There’s nothing more certain to draw masses of ire than the criticism of a well-liked show. That said, I don’t really have much choice in the matter, as I could not ignore such blatant sexism as one finds in the nineteenth episode of the show One Piece. First of all, I have heard that the show gets better after this, so if this is the case, please consider this to be a criticism of Episode Nineteen only. I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable, as this episode functions more-or-less as a standalone story; for the purposes of this review I will regard it as such.
I repeat—this is not a critique of the show overall; this article is a critique of only a single episode whose implications I found repulsive. Even if the show does get better after this, that doesn’t mean Episode Nineteen is by any means off the hook. Just because My Little Pony, for instance, is a great show doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to criticize Putting Your Hoof Down as being its worst episode.
“Past of the Three Swords! The Promise Between Zoro and Kuina!”
The episode begins with some very light-hearted comedy involving the show’s main characters. Indeed, the general tone of the show (or what I saw of it) is so light-hearted that I can’t help but think it likely that all the problems with this episode may have been due to the author not thinking through the implications. I think of it therefore as not too different from J. K. Rowling having played mass slavery for laughs in her Harry Potter books. One of the main characters, Zoro, takes a nap and reminisces about his childhood.
Psycho-Kid Joins a Dojo
We dissolve to when Zoro first arrived at the dojo where he would ultimately be trained; immediately he, a whiny little twerp, challenges the entire dojo to a katana duel. His first opponent is the sensei’s daughter Kuina, who is the best student in the class, said to have beaten loads of adult males from other dojos—remember this bit; it’s going to bite this episode in the arse later. Of course Kuina beats Zoro with ease; enjoy this—it’ll be among the only things that make sense in this episode. Without further ado, let’s get to the bloody nonsense in this thing; the sensei, for some unfathomed reason, lets Zoro join his dojo. Why? I assume he’s not going to be paying for lessons, so what good could possibly come of taking a student who’s this disruptive and stupid?
♫ Gonna’ Need a Montage! ♫
Then comes the training. What the hell? The kid’s training seems entirely self-orchestrated, and all he does is go off on his own to lift weights with his teeth; what is this useless sensei actually teaching him? Nothing, so far as I can tell. Zoro inexplicably grows stronger instead of breaking his jaw, beating even adult challengers, but he still can’t beat Kuina even once in two-thousand duels.
Sexist Pig-Dog! *Snort* *Snort* *Snort*
Now we’ve come to where this episode gets really horrible, because the annoying kid and generally unlikeable cast of the episode were apparently not enough. We cut to the sensei talking with… some guy. Really, we have no clue as to who this other guy is, and he serves no purpose other than for the sensei to talk at him. Also, that stupid, smug grin on the sensei’s face is really starting to irritate me. And what, you ask, are they discussing? Well, I don’t really know; it’s kind of confusing. First they talk about how Zoro’s been getting stronger, and then the mystery man brings up how Zoro can’t beat Kuina. Then the sensei goes all chauvinist-pig-dog on us:
“There’s a huge wall blocking a female swordsman’s future. Under the current circumstances, I can’t let her inherit the dojo.”
So rather than going on primogeniture, he’s… Wait—they were talking about Zoro before… So he’s planning on leaving the dojo to Psycho Kid?
Surprise! Turns out Kuina’s been eavesdropping! She bursts in and declares that she’s going to be the “greatest swordsman in the world,” to which her father replies,
“Kuina, a woman will not be able to become the world’s best.”
Farewell to All Logic!
Later that night, Zoro challenges Kuina to a duel using real katana, and there’s a remark about the swords being heavy (even though real katana are only about two pounds—even a European longsword is only about five pounds at the heaviest). Not surprisingly, Zoro loses and then does his best impression of Eric Cartman whining to manipulate his mother. Kuina—I shit you not—proceeds to give us this line:
“I’m the one who wants to cry because I can’t accept it. Girls—when we grow up, we become weaker than men. I’ll probably be overtaken by you soon”
Here we see the main problem with the episode: its flawed logic—although “insane logic” might describe it better. It’s stated in the episode that “It’s natural for women to develop into physically weaker beings than men,” but SHE’S ALREADY STRONGER THAN THE MEN! “2000 wins, 0 losses” —someone with that record is clearly above the average no matter what demographic you compare them to. He has beaten adult males, she has beaten adult males, and she has beaten him. She’s already clearly stronger than any real-life human of any gender. From this, the only logical conclusion is that the episode is saying that as she nears maturity she’ll become weaker than she is at this point in time. This is insane!
It’s at this point where there’s a small glimmer of hope that the implications of this episode were not deliberately to denigrate female ability. Zoro, of all people, points out to Kuina that her saying this is weak and also demeans his goal of defeating her if it’s predestined. They make a pact to keep training and eventually to fight for the title of “world’s best swordsman.”
So what happens next? Some kind of bond between Zoro and Kuina? Perhaps one of them leaves the dojo to pursue their own training? Will we get to see their climactic duel for the coveted title of “greatest swordsman in the world”? All these questions and more will be answered… right now. No. No. No. No. No.
Kuina falls down some stairs and breaks her neck! Thus we never find out if everyone’s favourite male-chauvinist sensei was right or not (but everything’s leaning toward “yes”). Imagine for a second that none of the misogynistic talk had happened; this would have been a glorious episode in that it would have left the question of who would have been the greatest swordsman unanswered, leaving Zoro with unresolvable angst. Instead, it’s all answered shortly after her death, in a scene where Sensei reiterates that she could never really have been the best. This removes all unanswered questions, rendering the whole thing completely worthless.
This brings me to the problem of the sensei’s character. The sensei, Kuina’s father, is both a wet noodle and the most despicable misogynist you could imagine. His mannerisms make it seem like he’s supposed to be likeable, but his actions are those of an incredibly unlikeable character. Firstly, he completely fails as a father in every possible meaning of the phrase. In a single conscious action, he destroys his daughter’s confidence and does a disservice to any female viewers watching this. Secondly, his teaching style seems to be to let some undisciplined psycho-kid into the dojo and just see who gets killed first. We never see him give any attention to actually teaching any of his students—including Zoro, I might add! Zoro is a self-taught mental-case! If this is the sensei’s useless teaching style, it’s a wonder more of his students don’t end up dead.
Some things about this episode make me think that the intended message might be the opposite of what comes through; maybe it’s like Ben & Arthur, which Sam Mraovich intended to be pro-gay-rights love story, but the execution was so unfathomably bad that the film comes across as scarily homophobic. That said, it’s hard to imagine such a sexist narrative coming from the mind of anyone who wasn’t a horrid bigot, but again the same can easily be said of Ben & Arthur. All we know for sure is that this episode suffers from unlikeable characters, incoherent logic, and a moral that—whether intentional or not—no one should ever take to heart.