Why Tama’s connection to Ace is so important for Luffy in Wano

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.

O-Tama’s Story

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.

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