Hell for the Straw Hat Chef Sanji
by, Ashley Glenn
A forced marriage to a pretty girl seems like it should be everything Sanji ever wanted; and it looks like his fans also agree. However, looking at this recent One Piece arc concerning Big Mom, is this really the heaven some fans are speculating? Here’s a few reasons why this arc is more than just about a mandatory marriage and is actually a representation of our beloved Straw Hat cook’s personal hell. Beware: spoilers ahead!
The Representation of Whole Cake Island
We know Sanji was washed up with Zeff on an island where both nearly starved to death. Zeff claimed treasure for himself instead of food, trying to hide the shame from a younger Sanji who was desperate to survive. The two promised that if they’d made it out alive, they would feed anyone who was hungry; as we see from the first time we even meet Sanji who feeds a hungry pirate.
Sanji hates the wasting of food and sees just how valuable it is. When we look at the past we’re now given, we find that Sanji also was feeding rats in his childhood home and greatly punished for it. But what does this all have to do with Whole Cake Island? If anything shouldn’t his marriage to a woman on an island made of food make sense?
Well, not exactly…
Big Mom is probably one of the most gluttonous characters we’ve seen in One Piece. The fact this woman has succeeded to create such a place where food isn’t even eaten should be a sign of how wasteful she is, and therefor opposite of Sanji. This isn’t to mention how wasteful of life she is either. Her soul-sucking ability and even the waste of her own children’s life is something Sanji would never endorse. She represents the very pinnacle of both privilege and waste for both food and life which are two thing Sanji has clearly shown the value of.
Not to mention, as a cook Sanji’s main goal has been to balance out meals with nutrition and provide his crew with something necessary to survive the sea; he’s not just cooking good food, he’s cooking something that provides the team with vital nutrients to survive and fight. Her island, and pretty much everything she eats, is literally just sweets. This provides no value, no nutrition and is just junk to Sanji. This island is a cook’s nightmare.
Big Mom is a Mirror of his Father
While Sanji’s father may have called Big Mom an old hag, he certainly shares a lot in common with the woman! Her control over her children, and her control over Pudding, is just one of many things that look akin to how Vinsmoke raised his kids. She’s both abusive and manipulative, and when concerning Lola, she clearly states she feels her children should be indebted to her for the life she gave them. Utter loyalty is her expectation, and it’s Vinsmoke’s as well.
Vinsmoke was Sanji’s greatest enemy growing up, but if you notice in the flashbacks, he clearly needed his father. Crying out for him when he was in need, even if his father was the one who put him there, Sanji was a child who still clearly trusted his father and wanted him to be proud of his son. But we see, time and time again, Vinsmoke was not at all pleased with how his son turned out and eventually asked him to leave the country and never speak of their relations again.
We see Big Mom literally suck the soul out of one of her sons. While Sanji did not witness this, he’s clearly smart enough to know Big Mom is the type to do something like this. We see that he doesn’t really care for her, and it’s not just because she’s an emperor. You can tell there’s something deeper, perhaps it’s the fact she reminds him of Vinsmoke and that could be why he sought to make the most of his situation by trying to relate to Pudding. Afterall, she was in the same situation right?
The Abuse of His Family
Of course, there is the obvious reason why this arc is difficult. His abusive relatives have not only threatened all the people he loves, but have also put his hand at risk to ensure he can’t even defend himself. He can barely take comfort in Reiju’s company and is completely alone and always getting beaten up.
We have yet to see Sanji take on his brothers, or father for that matter, in a clearly and even fight. You can argue that the ones we’ve already seen should show the clear power difference, however the threat of harm to Zeff and the Straw Hat crew seems to always be looming in the background. Psychologically, Sanji is being capped to do any of his usual damage. What he did to Luffy is a sign of that; I mean, do you really think any of his brothers could have taken those massive hits?
Hurting the Ones He Loves
Sanji vs Luffy was not the fight you expected it to be, but it was certainly one of the top One Piece fights for various reasons. Firstly, we see Sanji go all out to beat Luffy to a bloody pulp. And yet, our captain doesn’t move, nor does he seem phased. Luffy knows that Sanji is doing this for other reasons than what he says. Of course he wants them to be safe and leave, but he knows he can’t convince them, or his family, with just words.
Hurting his captain and calling his team lowly pirates was amongst one of the hardest things Sanji has ever done. What is worse is what comes after the flaming kicks and blows to the man who will become pirate king. As Luffy falls to the ground, Nami appears to deliver a blow herself, insulting him as she does so. Sanji adores Nami and she’s been screaming for him to stop in the background since the fight began, but now she’s gone so far as to slap him; her approval carries a lot. But the worst of all these tortures is Luffy screaming as Sanji rides away; the captain will not eat and he simply cannot become pirate king without Sanji. Luffy, for the first time ever, is putting his dream aside for a brief moment to bring his friend back. The sacrifice is something even Sanji cannot emotionally handle.
The Rejection of a Woman
We’ve recently seen Pudding’s true nature. Her portrayal thus far had been innocent and pure. It was as though there was no possible way she was related to the monster Big Mom. With a kind smile and almost always on the verge of tears, even the Straw Hat crew was duped. A good sign that she was merely lying, by the way, was the fact that when she cried, her third eye did not tear up as it usually does.
The two have a conversation where Pudding expresses how she does not want their marriage to be hell. In this moment, Sanji realizes he’ll never cook for the Straw Hat crew ever again. Thus far, we hadn’t seen him really swoon over Pudding other than when he’d first seen her picture. He knows that, which is why he forces himself to change his tune. Afterall, if he must depart from his family and friends to spend a life with his blood relatives, he can at least make the best of the situation with a gorgeous and kind wife at his side right?
Is it forced or not?
Some may argue that Sanji is not forcing himself with Pudding, and to an extent this could be true. It’s never been much of a struggle for this perverted chef to fall head over heals for a lady. However, one scene is very symbolic that gives us a different dialogue. After receiving ingredients to cook Pudding a meal, he hears Luffy and Nami are in the dungeon. While he’s talking about his fiance not eating, he picks up a tangerine and says, “I’m worried for her”. While this did not happen in the manga, it is still heavily symbolic of Nami. Could he instead be referring to Nami while trying to maintain his duty as a fiance?
And then he hears Pudding and her blatant rejection. After shooting Reiju and prepping to alter her memories, Pudding explains Big Mom’s grand plan and her true form. Beloved for her “doll-like” appearance and her acting skills, she not only admits that she plans to shoot Sanji but also bashes the heartbroken chef straight into the ground calling him “fool” and “failure”.
Of course, Sanji has been rejected by countless woman and still remained as happy and cheerful as ever, but this is different. In this moment, Sanji realizes that his only chance to save his friends and perhaps find happiness himself is gone. After all, he did call Pudding things like his “salvation” and “ray of light”; when it came to this awful situation, he clearly thought she could be the one good thing to come out of this hell. And yet, she shows that not only will she reject him in the worst way possible, but she herself is also a monster just like her mother. A beautiful woman is Sanji’s last straw to break the camel’s back and shatter his heart, his hope.
The symbolism of this arc is very telling. There’s a lot of visual representations, both in the anime and manga, that tell us not only about these new villains but also about Sanji. Oda brings you into a very specific world built just to put the Straw Hat cook in utter misery. With those things in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how Sanji heals after this and the next decisions he makes.