I can’t be the only one curious about O-Tama and her eventual role in the Wano arc. Yes, her Kibi Dango ability has potential to turn the tides of the war by converting SMILE users, but what I’m more interested in is her connection to Ace and why her story with him is significant.
I haven’t really seen any good theories on how this will play out besides the “Luffy will take Ace’s place as her role model” theory, which I do think is a strong possibility, but I wanted to explore her character from a thematic angle and write a quick character piece on her and how she relates to Luffy.
Death, Loss and Honor
I want to start by focusing on one of the central themes of Wano: death and its effect on both the land and its people.
Wano is a land suffering from tremendous loss, and Oda showcases that it’s explicitly because of these losses that Wano, as a country, is falling. Kozuki Oden is the main one, with Luffy explaining that even he’s noticed that the land stopped moving forward when Oden was killed. There are also great figures of the past, Hyougoro and Yasuie, who have fallen, left shadows of their former selves and rotting away either in prison or cursed by the SMILEs.
The island of Wano has lost many of its proud samurai and even the land itself is dying, with Kaido’s factories poisoning the food, river, and animal life to the point where only wastelands remain.
Death is present in every corner of Wano.
However, while Oda is exploring the idea of death and its effect through this arc, he’s also made a point to display an equally captivating portrayal of what it means to honor those who have fallen.
The entire Raid on Onigashima, planned by the Scabbards, and their wish to open Wano’s borders, is their way of honoring Oden’s legacy; the people of Ringo were buried with their swords so that those same weapons can one day be picked back up and have the wills of their previous owners join the fight; Ashura Doji showed Kin the burial site of those who fell during their time jump in order for Kin to understand the significance of what they’re doing; and, likely the biggest one, the Fire Festival is a ceremony whose specific purpose is to honor and remember the dead.
Death and honor; two ideas that, in Wano, go hand in hand. Two very central themes that I want to use to now explore O-Tama’s character, because an interesting connection between her and Luffy arises when you look at it from this angle.
To recap O-Tama’s story for those who don’t fully remember the details, she was living as a poor child in Amigasa Village when Ace washed ashore on Kuri beach after getting shipwrecked. He showed himself to be a benevolent pirate, let them eat the food he had, and took him upon himself to find more after they were done. He bonded with Tama specifically, she taught him how to make Amigasa hats, and she made the promise that one day, she’ll grow up to become an enchanting kunoichi and join Ace’s crew.
As we all know, Ace died at Marineford, and this is where the theme of death comes in. O-Tama learns through Luffy that Ace has passed and will be unable to keep his promise to her and return to Wano, which was the entire reason why she was still living in Amigasa Village. This was a great character moment for Luffy because it showed that he’s fully accepted Ace’s death, but poor Tama was devastated. The most poignant line of dialogue that resulted from this for me comes from Chapter 912, when Tama says that Luffy can’t understand her feelings that arose by learning that Ace has died. At first, this is played for laughs because Luffy is Ace’s brother and Tama doesn’t know this so he obviously would understand how she feels better than anyone, but it actually goes much deeper than that. The reality is that Luffy, like Tama, knows exactly how it feels to have Ace break a promise by dying.
Ace’s Promises to Luffy and it’s relevance to Wano
During Luffy and Ace’s flashback, we learn that Ace once promised Luffy that he would never die, a promise that he obviously failed to keep. However, this promise is much more layered when you take into account the dynamic the two brothers had.
Luffy has been chasing Ace his entire life. When they were younger, Ace was always the superior fighter, and when Luffy first set out to be a pirate, he did so with every intention of catching up to Ace despite his older brother’s three year head start. When the two meet in Alabasta, it’s established that Ace is still stronger than Luffy and when Ace departs, he promises Luffy that the two will meet again at the top of the pirate world. Luffy accepts because one of his goals since he was a child is to one day be stronger than Ace, and the two brothers depart with this promise at heart.
However, Ace dies at Marineford; ironically meeting his brother at the top of the pirate world, but before Luffy is strong enough to uphold his end of the promise. When Ace dies in Luffy’s arms, he’s doing much more than breaking a promise, he’s robbing Luffy of the satisfaction of one day being able to surpass his brother. This is, in part, what makes Ace’s death so tragic, but it deepens the connection between Luffy and O-Tama because Ace’s death results in the same thing for both characters: a broken promise.
What I find amazing is that Oda chose to bring Ace back into the story in Wano, because Wano is the point in Luffy’s journey where he’s finally set to surpass Ace in terms of strength. Right now, with Luffy being commander level, one can argue that he’d be an even match for Ace, but after Kaido goes down, Luffy will have risen to a level Ace has never achieved. Ace was never able to beat Whitebeard, but Luffy will have beaten Kaido. Finally, Luffy will be stronger than his older brother, and his brother won’t be around to see it.
This is why O-Tama is so important. In an arc that has such a strong thematic focus on honoring the dead; with a festival specifically designed to remember those who have passed; at the point in the story where Luffy is finally poised to surpass his older brother, something he’s been wanting to do since his childhood; with Ace dead, O-Tama is the only character who’ll be able to relate to Luffy on this specific level because she too had a promise broken by Ace’s death. Together, the pair will honor Ace during the arc’s conclusion, and Luffy will take Ace’s place as her role model. This is also why Oda had Luffy use Red Hawk specifically to rescue O-Tama, in order to establish this connection.
Thematically, this is also the perfect time for Luffy to visit Ace’s grave, which is likely the message Marco wanted Nekomamushi to relate to Luffy. Now that Luffy has finally caught up to Ace, it’s time for the brother to meet one final time, at the top of the pirate world, just like they promised.
*Theory by Therrester