With the recent revelations of the Hito Hito no Mi, Model: Nika, there’s been a lot of discussion around Luffy and the “chosen one” trope. That’s fair, but it’s worth remembering that in One Piece, strong devil fruits aren’t what make people strong.
Of course having a powerful devil fruit is a major strength. When we look at the strongest devil fruit users in the series they typically have the strongest devil fruits (Kaido, Akainu, Big Mom, Fujitora, etc.) But One Piece doesn’t approach it as if the devil fruits made them strong. Instead it’s more “they’re strong so they have strong devil fruits.” It may seem counter-intuitive but it’s a critical difference that Oda has established in his story-telling. In One Piece, strength comes from character, and characters have agency.
How does Oda do this? First he usually introduces characters as powerful before he introduces their devil fruits. We know Crocodile is strong long before we see him control sand. He runs an extremely impressive organization and manipulates an entire country. It’s only later when we see his fruit that we understand what his combat abilities are. Often Oda will tell us how strong someone is just by giving us their title. How strong did Aokiji seem when Robin told us through chattering teeth that he was an Admiral? Strong character comes before strong strong abilities.
Secondly, Oda makes sure that his strong characters have strength far beyond just their devil fruit. Think of Akainu’s iron will and ruthlessness. Or Fujitora’s sense of justice. Strong characters naturally elevate themselves above their peers independently of their devil fruit abilities. Therefore their positions of power are earned instead of just “destined.”
Lastly, Oda goes to great lengths to show us how powerful you can be without devil fruit powers.
Characters like Shanks, Garp, Rayleigh and Mihawk are top tier despite having no devil fruit abilities, but there are also characters like Sengoku, Kaido and Big Mom who are crazy powerful before they get an ability. They’d be big shots even without their devil fruits. In a sense, it’s almost natural that these super powerful beings would attract these super powerful abilities.
These three elements; strength coming from character, positions being earned, and strength attracting strong abilities, means that devil fruit users are not simply the product of their devil fruits, even if the strongest people happen to have the strongest fruits.
The best example of this is Whitebeard. Whitebeard is regarded as having “the power to destroy the world” but Oda makes sure we know he’s more than just a strong devil fruit. He’s a monster. He can dodge assassins in his sleep and take dozens of cannon’s straight to the face. He has the will of a king and will do anything to defend his family. He has a shrewd mind, a fearless heart, and a deep deep love. I cannot accept that he was destined to become The World’s Strongest Man just by eating the Guara Guara no Mi.
And I don’t accept that Luffy was destined to reach his position just by eating the Hito Hito no Mi, Model: Nika. Luffy is more than just a mythical ability. He is Luffy and has always been Luffy. With any other ability or no ability at all I believe he would have achieved his status. And yet, Oda has set up a world where it actually makes sense that he’d have an ability perfectly suited to his personality. The One Piece world is full of characters with perfectly themed fruits!
Perhaps Oda will one day explain why devil fruits behave like this. Or maybe he won’t. Frankly I don’t think he owes us an explanation. Either way, there’s nothing cheap about our future King of the Pirates having a legendary ability. Not yet at least.