This might sound odd, but I’ve always found the very first page of One Piece to be incredibly memorable. Or, for anime viewers, the initial lore dump that opened every episode in the early days of the series. It’s incredibly simple: here’s the pirate king, here’s how he died, here’s what he said, and here’s how that changed the world. It’s essentially just a one-page stage dresser for the series.
But something about it always stuck out to me. And as I progressed through the series, that something only stuck out more and more. That being the man the page is focused on: Gold Roger, the former King of the Pirates.
Or Gol D. Roger. I can’t get over how dumb that twist is. Monumental, yes. But dumb.
Despite being the single most important character to the entire history of One Piece (that we currently know of), we don’t actually know all that much about Roger. Where did he come from? Why did he become a pirate? How did he manage to become a bigger thorn to the World Government than anyone else, even before his death? Why did he take the actions he did at the end of his life, after discovering One Piece?
For everyone one answer we’ve gotten about Roger, another question has risen up. Hell, even after Oden’s flashback, where we get an extensive look of Roger in action, we don’t know much about him! The man is a walking mystery!
One thing that is clear is how he is similar to our protagonist: Luffy. We’ve been given dozens of clues, some subtle and some blatant, about how Luffy and Roger are alike in almost every way. Hell, it’s all but confirmed in Oden’s flashback; Roger in those chapters acts almost exactly like Luffy does. To the point where you’d be forgiven for wondering if the aspiring Pirate King really isn’t related to the former one at all like we’re led to believe.
Aside from his personality, all we have to go off of is how he impacted the world. Throughout the entire series, we can see the ripples of the effects Roger left in his wake. From former members of his crew who were influenced by him directly, like Shanks and Rayleigh and Buggy, to those who never even met the man. For god’s sake, he started the Golden Age of Piracy with his death! It’s impossible not to notice!
Roger is a legend in One Piece, through and through. His name inspires awe in every pirate who utters it and brings fear in every marine who does so. He’s less of a character and more like a myth.
This feeling was masterfully built up over the course of the series. Wherever the Straw Hats went, we would always see signs of Roger’s previous acts. Skypiea was my favorite example; not only did the former Kami know Roger personally, but Roger had written a message in the bell using the Poneglyph language, a feat we had thought impossible at the time!
Although it has since been revealed how they did it.
You’d think that myth would diminish over the course of the series. As we learn about the world and see more of it and draw closer and closer to the One Piece, surely Roger himself would gradually seem less like a figure of legend and more like a man, right? Well, no. In fact, I’d argue that the King of the Pirates seems more a legend now than ever!
We’ve seen exactly how hard it is to become King of the Pirates. Over twenty years have passed in the world of One Piece and no one has managed to do it. Luffy is getting close, but that’s only after he’s had to face seemingly impossible foes like the Emperors and the World Government. Think about it; everything that we’ve seen Luffy struggle through, Roger faced and conquered all those years ago.
Not only that, but we’ve grown to understand the meaning of the title of Pirate King. Not just in how it towers above other pirates, but in the freedom the one who bears the title possesses. In a world as heavily oppressed as this one, with the Navy and the Celestial Dragons, a world in which an entire century is lacking from history because of their rule, to be truly and completely free truly feels like something magnificent and grand. Something one could only achieve in legend.
Am I looking too far into this? Most likely. Even still, I love Roger. The man is built up to be a legend and, from everything we’ve seen, he lives up to it. Even after everything we’ve learned, the dude is still a legend.
Even if he’s a terrible father. Sorry, Ace.