It's the birthday of your favorite burglar!
"And a L-A-D-Y, Nami's not shy!"
This is an oft-quoted line from the Grammy Award-winning hit, the "4Kids Pirate Rap." And despite it being vengefully lazy (Really, you couldn't come up with anything to make up half of Nami's line other than to just spell out the word "lady?"), it's not wrong. She is a lady and she's not shy. But more importantly, she's the heart of One Piece.
I've written before how each of the early One Piece arcs just get better and better as they go along. But this is common in a lot of fictional works - the hype of the beginning just seems to grow. Sadly, though, as soon as you reach a point where the story establishes itself, all that excitement dies down. Anyone can make up a good idea for a story. Just ask the dude in Bojangles' who listened to me talk about "Terminator, but with dinosaurs" for the last half hour. Telling that tale in an effective way, though? That's both tricky and tough. It's one of the reasons why we often leave bad movies saying "But the trailer made it look so good...."
The point of this for One Piece, where it can no longer coast on its feeling of "newness," is Arlong Park. Luffy has a few people in his crew, but he's missing the most important member: the navigator. Oh, you thought the captain was the most important role? Have you met Luffy? No, the Going Merry needs a navigator, and Luffy is set on Nami. And what does a navigator provide? Focus. See, if Nami is the heart, then Luffy is the soul. He is One Piece's spirit of adventure embodied in a single rubber bro. But Luffy's sense of freedom isn't a complete one. He needs his crew, his family. Luffy can punch stuff very well, but he can't cook or fix his ship. He can't read maps or cure himself if he gets hurt.
But if all of these characters provide important assistance to Luffy, then what makes Nami specifically the heart? Is it all the fan fiction that's been written about them? No. The answer to it can actually be found in the famous scene when Nami asks Luffy for help against Arlong. Arlong has gone back on his promise and robbed Nami of all the stolen money that she saved up to free her village. The deal that he's had with Nami for years has been thrown away. Now, does Luffy know all of the details about Nami's relationship with Arlong? No. But he doesn't need to. He knows that she's hurt and she's had something important taken away from her. In short, Luffy sees that his heart has been broken.
Awwww. Good one, me. Anyway, Luffy goes up to Arlong and breaks his spine. There's more to it than that but just know that Arlong Park ends with Arlong being driven through all of the floors of his tower and that his vertebrate is in, like, twelve pieces by the time he reaches the lobby. But it's that silent understanding between Luffy and Nami that makes this one so important. Nami never yells her intentions into the sky like Zoro or forms a loud, cartoonish friendship with Luffy like Usopp. Instead, she gives him a quiet "Help me," and Luffy, the big ol' dummy that he is, just gets it.
It's because of this emotional display and the loud, punch-ey satisfaction that comes after(along with the rest of the arc being super compelling) that Arlong Park establishes One Piece as a Good Story. And after it's over, we watch Nami not only become the Straw Hats' navigator, but take on even more roles. She has an insatiable appetite for treasure and is willing to throw down if she has to, but she's also often the voice of reason. The Straw Hat gang is an unruly bunch, so when she's not navigating the seas, she's navigating how the crew acts in certain situations. She's honestly why Luffy and Zoro and Chopper and Brook haven't been murdered yet. She's usually the one thing that stands between them and their own crazy impulses.
What are some Nami highlights to watch on this most holy of days? Obviously watch all of the Arlong Park arc, but Nami's fight against Miss Doublefinger in Alabasta is one of the most underrated battles in One Piece history. Seeing Nami ride the Waver in Skypiea is pure One Piece bliss. Nami's duel with Kalifa is great, too. But more recently, Nami is awesome in Whole Cake Island, manipulating bad guys and refusing to truly forgive Sanji after he leaves the crew. She also brings down a huge thunderbolt on Big Mom which is rad, even without context.
So let's all wish a happy birthday to Nami. She's an invaluable member of the Straw Hats and a character that helped turn One Piece into the monumental success that it is today. And if you want to watch more of her adventures, check out One Piece on Crunchyroll. It's the site that you're on right now, just to clear up any confusion.
What's your favorite Nami moment? Let us know in the comments!
Daniel Dockery is a writer and editor for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter.