I knew something like this would come sooner than later for Marimo, but it was woven excellently here, at the apex of Zoro vs King, an arduous showdown that will test his limits and push him forward towards his goal of becoming the strongest, and King is proving a worthy obstacle.
King receives further exposition on his race and what they are about by Queen, who responds to Zoro’s earlier claim that they would defeat the Calamities, rebuts that Zoro has no hope of defeating King, which adds further dread to Zoro’s situation. The Lunarians were hailed as these gods who could survive in any harsh circumstances, and adapt to them. There’s still more to the Lunarians, as we do not know what exterminated them long ago, but King is a living example of what they are capable of. His ability to survive any condition is in full display as well, as he takes some of Zoro’s most potent attacks like nothing, and even survives a giant explosion he fashioned in order to destroy Zoro completely, while he naturally adapts to it with whatever allows him to.
King gives Zoro what is arguably his toughest battle to date, with a brutality and ferociousness not seen from anyone else Zoro has faced off. He ping pongs Zoro all throughout Onigashima, and taunts him for losing control of his sword. Oda’s art is on point for both combatants. King is so overwhelming; he nearly breaks Zoro’s morale.
Zoro nearly loses all of his swords during his battle against King, and reflects on them. For the Sandai Kitetsu, he remembers when he first tested the sword’s “curse” and the real start of his journey as a Straw Hat and to the Grandline. In many ways, it represents the journey through the Grandline the most of all his swords, as it was the first gift and challenge, he had to face in the harsh sea. It has been with him through thick and thin, and it puzzles me why anyone would want him to part with it at this stage.
Wado Ichimonji represents his bond and his promise to Kuina to become the strongest swordsman. Zoro once again shows the most affinity for Wado Ichimonji, as it is his last memento of his late friend, and to lose that sword would be like losing his friend all over again. Oda masterfully expresses that in these panel sequences, as if Zoro is desperately trying to reach out to Kuina herself. He has never looked this compromised since perhaps his crushing defeat at the hands of Mihawk, which expresses how crucial this battle is towards his evolution.
And finally, Enma has him reflect on an event we did not get to see: his encounter with Shimotsuki Kozaburo. Kozaburo’s words to Zoro act as a parallel to Koshiro’s advice. Koshiro’s belief is that a sword is something used to protect, and a sword which cuts everything isn’t truly a sword. Kozaburo’s perspective is less idealistic and more realistic. A sword is designed with the intent to kill, but it is up to the right owner to make the best use of it. These philosophies, in some fashion, represents the twin blades crafted by Shimotsuki Kozaburo. Wado Ichimonji, the sword of protection, and Enma, the sword of destruction.
Swords choose their wielders, and Enma has chosen Zoro, however, he has been unwittingly fighting against the blade. Zoro allowed himself to doubt his sword, and instead of fighting and trusting it with his haki, his will, he thought too pragmatically about conserving his strength. As if the task and pressure laid upon him have had an adverse effect on his resolve and confidence in his ability, and faith in his swords. That shaky confidence had manifest in secret over the course of One Piece, specifically whenever Zoro is training and criticizing his abilities. It is a wall he has needed to desperately climb over.
A likely catalyst for this complex could be a result of losing his childhood friend and greatest rival in such a mundane fashion. That no matter all his training and determination, he will fall short simply because he is human, and his life is fragile and meaningless in the grand scheme.
Earlier during the Wano Arc, Zoro met with Gyukimaru. He states that Zoro does not understand the true value of Shusui. And at the time, he did not. Zoro hadn’t fully understood his swords were his companions, and not just tools. He failed to recognize what Shusui may have wanted in all this, and only what he did. He’s come to understand Enma wishes to fight alongside him, and to trust it. It wants to liberate Wano and avenge the loss of its previous owner. But it cannot if Zoro continues to doubt himself and it.
Zoro reflects back on his first joining Luffy after his Conqueror’s Haki awakening. Zoro’s motivation for becoming the World Strongest Swordsman have evolved because of the people who have affected him the most. It was first Kuina passing away and succumbing to her mortality, forcing Zoro to adopt two wills and become the best not just for his, but her sake. Zoro chose to roam the world as a bounty hunter. He was the Ronin, the Masterless Samurai. He did not care for anyone else’s business should they get in the way of his and his late friend’s ambition. But his meeting with Luffy changed him. Zoro had now become the Samurai, dedicated to his lord, and befitting his potential origins from Wano. He promised Luffy that he would be the best swordsman, and to aid the future Pirate King, he couldn’t be anything less. Zoro abandons all his inhibitions and becomes the truest version of himself. A King who has become a sword for another.
Off the back of countless adventures with his friends and crewmates, Zoro stands taller and prouder than he has ever been. After deep reflection within himself and his past, he embraces the inner conqueror within. The one who still has a promise to complete.