In Chapter 1044 Luffy regains consciousness as the Five Elders reveal that for 800 years since the World Government’s founding, they’ve been trying to get ahold of the Gomu Gomu no Mi, but somehow, it keeps avoiding them, like it has a mind of its own.
That’s when they reveal the truth: The Gomu Gomu no Mi is actually a Mythical Zoan Devil Fruit called the “Hito Hito no Mi, Model: Nika”! According to them, this Devil Fruit gives one the properties of rubber in combat only limited by the user’s imagination, and the user brings smiles to people far and wide; the embodiment of “the Warrior of Liberation.” Awakening it, however, is said to strengthen their rubbery body exponentially and grant them more freedom, causing them to declare the Devil Fruit to be the most ridiculously powerful thing in the world!
The Awakening of the Hito Hito no Mi, Model: Nika, grants Luffy’s rubber body increased strength and freedom. One of the most notable feature of the awakened form is granting cartoon-like effects, not only to Luffy, but also to their opponent, an example being eye-popping effects.
It allows him to do Gear Third like body inflation without physically pumping air, which he first used against Kaidou. He was able to increase his arm to an enormous size in order to grab Kaidou’s transformed body and drag him up out of the Skull Dome. With his enlarged limbs Luffy could manhandle Kaidou despite his enormous size, swinging him from side to side.
Luffy’s rubbery nature can be extended into the environment around him, as seen when Luffy lifted up a section of roof and used it to repel Kaidou’s Boro Breath back at him.
This chapter tied so many things together. Open plot points that spam at least since Skypiea with the campfire dance. An explanation for Luffy’s greatest power of bringing people together and making allies. A hint of who Joy Boy was and of what happened during the Void Century. Hell, something that ties together the entire story since Orange Town with Luffy liberating the town from Morgan’s oppression. One Piece revolves around the Straw Hats going from place to place and helping people, freeing them from bandits and tyrants, and Luffy embodying the Warrior of Liberation suddenly changes our perception of the entire story, and in a good way, in my opinion.
And the best part is that it did all of that without really changing Luffy’s powers or changing who he is. Gear 5 is pretty much exactly what everyone always thought Luffy’s Awakening should be. Complete control over his rubber body + environmental rubber changes. The only difference is that Oda has given a reason behind it.
Luffy is still a rubber man, except now he has a lot more control over his powers, being able to change his body at will without having to blow air and without having to coat his body with Haki, as well as being able of turning other things into rubber. Not only that but it also explains his insane durability which is a characteristic of Zoans, as well as his Gears (let’s face it, Gear 4 has always looked weird and even Hyogoro mentioned that he looked like a god in that form).
And he is still the Luffy we’ve always known. Someone who wants to be the freest person in the world. Except that now we know Luffy’s also inherited Nika’s will, which goes well with the underlying theme of inherited will throughout the story. From Luffy’s perspective, nothing will change, from other people’s perspective, he has now become the biggest threat to the balance of power in the One Piece world.
Truly a great moment to be reading One Piece.