Careful! This blog contains manga spoilers! The moment the 8 year old Momo sacrificed his childhood to transform into a full grown dragon and face his greatest fears head on in order to save his country, I knew that we had just witnessed the climax of one of the best character arcs in the One Piece. What an incredible turnaround for the traumatized and mistrusting little kid Luffy found in the depths of Punk Hazard, whom he then turned into a full-fledged leader in a matter of months.
Being able to hear the voices of all thing, he does not only posses one of the rarest powers in the story, but his ability to command the titanic elephant Zunesha suggests that he holds even greater power still, all on top of a ridiculously mighty devil fruit. And I’ll even go so far and claim that the annoyingly perverted side of Momo, that made me dislike the boy from the very start, was written on purpose by Oda to give us the most satisfying development we can get as a reader.
From hate to love. Because over the course of Wano, Momo has gained more and more of my respect, and I can now say that I absolutely love his character. Which is good, because I’ve long been subscribed to the idea that Momo is set up to be one of the most important characters in the story. You know, just like you should be to this channel.
Okay so let’s start by addressing the biggest criticism people have for Momo: His pervertedness. Which is great, because it’s coincidentally the the secret ingredient to the success of his character arc. And you might be thinking now, that I’m giving Oda too much credit here, and maybe I am, but hear me out: Momo’s perverted nature differs from that of Sanji or Brook, which for some people muddies these otherwise fantastic characters, in that A, this is a little kid and B, he actually does the things that Brook and Sanji would love to, but never could.
This is important, because for Sanji and brook, Oda clearly thinks it’s a funny character quirk and the fact that Sanji’s peep attempts always end in violence, is supposed to make it a likable quirk I believe, even if for some it isn’t. With Momo on the other hand, the smugness with which he uses his young age to do what he does, even from Oda’s perspective, is clearly meant to piss you off.
Even if you have no problem with Sanji and Brook and find their perkiness hilarious, Momo would annoy you for his smugness. So in my eyes, this is clearly a trait that is meant to give us a false first impression of Momo. I think Momo actually got this quirk mostly from the people he grew up with, Kinemon, Oden, Rayleigh who all are infamous for their love of women.
When Yamato sticks him inside her shirt to protect him, he actually doesn’t think anything pervy at all, fully in the process of accepting his uselessness and preparing to grow as a character. The truth here is, that Oda wanted you and me to dislike Momo from the start, seeing him as a perverted, spoiled and useless kid, holding everyone back.
Because his change as a character would be so much more drastic. I don’t want to exonerate him completely here, I’m sure he genuinely loves those boobs, but I also think it’s important to consider that this is an 8 year old who just lost both his parents as well as his sister mere days ago and is terribly traumatized when we first meet him, only we don’t know that yet of course.
And so, when he gets to b bath and sleep in the same bed with Nami and Robin, I think this is actually Momo looking for some much needed motherly love rather than anything else. What makes Momo’s arc so special in retrospect, not only in One Piece, but in storytelling overall, is that his development breaks with two very established tropes.
The typical hero slash shounen arcs are A that from Boy to man or B that from man to leader. Boy to man actually has nothing to do with age per se, but simply means that a character needs to leave the nest, question their naive ideas and learn to face the real world. Basically a coming of age story. Usopp falls really nicely into that trope.
The arc from man to leader leader on the other hand, means that a character goes form being concerned only for finding a path for himself, to realizing that he must help others finding their way as well. Zoro snd Sanji are great examples of this. And since I guess you’re curious, Luffy’s arc is that from Leader to visionary, going from helping a few others find the right path to changing a whole society.
I always loved how these storytelling best practices explain why One Piece works so wonderfully. Luffy has the most important arc, but all other straw hats have their own protagonist story as well. Now, you might have already figured out what makes Momo an odd one out here. His character arc basically forces him to combine A and B to go from boy directly to being a leader.
Momo, despite being a normal kid, is suffocating under the expectations of an entire oppressed nation to become the same great leader that his father used to be, before being executed days before meeting Luffy. Talk about a tough spot to be in. He is still too young to become a man and far from being the natural leader Luffy is.
And this gives Momo the ultimate arc, to work his ass off to go through not just one, but two character changes, way faster and at a way younger age than most other characters in One Piece. And so, once I had the full set of information available to me in Wano, Momo’s arc became a lot more apparent and interesting.
After losing his parents and being sent into the future, on top of everything else, he also gets separated from the only three people that accompanied him at this point, making Kanjuro’s betrayal the more impactful later on. He then survive alone on Punk hazard, with no time to mourn his dead parents and terrible fate.
When taken in by the straw hats, he is initially very distrusting, only revealing his true identity on Zou after having slowly warming up to the crew’s kindness as well as their strength. While he always tries to live according to all the expectations put on his shoulders, up until Zou, he basically is a still a traumatized kid always put in bubble wrap by the retainers.
On Zou, he has his first real moment of character growth. After revealing his true identity, he tries to assume the role of leader, but fails. […] Luffy again is the one to teach him an important lesson in true leadership here. And so Momo understands what he needs to do in order to form the big alliance to take down Kaido and save his country.
Being a leader means being the servant of your people and not the other way around. I was also very impressed by the way he handled Zunesha a bit later, even though suddenly having a depressed ancient giant elephant talking to you in your, understandably might come as a shock for an 8 year old. Bravo momo.
Now it is on Wano and more specifically Onishima however, where Momo’s arc now comes to full bloom for me. At first, it was clear to me, that reaching his home and facing the aftermath of all the horrors he had to live through here, was overwhelming for Momo. Now that it is actually time for him to assume his position as leader, he quickly comes to terms with the fact that he is not the person everyone wants him to be.
The son of the endlessly charismatic and powerful Oden. Momo sinks into self-doubt and leaves most of the decision making to Luffy and the scabbards. He feels helplessly pushed around by the events unfolding throughout the country. It takes a real shock for momo to come out of his stupor. And it is the three most scary events in Wano so far, that bring out the best in him.
First, he is betrayed and taken Hostage by Kanjuro, one of the people he had trusted the most. And still, instead of feeling defeated, he starts to fight himself for the first time. Next, he gets put on a crucifix in front of the man that killed his father. And given the option to save his own live, as a fucking 8 year old kid, he decides to die for his beliefs and declares himself shogun anyway, securing him the immediate respect of all his followers.
Finally, after learning the important role he has to play from his fathers diary, he is faced with the prospect of Onigashima crashing into the flower capital. And reaching the climax of his arc, he decides to sacrifice 20 years of his life and his remaining childhood, and orders Shinobu to age him to 28.
Another really important moment, as he doesn’t take the scabbards wanting to protect him as an excuse anymore. What made this so emotional for me, was that Momo knows fully well, that this won’t change the fact that he’s 8 years at heart, but it gave him the chance to fight and make a difference.
Flying up and dealing with the problem himself. The boy has the courage to face all his fears at once: Heights, Kaido, the responsibility to lead, and he passes with flying colors. Watching Luffy has taught him the most important lesson of all. You have to take responsibility for what happens to you, otherwise you will never be able to change anything.
And so it is actually not surprising that he not only takes the form of the two men under whose shadow he had to live until now. Kaido as a dragon and Oden as a man, finally prepared to assume his role and surpass them both as leaders. Given all of his powers, and whatever is written about him in his fathers diary, Momo is bound to be one of the decisive characters once we reach the end game.
His inspiration after all is Momotaro, the hero, who got accompanied by a monkey, Luffy, a dog, Yamato and a pheasant, possibly Aokiji.
That’s me, Andreea Blaga, author of the blog anime-everything.com. I work as a content creator in the US. I am also passionate about Japanese Anime.