[Anime News Network] “History and Momotaro in One Piece’s Wano Country Arc”

Non-management: I think it was one of my Japanese language college courses when I first got acquainted with the actual story of Momotaro. It was told in kami shibai style, where the story was told by a gesticulating speaker and pages of unbound illustration that are swapped with new pictures as the story progressed, and I remembered asking myself: Wow, this is a boring story. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t exactly a kid anymore when I was first told it, but then again, many folk tales are replete with some fascinating (and eccentric) material that even adults can chew on for thought. By comparison, Momotaro felt so basic by comparison. It is true that Momotaro has straightforward morals that make it suitable for teaching kids and boys especially certain values: kids and boys especially should be ambitious; they should value friendships and collaboration; they should offer respect to their parents. It is interesting that these values are so thoroughly baked into the narrative arcs  of so Japanese anime aimed at kids and boys especially (shounen anime), even if you discount the outright homages like in One Piece.

And yet, the actual text of Momotaro was so tedious to listen to and read about directly that I still wondered even after considering all the fine educational points how this tale about a young man who defeats generic demon-ogres on an island with the help of his animal friends end up leaving such an indelible mark on Japanese culture. One major reason is Japan’s history with war and imperialism, and One Piece makes a nod to that controversial history in its homage to Momotaro. Well, it’s more like a retelling of Momotaro from the perspective of a creator with modern Japanese sensibilities both… looking back and moving forward.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

History and Momotaro in One Piece’s Wano Country Arc

Once upon a time, there was a young man. The young man set out on a grand adventure, expecting challenges along the way. On this same journey, the young man meets and makes friends. Those friends join him, and they share their food and the road. Eventually, the party of friends reach journey’s end and together, after a fiercely epic struggle, overcome the last difficulties standing in their way. The bruised but merry party returns, their quest completed. Basking in how much they’ve accomplished on their adventure, they also reflect on how things have changed and how they’ve changed.

This version of the hero’s journey is generic enough to apply to all sorts of stories, ranging from ancient mythological tales to adventure shōnen series; One Piece is no exception. The archetypal narrative of fights and friends rather neatly encompasses the latest arc as well as a Japanese folktale called Momotaro.

Wano Country is both a homage to and a retelling of Momotaro with a twist: a reflection of how much Japan has changed and how the Japanese have changed since their homeland’s isolation from the world ended well over a century ago. While older versions of the Momotaro story may have been floating around before the Edo period, it was during the that period that the story was finally set to paper for mass audiences. But the seemingly simple story of Momotaro didn’t end there, as the decades following the end of Edo re-imagined and re-interpreted the story again and again – through restoration, war, devastation, peace, reconstruction, and now the present, with Eiichiro Oda giving his own twist to this classically journey-weathered tale… READ MORE

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