In this post, I hope I can show you that Oda takes full advantage of the Japanese language and the manga format to imbue multiple layers of meanings and symbolism to enrich his story and the payoff when everything comes together is simply mind-blowing.
I am fairly certain Oda has been planning for Nika, aka sun-god, aka Joy Boy, who has the most ridiculous/silly power since the very beginning, and he’s been dropping hints in plain sight since page 1 of chapter 1. In fact, I’m fairly certain Oda has been trolling us all this time and we are all in a big joke years in the making.
Significance of Nika. For this to make sense, keep in mind that in Japanese, Nika (ニカ) is the sound effect of someone smiling.
- Nika and Roger. Look at page 1 of chapter 1, where Roger is smiling before his death.
At the time, most people thought he smiled with sfx ニヤ (Ni-Ya). It’s more of a sly/cunning smile or a smirk, but is it too far-fetched to read it as a stylized ニカ(Ni-Ka)？ It’s ambiguous but it’s also something an author trolling the readers would do. And remember, Oda is someone who names characters like Imu-sama (イム) to simultaneously symbolize Buddha/God (仏) and the antithesis of the sea(reverse of Imu is Umi or also 海).
- Evolution of Luffy’s laugh. Luffy smiles a lot but the SFX actually evolves over time. During chapter 1, it went from Haaaa (はーっ) to Shishishishi (しししし) pre-devil fruit to Nihi (にひ) post devil fruit, then to Ni (にっ) post his growth.
In chapter 2, when he says he’ll become a pirate king to Coby, the smile’s SFX is Nii (にいっ), which is also the same sfx when luffy accepts his fate as Buggy tries to execute him. But wait, there’s more.
Luffy smiles with Nii (にいっ) during significant moments
Oda’s wordplay on Nii (にいっ) actually symbolizes Nika (にか)?
Because Oda likes wordplay, what if you put っon top of い to get か. Suddenly Nii (にいっ) becomes Nika (にか)!? It definitely feels like devil fruit meaningfully changed Luffy’s smile and Nika side of Luffy started to show more, especially during moments of significance. Ok, I know this still feels like a stretch to say that Oda planned for Nika since the beginning. but, wait, there’s more.
- Nika and Luffy’s birthday (5/5). It’s pretty well-known that Oda likes Japanese number based puns, which is why Nami’s birthday is 7/3 (Na = 7 and Mi = 3) or Sanji’s birthday is 3/2 (San=3 and Ji = 2). So why is Luffy’s birthday 5/5 (SBS from chapter 130)? A lot of people were puzzled at the time. Shouldn’t it be 5/6 since he’s Gomu-gomu (Go=5 and Mu=6)? Yes yes, 5/5 is the official Japanese Children’s Day and Luffy’s like a child (and Usopp’s birthday is 4/1 so that could make sense), BUT in retrospect, 5/5 is also 五/五 (remember, Japanese uses Chinese characters also) and as many Japanese readers have been pointing out, 五 is actually what you get if you put ニ and カ right on top of each other. So Luffy’s birthday is Nika-Nika. Just to make this point a bit more convincing, remember Roger’s bounty is 5,564,800,000 bellies, which is 55億6480万. 6480 is a pretty straightforward wordplay on Roger or ロジャー (ロ = 6, ジ = 4, ャ = 8), but why 55, when any number would do?? Because it’s also for 五/五 or Nika Nika.
These all appear early enough in the story that at this point, I’m convinced that Oda has been planning for Nika since the beginning.
Significance of the Sun and Dawn.
There are so many sun symbolisms littered throughout One Piece, from Shandia’s Sun God to Alabasta’s Sun Flag to Sun Pirates to Chapter 1 being called Romance Dawn that you think Oda’s been a bit on the nose about the whole Sun thing.
But Luffy being the sun god has been foreshadowed since chapter 1 as well. When he is introduced for the very first time, the sfx reads DON!!(どん!!). When he smiled after eating Gomu-Gomu fruit, the sfx reads Dooon(どーん). In Japanese, “Dawn” can be read phonetically as “Don” or どん. But wait, Oda uses Don quite a bit when introducing new characters, like Shanks or even Higuma the bandit leader. True, true. But I would argue that the ambiguity is a sign that Oda is trolling us.
To add to this significance of the “Don” sfx. Oda has later decided to call the island Luffy is from yeah and the island Luffy is from Dawn Island. (ドーン島). Tom says to Franky “do it with a DON!(ドン)”. It clearly has a special meaning to Oda.
Tying Sun with Joyboy and Drum.
So, the drum’s SFX is also “Don” (ドン). It’s the beginning of Drum of Liberation ( ドンドットット” ), which accompanied Joyboy imagery in chapter 253 and it’s also the beginning of the more popular party SFX “Donchan” (ドンチャン).
Drum of Liberation sfx Don-do-tto-tto ( ドンドットット” )
Party SFX SFX “Donchan” (ドンチャン)
And Drum is important to the deity Joyboy
More interestingly, “Donchan” (ドンチャン) is made by the sound of a drum “Don” and bell “Chan”. Luffy obviously brings dawn/Don and bell/Chan together when he parties, but also, the title of Volume 5 (remember 5 is a symbol for Nika) is ” For Whom the Bell Tolls ” (誰がために鐘は鳴る). In other words, in volume “Nika”, we have Luffy, the person of dawn/”Don”, ringing the bell “Chan”, leading one to connect Nika and Don-chan/party. (sure it could also be a reference to the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls). However, Luffy rings the bell in Skypia, fulfilling the promise of Kalgara and uniting two people, and rings the bell 16 times in Marineford to signify the end of an era and beginning of a new one. Clearly, there’s some symbolism to sun-god at play here when drum/luffy and bell come together (Don-Chan)