to sacrifice his arm for Luffy that day. You’ll also learn what is Shanks’s power and what really is behind his personal relation with Blackbeard.
It’s a long read, but if you like Shanks and think he’s one of the main key to One Piece mystery, I’m sure you’ll like reading this.
I – Who and what is Shanks?
Shanks power-level when he saved Luffy is an important point of the discussion and a central piece of the whole theory.
Even if we – the readers – never saw Shanks fighting seriously, we all suspect he was one of the strongest character in the One Piece universe at some point. Many hints suggest it to be the case, the biggest clue being that he was Mihawk’s rival at some point.
Mihawk, the powerhouse and fearsome fighter everybody respect, even Doflamingo to some degree, was Shanks’s rival at some point in the story. Mihawk also happens to be the person Roronoa Zoro still dream to beat to this day (let that sink for a minute). If Shanks current power-level is up in the air, because of him missing an arm, there are no doubts he was among the top fighters of his generation before losing it. I read and heard about how he wasn’t that powerful back then or how he maybe wasn’t a Yonkou yet, but don’t be fooled, he was already a beast more than ten years ago.
“If he was already that strong for his age back then, how did he still lose his arm by saving Luffy?”
Many people argue that Shanks, being who he already was at that time, could have avoided to lose its arm while saving Luffy. It’s true that he was already a powerful individual back then, it’s also true the Sea King that ate his arm was kind of weak. If Shanks could have avoided the situation, why did he still lost his arms saving Luffy? At this point, there are many theories out there. Some think he had a short laps of time for saving Luffy and was put in a panic state. Some others think that he had to cover a large amount of distance in the water, in a short time and thus couldn’t avoid the bite from the Sea King… but to me, it’s clearly something else. I think many people understimate the importance of this exact scene and Oda foreshadowing abilities. Shanks clearly decided to give his arm away in that precise moment, I have no doubts about it. The real question is: Why? Why did he decide to gave his arm away?
Shanks being who I think he is, this exact question might be one of the most important in the whole manga and I think we should consider it very seriousely. Before trying to answer this question, we have to understand who and what Shanks exactly is, as a person and as a character.
First, let’s speak about Shanks as a character. Shanks’s past or adventure have rarely been featured in the manga and he has never been the central character of an arc like Doflamingo, Moriah or Ace have been. He is and has always been considered by the author and the readers as a side character. He’s clearly important, but he’s always doing his things mostly outisde of the main plot and don’t partake in the main character’s adventures. Yet, if you really think about it, we know a lot about him and his past. Oda made sure that readers could draw the outline of Shanks’s past and what made him the man he is right now, even if the exact events were rarely featured in the manga. In that regards, he is a rare case among important characters and share this trait with Monkey D. Dragon, another key character, which is pretty telling of Shanks’s importance.
Then, in order to understand his choice to give his arm away for Luffy, we should consider about him as a person. Who exactly was Shanks before losing his arm? We already established Shanks was a powerful individual back then and while we only know small bits of his past, we know two key things about Shanks. The first is, he already fought Blackbeard before losing his arm. We know this because he already had his famous scar more than ten years ago. Keep this in mind as it’s an important piece of Shanks’s life. The second thing we know about him is that he was wearing Gol D. Roger’s strawhat during his time around East Blue. We knew about those Shanks’s features since chapter 1, but Oda waited more than 400 chapters to reveal what those features were and considered them as big reveals. Those two key elements – Shanks’s scar and Roger’s strawhat – are clearly Oda’s messages to the readers. You can read them as Oda telling us something important.
Shanks in the first chapter of One Piece. Wearing Roger’s hat and bearing his famous scar.
Now, let’s deep further in the Rabbit hole. The first important thing to wonder is why was Shanks wearing Gol D. Roger most personal item and an item that seems to hold a special importance in the universe of One Piece ? What Oda was trying to tell to us by making Shanks wearing it and by revealing much later that it was Gol D. Roger personal strawhat before he made it big ? Also, consider this : of all the persons that was close to him, Gol D. Roger chose the young Shanks to wear his strawhat. He didn’t chose Rayleigh (his second-in-command), Ace (his own son), Garp (his well-respected arch enemy), Crocus (his personal medic), Whitebeard (a respected friend and rival) or anyone else. He did chose Shanks of all of them. You may wonder why I’m so sure that Gol D. Roger gave his hat to Shanks personally ? Oda himself gave it away by showing us Shanks wearing Roger’s hat during the battle against Shiki’s fleet, but also at the moment of his exeuction. Oda seems to have put a lot of effort to suggest us, readers and fans, what Shanks was supposed to be at some point and how important the man still is to this day.
Young Shanks wearing Roger’s strawhat during the famous Edd War. Roger was alive and well back then. He didn’t stole it, he didn’t pick it up when Roger was executed, which hint at Roger giving it to him himself.
I’ll take a risk here, but my assumption is that Shanks wasn’t a random lad on Roger’s crew. Shanks wearing Gol D. Roger’s strawhat wasn’t a coincidence at all. At some point and during some time, Shanks was supposed to inherit Gol D. Roger will or at least thought so himself. Shanks was strong, Shanks was inspirational, Shanks was loyal, Shanks was young, Shanks was kind-hearted… He also was part of Roger’s Crew. Shanks was the Pirate King prime candidate for some years.
One of the biggest hint we have about this assumption is that Shanks was – and still is – Luffy’s role model. The future Pirate King, Luffy, looks upon Shanks and he always did. Why ? It’s not because Shanks is an chill guy or a pirate, it’s because Shanks represented what Luffy dreamed to become : a strong contender for the title or Pirate King, if not the Pirate King himself. That’s what Luffy saw in Shanks and probably what a lot of people thought back then when meeting him. Remember Luffy never said he wanted to be like Roger. Shanks he’s the person he looks upon. Luffy is after Roger’s title, but Shanks is his source of inspiration at a personal level.
Oda own’s words : Luffy wanted to be exactly like Shanks in the future. Shanks is established by the author himself to be Luffy’s role model, not just a figure he respects, like Rayleigh, Ace or Roger.
I think it’s clear Shanks wanted to be the next Pirate King after Gol D. Roger. He seemed to like Roger a lot, being one of the rare individual Oda did show us to cry at Roger’s execution. There are no doubts to me he wanted to pursue Roger’s will at some point and that implies being the next Pirate King himself. We can see it in the way Oda depicted Shanks at Roger’s execution. He’s wearing Roger’s hat and touching it, all the while having his fist closed on his chest, exactly where his heart is. You all know what that means, Shanks decided to carry Roger’s will from this point.
Oda’s clue about Shanks’s drive, goal and destiny after Gol D. Roger’s execution.
That’s not all, of course. We have another hint about Shanks’s past ambition to be the next Pirate King. This hint is coming from Rayleigh himself. He gave it away when he was speaking to Luffy back in Shabondy. Rayleigh told Luffy that Shanks was one of the few people still alive today that “took something from what Roger said that day”. By “that day” Rayleigh means Roger’s execution. We know Shanks was here and thanks to Rayleigh, it confirms that Shanks decided something on that day, thanks to Roger’s words. To me, there are no doubts he decided to be the next pirate king that day.
Rayleigh speaking about Shanks’s past ambition. Again, is it a coincidence ? You decide.
Oda threw one last hint at Shanks’s past ambition. It’s subtle, but it tells a lot. In the chapter 0, we can see a young Shanks searching for comrades and talking to Yassop. It’s only one panel, but it’s a very important one. Like I said, it’s a subtle hint, but that panel should remember you two things : Roger meeting Rayleigh and Luffy on the first day of his adventures. On the respective start of their own adventures, Roger, Shanks and finally Luffy started the same way : close to sea, with the same strawhat, searching for comrades. Sure, that’s probably how most pirates started their own adventures, but still, Oda decided to draw an obvious parallel and this small hint adds up nicely with the two above. Oda is telling us Shanks was in Roger’s steps, just like Luffy was at the start of his adventures. He wanted to conquer Grand Line and be the Pirate King, just like Roger did and just like Luffy wants to do.
“There is not such thing as coincidence in this world. As though it was always meant to be… Towards becoming a man worthy of that hat he wears” – Rayleigh own words, chapter 603.
The second important point about Shanks is less a risk and more an analytical reading. Oda made it sure that readers knew Shanks already had his famous scar in the first chapter of One Piece, more than ten years ago and before losing his arm. Remember that Oda waited 434 chapters before revealing the meaning behind this scar and Shanks’s own relation to Blackbeard. It’s not a random piece of the lore, it’s an important piece of the puzzle and was considered as a big reveal by Oda. Why is it important ? Keep reading and you’ll know.
II – Shanks’ relation to Blackbeard
Shanks alone isn’t the key. The real key to Shanks’s reasons for giving his arm away is his personal relation to one particular character: the infamous Blackbeard. Again, there’s no big assumptions here, just analytical reading.
I’ll list here key-moments in the story of One Piece that Shanks was present and weighted :
- He was Luffy mentor for sometimes and decided to give-up his arm to save the future Pirate king.
- He’s probably one of the first who fought Blackbeard after he was done hiding his true-self and was also one the first to realize how dangerous he was.
- He tried to make Whitebeard stop Ace during his chase for Blackbeard, in fear of what could happen.
- He stopped the Marineford War before it went too far.
- He had what seems to be a very important discussion with the Goroseï about a certain “pirate”.
You can note that Shanks was always here at the right time and at the right moment, again something he seems to share with Monkey D. Dragon. Almost like he could feel things going south or something important happening, right? We will come back to it soon. The other thing you should notice is all those events are connected to Blackbeard himself.
Think about it for a minute. Who’s the rival of Shanks protege? Who made Shanks suffered a big scar on his face, a scar that still itches him to this day? Who Ace was atfer? Who did he stop exactly during the Marineford war? Even if that one is still up in the air right now, who do you think Shanks was speaking about during his meeting with the Five elder stars? You got it, all the above mentioned events are related to Marshall D. Teach. Put in other words, Shanks activities and attention seem to revolve around stopping Blackbeard from achieving his goals.
Like I said earlier in this demonstration, we know quite a lot about Shanks. Shanks had three important moments in his pirate life. One is Gol D. Roger execution, the other is his fight with Blackbeard and the last is, of course, giving his arm (and Roger’s hat!) away for Luffy. Yet, despite all those big events (and probably many others we don’t know about), the only thing he can stop caring about and focusing on is Blackbeard. Shanks is one of the most important and powerful character in the universe of One Piece and yet, he’s focusing on Blackbeard all the time, even more than he’s focusing on Luffy.
Shanks own words about what his main concern is: Blackbeard and in full killer/serious-mode.
Don’t forget that Shanks went very far and took great risks to prevent the current chain of events we all know by now. He went into a dangerous warzone to stop Blackbeard from destroying everything with his new powers during the Marineford war. He held a meeting with the most powerful character in the world, Whitebeard, a rival to him, just to try to stop Ace from meeting Blackbeard. He met the Five Elder Stars alone, in one of the most dangerous place for a wanted pirate of his caliber, just to speak about a “certain pirate”.
During the Marineford war, Blackbeard said it wasn’t the time to fight Shanks, almost like he knew Shanks would be in his path at some point. Even Blackbeard himself is aware Shanks goal is to prevent him reaching his goals, even though he didn’t know Shanks realized a long time ago he wasn’t the man that would stop him. It’s quite blatant and clear that Blackbeard hold an important place in Shanks’s life and is a central piece of his activity as an influencial character.
Blackbeard telling Shanks it’s too early for their ultimate fight. Even Teach seems aware of Shanks desire to stop him.
III – Shanks’ Ability
If you read everything until now, you must remember when I said that, sometimes, it was like if Shanks could read things. Like Shanks could feel events going south or something important happening. I think that’s exactly it: Shanks has the ability to foresee what could happen. If I’m right, it’s not just pure instinct or haki shenaningans, I believe Shanks has a special kind of ability that allow him to see or feel the threads of destiny in the universe of One Piece.
It might sounds or read crazy, but there are two big blatant give-away when it comes to Shanks’s abilities.
The biggest give-away is clearly how he tried to stop Ace. Think about it for a minute. Why does he think it’s important to stop Ace ? It doesn’t make any senses if you don’t know what would happen next. It seems logical and obvious to us, readers, that Ace shouldn’t have fought Blackbeard. We, as ubiquitous readers, know the finality of this chain of events. However, this same chain of events shouldn’t be that obvious to Shanks. How was Shanks certain Ace would lose to Blackbeard ? Sure, Shanks fought Blackbeard before, but it was more than 10 years ago and Ace was one of the most gifted fighter of his generation. Most reader understimate who Ace is. His devil fruit was no joke (Blackbeard wanted it for his crew), he was a fighting genius, was said to be stronger than even Luffy. He also feared nothing, had a lot of heart, was proposed as a Shichibukai at a very young age and became one of Whitebeard captain early in his days. Yet, for some reasons we can’t expain yet, Shanks was confident Ace would lose against Blackbeard. He was so sure of it, he decided to go on enemy territory and face the most powerful character in the world : Whitebeard, just in order to try to stop Ace’s crusade. Again, how has he so sure of the outcome? Was he just anxious?
Shanks asks Whitebeard to stop Ace.
Let’s also not forget that Blackbeard is a clumsy fighter and almost died many times because of it. In the light of all those elements, how was Shanks so sure Blackbeard would beat the powerful Ace, the prodigy of his generation ? Another key thing to keep in mind is that Shanks never said that he wanted to stop Blackbeard from capturing Ace, he said he was here to stop Ace from fighting Blackbeard, which is not the same thing and one of the most important distinction to make ! How was he certain of Blackbeard’s plan to deliver Ace to the government ? Remember that it was Ace who was after Blackbeard, not the other way around ! Blackbeard is also an impredictable man. With that in mind, how was Shanks certain Ace would be condemned to death after his capture ? How was he sure the government would take the risk to start a big war with Whitebeard by executing Ace ? The government could have let Ace rot in a cell, like many other dangerous criminal. They could have decided to give Ace back to Whitebeard for diplomatic reasons and to preserve the World balance. How was he certain Garp would not have weighted in the government decision, since the last raised Ace like his own son ? There were many outcomes, but Shanks only saw and focused on one of them. The most rational explanation to all those puzzling questions is Shanks somehwat saw what would happen if Ace was to met and fight Blackbeard. Shanks saw it.
The other rather big give-away is Shanks’s own words during the Marineford arc. Shanks himself said to Coby that his intervention during Aka Inu rampage “greatly changed the fate of the world”.
Shanks himself give a strong hint about his own power.
Of all the characters in One Piece, Oda chose Shanks to said those exact words. How did Shanks know, at this moment, that Coby intervention changed the fate of the world if he can’t somewhat see threads of destiny ? Why Oda chose those exact words ? Is that just a mere coincidence Shanks’s own words collaborate what Oda is hinting about Shanks abilities from the first chapter ? It isn’t a coincidence, it’s another clue about Shanks’s ability. Of course, there are others subtle hints about his abilities, like how he didn’t even try to stop the admiral from attacking Law’s submarine during Marineford arc, like he was sure Luffy would make it. We can also speak about how he appeared at the right time before Higuno cut Luffy into pieces.
Again, Shanks showing at the right, at the right moment, just when Higuno decided to kill Luffy.
A woman who can see into the future, a man who seem to have destiny on his side and an other man who seems to be able to feel things happening.
All in all, why does Shanks ability matter that much ? It’s because I think Shanks ability have a lot to do with the decision he made when giving his arm away for Luffy. We’ll cover it in the next and final point.
IV – Shanks’ Real Reasons
Now that we’re deep in this lore rabbit hole, let’s get to the most interesting part. What were Shanks’s own personal reasons to give his arm away for Luffy and why did he decided to gift Roger’s hat to him?
Remember, this is Roger’s hat Shanks is giving to Luffy, not his own. It’s not a random gift, given by a random person to random fellow. This scene hold a special importance.
If Shanks made those two important decisions, it’s because something moved him deeply beforewise. The event that moved him is clearly his fight with Blackbeard. It’s one of the most important event of the whole manga and yet, we don’t know a lot about it. We don’t know why they fought, we don’t know the context and we don’t know who won, who lost. We only know Shanks got his famous scar in this fight and that Blackbeard somewhat survived the encounter. We also know that it made Shanks realized how and why Blackbeard was a dangerous individual. One of the key element is to remember Shanks fought Blackbeard before meeting Luffy, since he already had his scar.
During his fight with Blackbeard, something clearly happened within Shanks. We can only speculate from there, but I think Shanks probably gave up his claim to the Pirate’s crown after his fight with Blackbeard. Like he said himself during his meeting with Whitebeard “he – Shanks – wasn’t careless or anything”, implying that Shanks wasn’t just lacking sheer power, but that Blackbeard will and drive was just on another level. I think Shanks realized during his fight againt Blackbeard he wasn’t the right man to deal with Teach. Not because Shanks wasn’t strong enough, he was strong enough, but because strength and power weren’t the only elements needed to stop Blackbeard.
Shanks hinting, two times, in the same conversation, that strength and power aren’t enough to stop Blackbeard.
There’s another hint Oda gave away about Blackbeard’s fate and the fact that strength alone isn’t enough : his fight againt Ace on Banaro Island. We already established that Ace was a powerful individual, way more powerful that readers often credit him for. Remember that he was Luffy’s older and more gifted brother, with a Logia and the young man who carried Roger’s own blood in his veins. You think Luffy is strong ? Ace was stronger than him and probably had more potential. Ace was strong enough. He was at least at Blackbeard’s level and the match could have been a tie, like it was shown in the last panel of their fight. Remember that Ace landed some big hits on Blackbeard, almost killing him two times… Blackbeard could have lost this day, but he didn’t. Oda made Van Auger said something interesting that day, something that is another hint about Blackbeard’s fate.
“Today is another of fate’s crossroads”… “Another” ? Is Van Auger refering to the battle between Shanks and Blackbeard, when fate also favoured Teach ?
Like when he was fighting Shanks, Blackbeard had fate on his side, one more time, during his fight against Ace. Ace could have been stronger than Blackbeard that day, he would still have lost the match because of Blackbeard’s drive and fate. Like Ace, Shanks was strong enough, probably stronger than Ace was back then. Despite his power-level, Shanks couldn’t stop Blackbeard neither because of his own destiny. Shanks’s destiny wasn’t to be the next Pirate King, he was wrong about who and what he was. His role was to find Gol D Roger successor, Blackbeard’s nemesis. That’s what he was doing in Eastblue, he was searching for Gol D. Roger true successor, someone who inherited Roger’s will and someone young enough that he could put on the right path. That’s also the reason he didn’t tried to end Blackbeard at Marineford, again, it wasn’t his role.
Why put Luffy on the right path you may ask ? That’s where my speculation kicks in. Bear with it, I’m sure you will be interested.
Shanks’s ability to foresee uncoming events or glimpse of the future is probably a power he had for a long time. Early in his life, Shanks foresaw a big threat to the world in a person he couldn’t name or a face he couldn’t picture back then because his visions weren’t (and still aren’t) that precise. Shanks’s ability isn’t without flaws. He’s not really able to see the future that clearly, it’s probably more like Shirley’s own power. He probably has some misty, dream-like visions of different events happening. He didn’t see Luffy being captured in the first chapter for exemple. He was in a genuine state of panic when it happened. He didn’t foresee Blackbeard put a scar on him neither and probably though he had a chance to stop him. Think about him having recurring nightmares or visions instead of being able to really see in the future. The only thing he knew about the entity he kept seeing in his nightmares was that it was an evil power and that it would burn the world if let loose. Shanks held this fear for himself for a long time, thinking it was probably just a mere possibility rather than a future set in stone. That’s what he thought until he met that entity that had haunted him for a long time, until he met this evil threat in flesh and bones. The person he feared for his whole life was one of Whitebeard’s crew member : Blackbeard and he realized it the moment he fought him.
During his fight with Blackbeard, Shanks certainly saw the evil within Blackbeard, that same evil he feared for a long time. He also saw greed and pure selfishness in Blackbeard. He met someone with such a dark drive and such a destructive destiny, that even the top fighter he was back then wasn’t able to stop him. Shanks faced his own devils that day. He tried hard to stop Blackbeard… He kept coming at him with everything he had, but Blackbeard was still standing, despite Shanks unleashing everything he had in him. Shanks threw his heart into what he tought was the fight of his time. It was his fight against the evil entity he feared for a long time. Powerful slash, earth-shattering punches, swordmaster skills, dirty tricks… Shanks did everything he could and yet, despite Blackbeard being less powerful than him, the last still survived his fight against one of the most powerful and gifted individual in the universe of One Piece at that time. Exactly like he survived against Whitebeard, Magellan, Ace and Sengoku. It’s at that precise moment Shanks realized that strength and power wouldn’t be enough to stop the evil within Blackbeard…
Deeply moved by this event, Shanks was forced to admit only someone with an equal drive and a similar destiny would be able to stop Blackbeard. He realized this hypothetical individual wasn’t him, but a little lad we all know. Luffy was strong-willed, Luffy was pure, Luffy was loyal to his friend, Luffy was brave, Luffy wanted to be Shanks and Luffy was a D. exactly like Blackbeard. Luffy’s also the true opposite of Blackbeard, like Oda clearly hinted during Jaya (again, not a coincidence).
Oda hinting at Teach and Luffy being the perfect opposite.
It’s true nothing indicate you have to be a D. to inherit Roger’s will, but it seems the “D.” people fare good against eachothers. It’s also important to understand that not all powerful characters care about the One Piece or dream to be the Pirate King. Whitebeard wasn’t after it, Ace wasn’t after it, Mihawk probably could care less, so does Zoro and it’s the same for many other important characters. Luffy isn’t just a D. or Blackbeard opposite, he also shares the same dream as Teach : finding the One Piece and be the next Pirate King. Luffy has a lot going for him in Shanks’s eyes. Luffy wasn’t just Shanks’s little fellow, like Shanks wasn’t just a random lad in Roger’s crew. Luffy was and still is Shanks’s perfect counter-measure against Blackbeard.
However, betting on Luffy wasn’t enough. The pirate world is rough, rotten and unforgiving. Shanks didn’t want Luffy to end up like Teach. He didn’t want his protege to be become the worse kind of pirate you can find. By losing his arm, Shanks did teach an important lesson to Luffy that he still follows to this day : your friend matters more than you and you need to be able to sacrifice yourself for others or the greater good. Something Blackbeard would never do. It’s the clear line between Blackbeard and Luffy, Blackbeard is selfish and rotten to the core, while Luffy is willing to give it all to save his friends, mostly because Shanks is like that himself.
You can spit on Shanks, you can clash a bottle on his face, you can insult him all day, but dare to touch one of his friend and he will unlesh hell on you. Something he thought Luffy by paying the price of flesh and blood.
This important lesson is the entire reason why Shanks decided to bet his arm on Luffy. Shanks didn’t lose its arm, he gave it away to make sure Luffy would end on the right path. I would like to quote another great character from a manga I like alot : Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist. Here’s what Edward said “There’s no such thing as a painless lesson… they just don’t exist. Sacrifices are necessary“. A quote that fits what Shanks did when he sacrificed his arm for teaching Luffy an important lesson. We all should keep in mind that sacrificing yourself for others is at the center of One Piece and Oda’s own philosphy. Whitebeard sacrificing himself to save Ace, Ace dying for Luffy, Luffy willing to die for his comrades… I also don’t think it’s a coincidence if Oda himself admitted Shanks was the character that resembles himself the most (SBS, volume 24).
Characters in One Piece are driven and certainly extremes. Shanks is exactly like that, he’s driven and willing to jump into extremes to pursue his goals. He already displayed a strong drive, his powerful haki alone being a testimony of the heart he has. By losing his arm for Luffy, he made sure his own sacrifice and pain was given in exchange of teaching Luffy a very important lesson that day and made sure Luffy will stay on the right path. That’s an extreme measure, but that’s what One Piece is about, giving it all. That’s what kind of a great man Shanks is.
*Theory by Demise