How Do the Fishmen and Pirates of ‘One Piece’ Subvert Systemic Racism?

My article on this subject has just gone live on the Christian Speculative Fiction Magazine, Lorehaven.

Ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea, trouble is brewing. Ancient racial hatred is simmering, growing dangerously close to boiling over.

This is the situation in the Fishman Island Arc of the long-running anime/manga One Piece when the main characters, the Straw Hat Pirates, arrive at Fishman Island. In the midst of the action and humor of this pirate adventure story, author Eiichiro Oda gives us an unexpectedly insightful glimpse into racism and its effects upon a culture.

Readers, ye be warned: there be spoilers throughout.

Fishman Island, deep beneath the ocean, is inhabited by a race of undersea beings who are both stronger and more-varied than humans. Some are beautiful, such as mermaids. Others are huge and powerful, like shark-men or octopus-men, massive creatures who can crush a human with a single blow. The loveliness of the first and the fearsome destructiveness of the second have made the fishmen into hot commodities at the slave markets of Sabaody.

Pirates often descend to their home island, deep under the sea, in order to kidnap fishmen and their children. Fishmen pirates return the favor, terrorizing humans and destroying their towns. This clash of races has been going on for generations.

In the midst of this racial animosity, two inhabitants of Fishman Island saw the toll it was taking on their society and vowed make a change. They both saw the same suffering. Their reaction, however, could not have been more different.

Read more…

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