The mark of any good shounen is its villains. They often present the best dynamics of any given series. Goku and Freeza. Naruto and Pain. Itadori and Sukuna. In order to make the hero shine, they need a villain to cast a shadow.
One Piece has had tons of fantastic villains over its extended run. Arlong. Crocodile. Enel. Akainu. Big Mom. Doflamingo. These guys, and so many more, have pushed Luffy and the Straw Hats to their limits and beyond, giving us some of the greatest moments in all of shounen manga.
Most recently, however, there’s been some discourse over the villains of the series. Specifically with the main villain of the Wano arc: the drunken captain of the Animal Kingdom pirates, Kaido.
As you might expect this late into the story, Kaido is the most powerful villain the Straw Hats have ever faced. The man is so powerful that even the World Government, the main antagonists of the whole series, are afraid to mess with him. He’s so damn indestructible that not only has he survived multiple attempted executions, the dude literally attempts suicide as a hobby! The first time Luffy fights him, he defeats our protagonist in a single strike.
Ever scene he’s in, Kaido oozes pure menace and despair. Unlike other villains in the series prior, he truly feels unbeatable. When Luffy knocks him down, it feels like a monumental achievement!
Worse, the man has a flavor for some truly horrific cruelty. His solution for when his son is throwing a tantrum is to throw him in a cave full samurai and let him either a) starve to death or b) get murdered by his imprisoned enemies. Believe it or not, that was one of the nicer things he’s ever done!
Well, at least he respects his son’s pronouns. That’s more than I can say for some real-life dads I’ve known.
If that’s all it took to make a good villain, then Kaido would be the best baddie in One Piece history. But if that’s the case, why do so many people have a problem with him? Just what’s the matter with him?
One of the big ones is how his backstory is presented. We’re given a few brief flashes of it, but nothing truly substantial. Only exceptionally brief flashes. It tells us how he thinks and what he wants, but not we’re not shown nearly enough to truly understand why he thinks that why or why he wants what he wants. What we got was a few brief panels when what we needed was a few full chapters!
It doesn’t help that his ‘true’ goal doesn’t make a lot of sense. He wants to conquer the world because he believes in a militaristic regime. But he also wants the true ‘chosen one’ (or whatever the fuck Joy Boy is) to be able to defeat him because he wanted to be said chosen one. So… he wants to lose and at the same time he doesn’t want to lose.
That’s not a bad idea. If it had been fleshed out a little more, it could have been pretty interesting. A villain who wants to be defeated, but only by the right person, who fights like hell to make sure that only the right person could possibly win? That could have been awesome! Unfortunately, what we got felt pretty half-baked.
I can’t really blame Oda, though. Man’s been working on the story for two and a half decades. Can’t really blame him for wanting to just get a move on with certain things.
As a whole, I don’t think that Kaido is a bad villain. He’s intimidating as all hell, as sinister as some of the worst that shounen has to offer, and pushes our heroes to their limits phenomenally well. He lacks somewhat in depth, despite what was attempted, but he still got the job done. Whether or not he holds up to the test of time is yet to be seen. But as it stands, I actually kind of like Kaido.
Also, the animators must love him in the anime. Dude keeps getting the most insanely animated scenes in the whole show. It’s fuckin’ nuts, dude!