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After 27 years, One Piece is finally going all-in on one of the manga’s coolest ideas and a key part of Eiichiro Oda’s unique approach to fantasy

One long-awaited plot point in One Piece that is finally coming to the fore, on the heels of a rare break for creator Eiichiro Oda, is the reintroduction of giants and the journey to their homeland of Elbaph. For fans, it’s a trip that’s seemed inevitable for a few years now – it was shown for the first time during the backstory reveal of Big Mom, a character whose history is inextricably tied to the giants’ relationship to the outside world. However, the importance of giants in One Piece goes far beyond the former stomping grounds of a major villain. In fact, the giants might just be the best example of One Piece’s specific brand of fantasy.

One Piece thrives not just on adventure, but also the potential for adventure. It’s what makes the series’ fantasy so all-encompassing, allowing everything from ancient, fable-esque tales of gold in the sky and 1700s-themed pirate galleons to coexist peacefully with the robotic experiments of Dr. Vegapunk and Gecko Moria’s zombies. Beyond the horizon, there’s always the chance for something grander. You almost never think, “this doesn’t make sense for One Piece,” because the logic of One Piece itself dictates that there is always more out there. There is always a wonder not yet discovered. If there wasn’t, then what would be the use of setting sail in the first place?

It certainly happens in Little Garden, which is first shown to be an island filled with dinosaurs and then, later, a makeshift arena for the giants Dorry and Brogy. Though they aren’t technically the first giants to appear in One Piece (that would be John Giant and his quick appearance in the Loguetown arc), they are the first to speak of being giants and also of Elbaph. The fact that the two giants have been dueling there for 100 years in order to settle a dispute not only cements the sense of honor that each giant carries but also further imprints on the Straw Hat crew the nobility of adventure and of being a brave warrior.

Usopp, typically a coward, is especially impressed by this display. Unlike many of the Straw Hats, his eventual goal is not a concrete one like “be the greatest swordsman” or “find a cure for every disease.” Rather, he simply wishes to be the kind of hero that he would typically spin stories about. As such, our first major introduction to giants is one that works to explore One Piece’s idealism. Our wildest fantasies and aspirations that look silly on paper – you could probably poke a few holes in “Fight what could be an eternal battle to settle a little beef” – can become sources of real dignity.

But fantasy isn’t just pure escapism, as we see when giants make further appearances in One Piece. Whether it’s Oimo and Kashii guarding the gates of Enies Lobby after being tricked for decades by the World Government, the body of Oars being resurrected by Gecko Moria as a vehicle for his schemes, or Mother Carmel’s deception of them under the guise of charity, giants are often targets of manipulation. If their strength can be harnessed and their willpower subjugated, they make for powerful pawns. The World Government may insist that they want to stop piracy, but their aims really lie in the decapitation of any romanticism of adventure. The giants, a race that stands for the fact that self-worth can be found in battle and in adventure, are obstacles to that.

The continued appearances of the giants at such a pivotal, late-game moment in One Piece (their as-of-yet unresolved anger at Big Mom, their ties to Shanks, and, most recently, the surprise return of Dorry and Brogy to help Luffy take on the monstrous forms of the Five Elders) reestablishes their importance to One Piece’s fantasy in more ways than simply giving the Straw Hats another X on the map. They are tied to its world both physically and thematically, and not only provide an inspiring example of One Piece’s “fighting spirit” but bear the burden of its wrath and grudges as well. Without them, its world would – often quite literally – feel smaller, with its conflicts reduced to matters of territory and greed rather than the forever pride of warrior-dom.

As One Piece spirals toward what seems to be its endgame, it’s all the more important that the giants play a role. Finales are often concerned with moving the chess pieces into the right positions to provide a satisfying conclusion. But One Piece is bigger than whatever possible finale it will arrive at, not just in terms of its journey being just as important as its destination, but in what it has stood for, even before the giants showed up. It’s about ambitions as wide as the horizon and a hope for adventure that lingers beyond death. Like the giants themselves, it looms over the story, reminding us that our dreams can never be too big.

One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda recently paid a bittersweet tribute to his friend and peer, Akira Toriyama.

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