How Oda designs fights in One Piece

UNDER DOG (AND LOST)

We all played a game level where the boss fights were so freaking hard, we wondered if the game want us to lose.

Some of the best One Piece fight written by Oda is the one where a main character lost. There has to be a reason for it though, and there are ways to execute it properly.

First you have to determine what is your objective. Luffy and Zoro don’t lose very often. When they do, they have to lose to someone that make sense, and the lost would push them forward. So establish power level differences between them right a way using titles, bounty, or whatever (more on that later).

Of course, Zoro is not yet going to be the greatest swordsman in the world right in East Blue. But that fight is everyone’s favorite for many reasons. It shows that even though Zoro has a long way to go, acknowledgement by Mihawk himself makes us feel that he is capable of getting there EVENTUALLY and will not stuck in defeat forever.

So here are some of the options Oda used in fights where main character would lose.

Don’t linger too long with losing fight.

If you are playing a videogame, if the boss you are supposed to let it kicks your ass takes too long to finish the job, it would piss you off. Same thing with manga. I think that exceeding 1 chapter and most reader would expect the main character to win the fight. Oda have some losing fights lasted more than 1 chapter in One Piece, but most of them are just talking. The other side often finished the hero off with 2-3 clean hits.

The power gap also needs to be very high.

If they are almost equal, it doesn’t’ make sense for the main character, who is “good”, to lose without challenging that person again in the next few chapters (I want to mention that I am not including multiple rounds type of fight here). It would just seems like our heroes didn’t try hard enough.

Oda weakened his character a bit before they are about to get into a fight where they will lose

He didn’t do it with Mihawk, but he did it with Kuma, Kizaru, and Magellan (Aokiji too if you think they were exhausted from the fight with Foxy). To have your characters in top condition, not hungry, hadn’t just finished fighting anybody, suddenly lost, would still rub people the wrong way even if the other side is just that powerful.

Would Zoro have lost to Kuma had he not just finished fighting with Moria (and got beaten by Oars zombie multiple times)? May be. But how strong is Kuma supposed to be? He was a Shichibukai, two of which Luffy already defeated. Was Kuma as strong as Mihawk? Why couldn’t Zoro lasted in a fight longer with him? Same thing with Luffy, already tired and hungry when fighting with Magellan. Same thing with the rest of Straw Hat when confronted with Kizaru. Could Kizaru had kicked their asses in their top form then? Probably. But to show it like that is insulting to your own character.

UNDER DOG (AND WIN)

Probably the most fun to read and hardest to write. These are when weaker characters fight with tough enemy and then came out on top. To compare to videogames, these are those “clever boss fight” where you have to press a switch and have the boss electrocute itself or something.

The first rules of underdog fight in One Piece is, make it funny. There are some serious underdog fights and (to me at least) they all came off way too melodramatic. Nami’s fights with both Ms. Doublefinger and Kalifa are hilarious. Same with Usopp vs. Perona. There’s no need to take these kind of fights way too seriously, although some were effective, like Chopper vs. Kumadori.

Speaking of Chopper vs. Kumadori, when the bad guys are signficantly stronger and they are trying to kill you, there’s no need for a fair fight. Unlike the warrior characters, even Deus Ex Machina is welcome. Pull whatever out of your character’s arsenal to win. There’s always a price to be paid of course, which Chopper paid by having to be rescued by Franky and become incapacitated the rest of the arc.

EQUALLY MATCHED

Like Sanji and Jabra, equally matched fights are the most entertaining, but they are the rarest not counting fights with the arc’s big bad.

There hasn’t been a lot probably because of the requirements: the equally matched fight needs to exhaust both sides, and our side needs to come up with brand new forms or moves. Here is the formula.

  • Start the fight with both the villain AND the readers think they are NOT evenly match, with the main character being slightly underestimated
  • Start trading blows, show that our guy is resilience and can cause more damage than anticipated
  • Because the bad guy suddenly feels threatened, want to finish the fight fast, unleashed his/her strongest attack.
  • This is the time our guy unleashed new moves/new power up that more or less finish off the fight

Problem with this formula is, we can’t get new moves all the time. So after Enies Lobby where everybody got new moves, they reused it again in two more arcs before the time skip. Sanji’s fight with Absalom was fine, but it’s more of a comedy routine than a serious fight. Even one chapter fight between Zoro and Zombie Ryuma, as cool as it was, was just a One-Hit KO fight. Here’s hoping that we will finally have a one on one, equally matched longer fight in Wano for Sanji and Zoro (and may be even Jinbei and Franky).

MULTIPLE ROUNDS FIGHT WITH BIG BAD

AKA Luffy’s final fight in some of the longer arc (not all of them). For multiple rounds big bad, I use fighting game like Street Fighter as a guide. Oda often divided the fight into two-three rounds. So Luffy can lose in at least one of the rounds, most likely in Round 1, like with Caesar and Katakuri. With Crocodile he lost both the first two rounds. While with Rob Lucci, Doffy, and even Hody Jones; Luffy didn’t lose at all.

Round 2 is when both sides started to get serious. Who got serious first depended on the outcome of Round 1. If Luffy lost Round 1, in Round 2 he’s the one who becomes serious and gets the upperhand. If Luffy won Round 1 (usually with new power up at the end of the first round, see Gear Third and Gear Fourth) then it is the bad guy’s turn to show new moves to counter in Round 2.

Luffy lost Round 1 to Crocodile, so Round 2 was when he figured that Crocodile’s weakness is water (still lose this round too anyway)

Luffy lost Round 1 to Caesar, so this was the round that he figured out how to keep his distant. Caesar also debut his gas sword thing. But if Monet hadn’t interrupted, Luffy would have finish off Caesar.

Luffy lost Round 1 to Katakuri, Round 2 is the when he started hitting back, but not happy with exploiting Katakuri’s emotional state, he decided to quit the game before log back in.

Luffy (sort of) won Round 1 against Rob Lucci using Gear 3rd, knocking almost unconscious Lucci into the ocean. In Round 2, during their battle over a marine ship, Rob Lucci transformed into half leopard and bit Luffy. With Luffy’s Gear 3rd wore off and being small, Lucci almost finish off Luffy before feeling the pain from Luffy’s attacks earlier and got knocked back. The second round ended with a tie.

Luffy won Round 1 (not counting Law’s tag team attack) with Doflamingo by using Gear Fourth. After some fight in the air, Doflamingo used his awaken power. But it was no matched for Luffy’s Gear 4th anyway. Luffy won the second Round also but at a cost, but Doflamingo is still alive and Luffy is out of energy. Not a good start for third round.

The Third Round, the finale.

This is when the bad guy finally had it with everything and unleashed their final attacks. It has to feel like Luffy is losing the fight though, especially with some of the more evenly matched bosses (not counting the Big Bad that are clearly weaker than him like Hody and Caesar.

The bad guy seemed to have the upperhand.

But then… suddenly.

I also want to add that Luffy is one of the few characters that is always exhausted to his limit several times after his fight, which caused him to be unable to move or even pass out, more than other characters. I don’t remember all of it, but off the top of my head, Don Krieg, Rob Lucci (can’t move), Moria, even Hody Jones, Doflamingo, and Katakuri a little bit.

MIHAWK vs SHANKS! Full length hand drawn chapter!

Do you remember the Rumbar Pirates?