Although One Piece is going on a month-long hiatus, its creator managed to squeeze in a nice Pride Month surprise for readers in his latest chapter.
As is tradition in every saga conclusion of One Piece, celebratory feasts were plenty following Luffy and Kaido’s battle at the conclusion of the Wano Country arc. However, Luffy’s bottomless gullet and Zoro’s legendary alcohol tolerance weren’t the main focus of One Piece’s 1052nd chapter. Instead, it was the gender affirmation of two trans characters during a bathhouse scene.
When the Straw Hat’s navigator, Nami, floats the idea of taking a communal bath with the Straw Hat’s newest member (or so he has decided), Yamato responds saying they can’t because there are no mixed baths inside of Wano’s castle. Kiku, a Wano samurai, follows up Yamato’s comment asking Nami if it’s okay that she joins her in the bath. What follows are two very busy and equally wholesome manga panels of Yamato in the men’s bath and Kiku in the women’s bath with the Straw Hats pirates. While these panels come off as innocuous fan service, something One Piece notoriously never shies from, they’re actually the most tripling down yet of Kiku and Yamato’s genders as a trans woman and trans man respectively.
While innocuous on the surface, the genders of these two Wano characters have often found themselves as a hot topic of debate among the One Piece fandom, which is saying something given the major lore drops the Wano arc has given fans throughout its 148 chapters.
Kiku refers to herself on numerous occasions with female pronouns throughout her battles alongside Luffy and crew. When Chopper asks Kiku if she is a man after an onlooker describes her as “the most handsome swordsman of Wano,” she responds saying “this one is a woman at heart.” Luffy, as observant as ever, only comments on how scary her mask is. Which is fair, it is a pretty scary and cool mask.
While Yamato also sports an equally scary and cool mask throughout his first appearance in One Piece, his introduction caused both readers and Luffy to scratch their heads in confusion. Although some fans have dismissed Yamato’s gender as admiration for Oden and his heroic mannerism going a step into the absurd, the manga affirms his gender as fact instead of translation subtext. Throughout Wano, Yamato refers to himself with he/him pronouns that even the baddies adhere to while addressing him. Even Kaido respects Yamato’s pronouns, despite being the arc’s major antagonist.
While detractors of Yamato’s trans identity see it as fans reading too much into the subtext of his language around his gender, despite the characters literally saying they’re trans in the actual text on multiple occasions, the latest chapter of One Piece serves as a definitive tripling down from Oda of both Yamato and Kiku’s trans identities. And affirming their genders under the guise of a bathhouse fanservice scene will stand the test of time as the most galaxy-brained Oda way of putting to bed discourse among his fandom. Respect.