One Piece: Luffy’s Gear 5 Is Anime Creativity at Its Best

The cartoon logic behind Luffy's latest transformation on One Piece reveals the benefits of anime as a medium.

Luffy entering Gear 5 in One Piece
Photo: ©Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha, Toei Animation

With apologies to Ken and Benny Safdie’s glasses, 2023 has been the year of One Piece. In fact, many scientists believe that every year since the manga series first released in 1997 has been the year of One Piece. But 2023 has truly been a standout thanks to a big-budget video game to start the year, the manga continuing to sell at a blistering pace, the imminent release of the Netflix live action adaptation, and of course the anime and its eye-popping (as of now) 1074 episodes sending the internet into a frenzy

It’s One Piece and creator Eiichiro Oda’s world; we’re just living in it. Thanks to everyone else for playing.

I say this all (mostly) in jest, but it’s true: the series has seemingly been more popular than ever, despite its obvious barrier to entry given the length. But the length is, in every sense, what shows how remarkable One Piece is. It’s managed to keep fans interested for so long thanks to its consistently imaginative world and gripping storylines. Luffy’s latest transformation, “Gear 5” as it is so aptly named, is just the latest reason for why this anime runs the game.  

You see, Luffy is a rubber boy. We all know this. Having your main character’s power being rubber is in of itself a testament to how remarkable the series is for somehow making this work in both a practicality and subtextual sense. The creativity in which Oda handled Luffy’s rubbery goodness makes Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy powers look like a random street performer by comparison. There’s equal parts badassery and pure hilarity to be found with his powers. 

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And subtextually, Luffy’s abilities are perfect for a character that is all about freedom and joy. He’s silly, certainly, but also consistently fascinated by anything (or anyone) that’s different from the norm and a purveyor of open-mindedness. His rubbery ability is a reflection of that very personality; he’s a malleable fellow that interacts with anything from inanimate objects, people, and even governments in any fashion. 

Luffy’s latest Gear 5 transformation — since, as any well-cultured individual knows, a Shounen anime introducing a new power up for the main character is treated like the Super Bowl — is so important for all of those very reasons. It’s an amalgamation of all those points baked into a neat stew of childlike joy and earnestness in a world that eerily reflects the shortcomings of our own. 

Just look at that little fool go! After having literally been killed by his adversary Kaido — one of the Four Emperors (i.e. strongest pirates in the world) — Luffy inadvertently awakens his devil fruit power, and the revelations come pouring in. It turns out the devil fruit Luffy ate at the beginning of the series wasn’t exactly a rubber one, but rather the true name (the Hito Hito no Mi rather than the previously-titled Gomu Gomu no Mi) suggests something grander. Essentially, the awakened fruit gives the user an array of abilities only limited by imagination. 

And in this case, that imagination manifests itself in the form of a genuine cartoon character. It is, as described in the story, the “most ridiculous power in the world.” 

Most of the time, when you think of anime power-ups, you conjure up images of Goku’s various Super Saiyan forms. The characters emit an astounding aura around them, harness it, and are made almost comically more powerful than whatever obstacle is in their way. But unlike your Goku’s and Naruto’s and Deku’s, Luffy’s Gear 5 isn’t just the usual “oh, now he’s SUPER DUPER stronger and faster!” sort of affair. Sure, those are part of it, but there’s an emphasis placed on creativity here. 

Instead of a confident glare, Luffy’s Gear 5 arrives with laughter. Instead of moving so fast it’s as if he’s teleporting, he moves like the Looney Toons Roadrunner. Rather than strength being measured purely by the character punching their adversary through multiple mountains or whatever, Luffy simply plays jump rope with them. Every “gear” of Luffy’s power has always had a wacky element to it, but never to this extent. 

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But aside from its usage, Gear 5 has its strengths in the aforementioned subtextual department, too. On top of the true name reveal of the fruit, the World Government’s Five Elders reveal that they’ve been trying to acquire the power for themselves for many years — 800, in fact, and all efforts have, for whatever reason, failed. There’s an implication here that the government, which is one of the primary antagonists of the series that mirror our own world’s collection of corrupt jerks, has been able to use their influence to acquire/steal many incredible powers, but specifically not the one of creativity and joy. 

It may be trite, but there’s a beautiful sentiment behind that. And the many reactions to it are, just as the power is all about happiness and laughter, especially appropriate. 

The World Government in One Piece has committed many atrocities, from literal genocide to the slavery of oppressed people, yet the one thing they can’t get their hands on is this one specific power. Instead, they see it fall into the hands of a boy that, unlike them, has no desire to rule over people and accidentally stumbles upon it. 

It’s not new, tonally, for art to take a “wash it down with sugar” approach to things. It is, however, one of my favorite kinds of stories. Things like Atlanta and The Good Place are other examples — where worlds full of morbid realizations and eerily parallel themes of the ugly side of the human condition are its core — but they still find ways to coat itn in fresh sprinkles of humor and levity. It’s a tricky dichotomy, for sure, but when it’s executed at its best you get…well…all of this.

Anime has often been lauded for its dynamic visuals and burgeoning creativity, but Luffy’s Gear 5 form is on another level. It’s a testament to heart, humor, and world-building all at the same time. For a genre that has only grown more and more popular, it says a lot that after more than 20 years One Piece keeps finding ways to astonish.