Ace Vibes in Action Adventure Manga

Outside of the few explicitly Ace characters in media, there's a wide variety of Ace vibes and headcannons. Today, we'll talk about long running action adventure manga series like Dragon Ball and One Piece and how we can look at character depictions through all the adaptations, translations, and filler content.

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Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back. My name is Courtney, I am here with my spouse, Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. And today we are talking not necessarily about explicit asexual and/or aromantic representation in media, but we do want to talk about ace coding, ace vibes, ace coded characters. Specifically in manga and anime. We’ve done some explicit ace rep episodes on manga already, but there are a lot more generalized pieces of media and franchises that a lot of people in the Ace community relate to on some level. So we want to talk about those characters and those vibes.

Royce: So a few months ago I started reading through a little manga. I don’t know how many of you’ve heard of it. It’s called One Piece.

Courtney: Are you being facetious now? [laughs]

Royce: I have just caught up, chapter 1114.

Courtney: So it’s a light read, super quick and breezy.

Royce: Not a big deal. One Piece has been announced that it is entering its final arc, that it will– That it is finally on its way to concluding since its 1997 debut. And it’s something that’s, I guess, occasionally been on my radar and it’s been brought up to us as a potential source of ace rep, primarily due to the central character, Luffy. We’ve also had a message sent to us potentially calling out other characters in the main cast, which is something we’ll get into. Now, this is a show that’s been sort of on my radar for a long time. I didn’t watch it on cable television, I think it was sort of aged under where I was at that point in time. Both with One Piece and Naruto. I started seeing those on TV as I was intentionally looking for more mature titles.

Courtney: Oh yeah, I didn’t watch either of those either. And I mean, both of us have watched anime, read manga throughout most of our lives at one point, but neither of us really got into this one. And until this, I mean, One Piece is one of the big three, right?

Royce: Yeah, Bleach, Naruto and One Piece. Which– I watched/read Bleach. Bleach is the IP that kind of killed long form content for me, because– I don’t even remember that much. I just– I remember reading it out of completion sake and just kind of resenting the franchise.

Courtney: Oh, no.

Royce: I think it peaked at the end of, like, their first arc. And it’s potentially the worst example I can think of of the story just continuing well beyond the point where it had any reasonable meaning to. And just being full of what, I guess, I would call, like, this sort of action adventure show fan service.

Courtney: Ah…

Royce: Where it’s just like: here’s this huge host of characters with all of these just random magical abilities that don’t make sense. They just have these powers because they have these powers. And we’re going to draw a bunch of fight scenes. And there is an expected progression to these scenes where a person is going to come up against a strong enemy, they’re going to show all their new powers so the audience can see them. Then the enemy is gonna suddenly show a bunch of powers to counter it. And then the person who was there is going to reveal their– their biggest move and win the battle. And that back and forth felt like it was the last couple of years of Bleach.

Courtney: Oh, no. See, and I had never touched any of the big three. And I never really had any desire to, but at least One Piece actually landed on my radar, kind of just because of the internet. I mean, there are all these accounts on Twitter and Tumblr that are kind of, like, ‘Asexual character of the day’ or even more broadly, like, ‘Queer character of the day,’ ‘LGBT character of the day,’ and now and then, just like every couple of months, I’d see like: Luffy from One Piece is asexual! Or sometimes: Luffy from One Piece is asexual and aromantic! And it would be next to like the aroace flag or the ace flag. And so of course you see that, and us being us, you know, we perk up at that. We’re like, you don’t say? An ace character, is it?

Royce: Which, that was kind of the– the final straw to push me to actually read One Piece. Because I did have a friend a long time ago that tried to show me an early episode of the anime. And I just didn’t find it interesting. One, it was kind of out of context, I didn’t know the characters, it was right in the middle of some stuff that was happening. It’s a very goofy show. But it’s also just so long. [Courtney agrees] And there was one point in time when I was going through the– going through the manga, where I had some dead time where I was doing some chores, but it was kind of mindless stuff, so I figured I would just find the equivalent anime episode to where I was at in the manga and put that on in the background. I couldn’t do it.

Courtney: Didn’t like it?

Royce: Way too slow. It was right in the middle of combat. And I needed the ability to pace myself through this. Because one of the other things that I’ve heard about One Piece is I’ve heard people say that it’s really, really well done world building. And with all of the D&D that we’ve been doing, that’s something that I find interesting. I don’t know if I agree with that comment now [Courtney laughs] mostly because the world of One Piece is basically created to be a nonsensical sandbox. And so, due to the magic of the world, there can be islands that are geographically next to each other that the characters can move through one by one while they’re going on their long term path that’s been spanning this entire franchise. And you can have these completely isolated climates and cultures. And each arc of the story will sort of tell the story of that nation and of that people, and they can be vastly different.

Royce: So it kind of seems like the author just wanted to write this kind of story at this point in time, and the world is so sandboxy that you can just kind of do whatever, and it doesn’t need to make sense. I think the most impactful parts of the stories, the areas that I have enjoyed the most, are generally the beginnings and ends of those arcs, when you do, sort of, separate out from the main cast and are given some sort of political or social problem, or the backstories of some characters. Because a lot of the attention in the media is given to the characters and their growth and their combat, the physical struggles that they face. And a lot of that is very lighthearted, like there are challenges that they face, but there’s– there’s a lot of humor and a lot of it is very intentionally nonsensical. And the show shies away from death very frequently, like people survive things that they have no business surviving.

Royce: The characters bounce back from severe injuries very quickly. The major villains don’t die. They just, I don’t know, don’t come back out of respect, I guess? [Courtney laughs] Most of them, a few of them return. But the characters will bounce back near death after a battle and go off to a new island the other day and the big bad that they just barely defeated, like, won’t make a second attempt just because. [Courtney laughs] For some reason. But you go into the backstory readings, and every backstory is tragic. Everyone had something horrible happen to them at some point. And it’s like in the present day death is almost unheard of, and when you get a flashback scene, like, death is basically a certainty. And I just– I find those situations more interesting. Particularly there are a few cases of long running characters where you see a bit of them and it’s a bit of a mystery who they are and what they’re doing for significant portions of the show, and then you finally get a backstory that pulls that all back in several hundred chapters later. And some of those were pretty good.

Courtney: Well, don’t leave me in suspense. Is Luffy ace? What is your assessment after all those many thousands of chapters?

Royce: Well, here’s the thing, I think to talk about One Piece and to talk about Luffy, we should first talk about Dragon Ball and Goku.

Courtney: Ah, this I do have a little bit of firsthand experience with. All right, let’s hear it.

Royce: So I started seeing some parallels between the two protagonists pretty quickly. And I later learned that the author of One Piece considered Akira Toriyama and Dragon Ball his largest influence. And that definitely shows. There are some similarities, not only in the characters, but also in the franchises. Because you think about Dragon Ball, that is an original manga that ran from ’84 to ’95. So it would have concluded a little bit before One Piece started. And it was adapted into an anime series that got very popular. And a lot of the plot that exists, a lot of the characterizations that are there, don’t have much to do at all with relationships. It’s a lot of martial arts. It’s the entire world being threatened. It’s people training and getting stronger to overcome the struggles that they’re faced with. And there are some cases of relationships there, but it isn’t at the forefront, it isn’t talked about very often. Like, romance is not the genre.

Royce: And to make that more complicated: you have the original manga, you have translations of that, both official and unofficial, you have the anime, you have the English dubs of the anime, which sometimes censored or recharacterized things. There’s a whole big thing about anime from this time period where the English dubs were being pushed to a younger audience, and so some of the aspects of that were changed. There are some gags that were completely removed from Dragon Ball and the early One Piece episodes. Chain smoking is very common in the One Piece universe and the cigarettes were all replaced with, like, lollipops and things.

Courtney: [laughs] I always find it so funny when you learn about things that get censored in translation. Because it reminds me of, like, the Pokémon Dratini episode where, like, the stereotypical, like, western cowboy American shooting his guns didn’t even air over here because of the gun violence. [laughs] But it’s also, I mean, you think about the time period that came out in, like, there was still a smoking section in restaurants.

Royce: Yeah. But with Dragon Ball, not only do you have the censorship, not only do you have the translation issues, as a lot of manga are adapted into anime, you have a lot of filler. And Dragon Ball was notorious about that because they re-released Dragon Ball Z Kai many years later, which was a rendition of the anime that was meant to be more true to the original manga. And the episode difference, once Kai was finished, through the Majin Buu saga, it was 167 episodes. The original run of Dragon Ball Z was 291. So that’s a significant amount of content that was essentially non-canon. And when you think about all of these vibes, all of these memories that people have, well, where was the source of that? What was the translation? Where did it come from?

Royce: Was it actually the author’s intent for the character or was it made up to pad time by another writer? Was it a translation? Because both of these series have your, like, lecherous characters done for comedic effect. And sometimes, you know, romance is not a part of the main plot. Sometimes these are characterizations that were on the side. Both characters, Goku and Luffy, are often sort of single-minded. They’re focused on the things that they enjoy and are very oblivious to things around them. And sometimes their ignorance or their obliviousness is comedy. And comedy, particularly comedy that involves wordplay or misunderstandings, is very difficult to translate.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: So if we try to form some ground to stand on here because we’re in a show that does not discuss orientation, how can we look at this character and try to figure out some amount of intent? And I think the best way to do that is to try to look at specific scenes, figure out where they came from and what the intent was with them, and to compare them with the representation of other characters in the show. So, like in Dragon Ball, Goku was a little mountain boy raised in isolation by his grandpa, Gohan. When he first met Bulma, he didn’t know what gender was. He just thought people were people and had no concept of it.

Courtney: Who needs gender when you’re a little mountain boy? [laughs]

Royce: Yeah! He was occasionally surrounded by people who were shown to be allo. I think– I mean, Master Roshi definitely is the old, perverted lecher type, lots of nosebleed tropes. Bulma would occasionally use sex as a means to further her quest for the Dragon Balls. There’s a couple times where she, like, flashes Master Roshi just to get what she needed out of the situation. She dates Yamcha. They have a very dysfunctional relationship throughout the course of Dragon Ball. And so there are some cases– I mean, Dragon Ball Z has a couple of significant time skips in it, so you eventually see Goku grow up, get married, have children. And throughout this time period, you see– you know, you know other characters are also engaging in relationships. Like some, not many, but you do see some of that depicted.

Courtney: This might be silly, but do we need to take a half step back and define the nosebleed thing? Because I know for me, talking for just me here, it was an embarrassingly long time before I actually understood what that represented. I was oblivious to what that meant until it was explained to me.

Royce: Yeah, that nosebleed trope is supposed to signify arousal because of heart rate or blood pressure changes.

Courtney: I don’t know how many times I saw that depicted and just was like, “What a weird thing. Why, why a nosebleed right now? Very random.”

Royce: And there were sometimes, One Piece does this more frequently, but there are sometimes, particularly in early Dragon Ball – early Dragon Ball was goofy – where they would call out and make fun of things like that in universe. Because sometimes it’s the expectation is: you as the reader are seeing this, but it’s not like literally happening.

Royce: But there’s a case in a world martial arts tournament where Krillin is fighting some kind of staged character who– his whole deal was that he smelled really bad and so his– his opponents would have to fight one handed because they’d be covering their face. And Goku shouts out from the crowd, “Krillin, you don’t have a nose!” And Krillin’s like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have a nose, I can’t actually smell anything here.” And that’s how he wins the fight. There’s a case where, again, Krillin– actually Yamcha is fighting an invisible opponent and his way to solve this problem is to pull Bulma over, and sort of like frame the scene, and line Master Roshi up, and like tilt his head in the right direction and cause a projectile nosebleed onto the enemy. So now the enemy is visible. Which I think was cut in the English dub, as him going to a store and getting a can of tomato paste.

Courtney: Of course, makes perfect sense.

Royce: Which is why you can’t always trust the dubs or the translations. But in this, we do have some depictions of relationships, often for humor. We have depictions of sexual attraction. We have a lot of characters, for one reason or another, who are just not shown to be interested in romance for one reason or another. And so if we look at Goku as a child being pretty oblivious to all of this that’s going on and then getting married to Chi-Chi and having children later on, you can sort of take their relationship and compare it to others in the franchise. And I’ve seen people try to dissect this and go in a bunch of different directions. Like some people will say, “Well, Goku isn’t technically human, so how can we expect a non-human entity to act human?” [Courtney hums] But then we have Vegeta, who’s also a Saiyan, and his relationship to Bulma, which is depicted in media as being very different.

Courtney: Yes. Which that’s why we always try, in our analyses, to compare the show to itself, by the standards it sets for itself. Because as soon as something’s not human, anytime we’re talking about ace vibes, ace coding, ace headcanons, anything of that nature, a certain percentage of people are going to use that to immediately try to negate any ace vibes or any sort of connection that ace people might feel to the character. They’ll be like, “Well, it’s because they’re not human.” And you know– And unfortunately then, by extension, there will be a certain percentage of asexual people too that will also hate that headcanon. Because then they’ll be like, “I hate headcanons that aren’t human! Because we’re so often dehumanized.” And that is so true. There are actually studies that show that ace people, compared to our other queer peers, are dehumanized at higher levels. So I get that sensitivity, I do. But on the other hand, you’ve got to compare the show to itself. And it’s not saying, you know, every single Saiyan is just devoid of this fundamentally human characteristic, so.

Royce: Yeah, we see glimpses of Saiyan society in other instances.

Courtney: Context really, really matters when going off of vibes.

Royce: Again, a lot of this is difficult to parse through because the bulk of the runtime is usually dedicated as the groups of people involved trying to prevent their planet from getting destroyed. So there are other things going on. But when I look at, say, Vegeta and Bulma’s family and Goku and Chi-Chi’s family, they feel different. Chi-Chi and Goku feel like a mixed orientation relationship, at least to some degree. Because they don’t seem to be on the same page. They don’t seem to want the same things out of the relationship exactly.

Courtney: I feel like that’s– That’s such a nuanced headcanon. It’s not just I’m headcanoning this character as ace, you’re like, “I’m headcanoning this relationship as a mixed orientation relationship.”

Royce: Their relationship in isolation feels different than other relationships in the franchise, and it’s because of Goku.

Courtney: Mm-mm. Well, I remember and maybe you have a clearer memory of this manga panel, but there is a panel, after married, after having kids, where Goku is, like, disgusted by kissing.

Royce: So I haven’t read that. I tracked it down a little bit. I believe that was from Dragon Ball Super. Which is– I read through, read and watched, through Dragon Ball Z, which ends with the defeat of Majin Buu. I saw a little bit of Dragon Ball GT, that one, I believe, is fairly widely panned. And I believe Super came after that and I have very little knowledge of that.

Royce: I did do some searching because I was curious about it, and I heard a lot of people arguing about it, because that is the big panel that shows up. Because what’s happening is Trunks is trying to revive someone – I believe it’s a woman named Mai – and he chews up a senzu bean in his mouth and then passes it to her. And Goku is, like, shocked. Like, “What is he doing?” And Vegeta is surprised at Goku’s reaction. Like asked– Do you remember exactly what it was? Something about, like–

Courtney: Well, I remember the question, like, “But you have kids?” Like–

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: The implication seemed to be that Goku has never kissed his wife, and doesn’t understand why someone would put your mouth on someone else’s mouth. [laughs]

Royce: Now, I read some commentary around this. I didn’t track down the panel in the manga, partially because even if I found it, I don’t know if there would be translation notes. And I can’t read the raws, obviously. So I don’t know what the intent is here. But one of the criticisms I saw of this interpretation was that this was a misunderstanding joke based off of wordplay. And Goku’s shock was more along the lines of why is he feeding her like a bird. And Vegeta says something like, “What do you mean? You’re married, right?” And Goku says, “What does that have to do with this?” [Courtney laughs] What does feeding someone like a bird have to do with being married? And Vegeta interprets that as Goku not knowing what a kiss is. And the misunderstanding was the joke.

Courtney: Gotcha. Because, yeah, that’s definitely one that I’ve seen thrown around as, like, jokes that are like, “Oh Goku’s only had sex twice,” because they have two kids, and that’s– those are the only times it’s ever happened. Like, those are the jokes that I’ve seen in the fandom concerning panels like that, or just his general seeming lack of interest compared to other characters.

Royce: Well, it seems like the nature of their relationship itself was a lot more work on Chi-Chi’s part. She was interested in him when they met as kids, and then she trained and went to the World Martial Art Tournament with the intention of marrying him afterwards.

Courtney: As you do.

Royce: And so Goku was just kind of along for the ride, I feel like, for a lot of it. Not to say that he doesn’t care, but he’s written as a character that is more interested in getting stronger and training and fighting than literally anything else.

Courtney: Which one thing that I also think is funny in just sort of the– the hypocrisy in the way conversations around pieces of media happen like this. Because earlier you said there’s other things happening. There are people trying to save the world, save the planet. Like romance isn’t the focus. And that’s a thing that a lot of aspec people will critique from, like, other more romance-centric, like, end of the world things, or big – you know – post apocalyptic things, where relationships are very prominently featured. A lot of aspec people will be like, “This seems so unrealistic. Why is there so much sex? Why is there so much romance? Why is there this relationship drama when, you know, basic survival is hanging by a thread?” And to which a lot of allosexual people will be like, “Because it’s so important, it’s always going to happen.”

Courtney: Like if the world’s about to die, you know the– Like, if you know the world’s about to die, you know the– Like, if you know the world’s going to end in five minutes, what would you do? So many people are like, “Orgy.” Like, “I’m going to have sex for the last five minutes of my life.” Never understood it, never could. So like, we will use that as allocentric media being unrealistic. And yet when there is sort of a lack of interest in big doomsday scenarios, people will also use that to be like, “Well, this isn’t asexual, this isn’t aromantic, they just have other things going on.” So…

Royce: And to compare the franchise to itself, one of the relationships shown is Krillin and Android 18, which happens right in the middle of combat as Cell is ascending and is about to get to the point where no one can deal with him anymore. Krillin actually hesitating to kill Android 18 is what allows that to happen. So it’s not like that never happens in the franchise. It just never happens with Goku, and many other characters. Side point before moving on to One Piece, in Dragon Ball we do have a lot of the main characters who do get in relationships. We do have some characters like Tien and Chiaotzu who are only really shown to be hanging out with each other frequently. And I don’t remember there being, like, any indication of any romance between the two, but there are definitely people in the fandom who are like, “Those two are gay and in a relationship together.” But it could also just be a, you know, QPR sort of situation, which I don’t hear mentioned at all.

Courtney: Wow, RIP our transcribers for all these names and words you’re throwing around. [laughs]

Royce: The names of Dragon Ball Z characters?

Courtney: I mean, unless they’re also, you know, anime and manga fans. Since a lot of googling to get spellings down correct. We love you both so much. Thank you. [laughs] Angels.

Royce: So we’re going to move around to One Piece, and Luffy is a little island mountain rubber boy. [Courtney laughs] He ends up getting his rubber fruit powers, Devil Fruit powers, fairly young incidentally. And once you get some backstory on him, he’s– One Piece has a lot of like predestined characters. Like the people present in the current story are sort of fated to be there. There are some, like, premonitions or prophecies that this generation was going to be the one to change things from a centuries old conflict. And a lot of the characters are carrying some monikers that haven’t been completely revealed, but seem to be tied to some sort of fate or otherworldly thing that is happening. And Luffy comes from a family of absurdly powerful people. And kind of has that situation of like, “Oh, both my dad and my grandpa were obscenely powerful, like, world altering people, and so I just got thrown in the mountains when I was young, with a bunch of gigantic wild beasts and trusted to survive.” Yeah, just drawing some parallels there. He’s also again one track mind, very oblivious. He’s going to be the pirate king no matter what anyone says.

Courtney: I mean, yeah, goals.

Royce: Very excitable, very naive, very trusting. And throughout the entire show shows absolutely no indication of wanting a relationship. Now in One Piece, the time frame’s much more limited. There is a two-year time skip where the characters basically– they hit their skill checkpoint. They hit the point where they have advanced so far, so quickly, that they’re starting to deal with more powerful entities in the world, and they can’t deal. So they basically get jettisoned to the corners of the world and forced to train for two years and come back. But that is not quite equivalent to the breaks in Dragon Ball Z, where Goku basically is an adolescent, breaks to several years later when he has a young child. And then we see Gohan growing up through another time skip, and then becoming an adult after another time skip. So the franchise spans a lot more time, which allows for some of those relationships to happen.

Royce: Most of the characters in One Piece don’t seem to be interested in relationships whatsoever. There aren’t very many cases where they’re overtly declined. There are some with Luffy where– We will talk about those in a minute because they’re important. They’re the ones that people speak to online. But most of the cast just have other things going on. You do have another lecher character, Sanji. There’s a point where the crew is going to the, like, village of mermaids, and Sanji, thinking that mermaids are supposed to be, like, incredibly beautiful, has been a thing that’s been going on, he’s been excited to go here. And he starts having, like, nosebleeds that are so bad that he’s passing out and can’t actually fight with the rest of the crew because he’s unconscious for a significant part of this arc. And they finally get down there, and they see the mermaid princess, and she’s not only told to be exceedingly beautiful, she’s also, for some reason, enormous. She’s like 30 feet tall or something. And everyone else sees her and is like, “Don’t let Sanji look at her, he’ll die.”

Courtney: Oh no.

Royce: And there’s a scene where they’re in the same room, and they’re like, “Sanji, don’t turn around, you will die!”

Courtney: Oh, no…

Royce: And he does this like one line where he was like, “Some things are worth dying for,” and he turns around and knocks himself out, basically.

Courtney: Oh, my goodness. So they look at this guy and they’re like, “Oh he–

Royce: He’s frequently the butt of jokes because of this, yes.

Courtney: “He wants mommy to step on him.” If you’re a mermaid, you probably– you probably– Is it still stepping if it’s a fin? How do you tell a mermaid, “Step on me, tall mommy.” [laughs]

Royce: Moving on. [Courtney laughs] There are some other characters where, you know, when this topic gets brought up, when there’s someone who is said to be very beautiful is around, who will go in on it, they are not as, I guess, single-minded as Sanji is. Because that’s like his biggest character detail. But there are a couple others that are similarly minded. There are also some characters where, like, their position in society is well known and other people tend to react to them. There’s one person in particular, her name is Boa Hancock. She’s the character that most of these interactions with Luffy happened with. But she’s portrayed as somewhat Medusa-like, and has a power to petrify people. But the petrification can only happen with people who are attracted to her. And so there’s a case where she goes on to, like, a sailor ship and petrifies the entire crew because, like, everyone there thinks that she’s attractive.

Courtney: It’s an interesting Medusa, like, succubus kind of a hybrid. Also I read a poem about a Medusa recently.

Royce: But with Hancock already established to have this power, she’s told to be the most beautiful woman in the world at this point in time. During this two-year training period, Luffy finds himself stuck on the island that she rules over. It’s called Amazon Lily, the Isle of Women. It’s an island where men normally aren’t allowed.

Royce: And he ends up landing there because he was thrown there by other forces I’m not going to mention, because he wasn’t strong enough to handle what was going on. This is part of his two year time skip. And he’s just trying to get off the island and get back to where his friends are and resume what’s going on. So he starts bounding around through the forest and on buildings, and is like, “I just need to get to a tall building. Important people are in tall buildings. So that’s how I’m going to get off the island. They can help me get a ship.”

Royce: And he ends up jumping and flying too far and coming crashing through a roof. And this coincides with Hancock leaving some of the higher ups in the place where she’s at and going to take a bath. And so he falls into the room, into the bath with her, and is just kind of shocked to be there all of a sudden. And in that moment he sees a tattoo that’s on her back, which is something that is a part of her backstory that he’s not supposed to know about. And so she immediately tries to petrify and kill him, and finds that the beam doesn’t work. She does the petrification beam at him, expecting him to turn the stone, and he just, like, braces himself for impact, then finds that the beam doesn’t do anything, and then makes, like, a really confused face.

Courtney: [laughs] Oh, that is a face.

Royce: I don’t know how to describe that.

Courtney: I don’t know how to describe that face! I don’t know if I’d call it confused. Disgruntled maybe? [chuckles] What a face.

Royce: But she tries again, and it doesn’t work. And then the two of them are both standing there confused, like, what is happening? What is this supposed to be?

Courtney: Literally question marks over their heads.

Royce: But Hancock says, “Why do you not turn to stone? Even after seeing me in the bath. Is your heart not moved in the slightest?” And one of her sisters says, “Don’t be ridiculous, sister. None, old or young, male or female, could fail to be captured by your beauty.” And then Luffy just runs out of the building.

Courtney: [laughs] Okay, I love that. And oh man. So where to begin? First of all, that’s hilarious. I also– I can see why ace people would read this and identify heavily with. He is clearly presented to be the oddball here. Like this should be working. Something is stopping this from working.

Courtney: But also just the fact that it still seems to be the allosexual people who are the butt of the joke. If we are – for the sake of describing ace coded vibes – to say, “Alright, Luffy’s ace.” He is funny and he is present for funny situations, but the butt of the joke is kind of this seductress Medusa, and her sister saying like, “Everybody will fall prey to this.” Or even the early example of the allo guy saying some people are– some things are worth dying for. That’s so absurd and silly. But the lack of attraction is not the butt of the joke, which is really refreshing. Because how many times have, like, the weird, socially awkward, like, 40 year old virgin trope, Sheldon Big Bang Theory kind of a trope, like, the one who doesn’t seem to have the attraction is just weird and they’re the butt of the joke, because look how weird they are.

Royce: Which one correlation I want to draw here between Luffy and Goku again, and One Piece and Dragon Ball, is the idea of purity of heart. Because right there it’s– It was mentioned like, “Were you not moved? Does this not affect you?” Luffy’s shown to be a very good-natured, innocent person. He is again, like I said, very quick to trust. I kind of have to put good with an asterisk, because he is morally minded, but he is also ready to throw down at any moment. He’s like– At the slightest provocation, he’s like, “I’m going to send you flying,” kind of a thing. He’s very quick to jump to fight, but then if someone gives him, like, an extremely simple, logical statement of why he shouldn’t fight them, he is like, “Okay, you want to join my pirate ship?” [Courtney laughs] To the point where some of the other crewmates are like, “They were trying to kill us five minutes ago. Don’t let them on the ship.” [Courtney laughs]

Royce: But purity of heart is something that takes place in Dragon Ball as well. Goku is said to be one of these individuals. There are some systems at play, like the Flying Nimbus, the cloud that he flies on in Dragon Ball and, I guess, a little bit of Dragon Ball Z, where good-natured people can fly on it and ill-natured people can’t. Master Roshi could fly on it when he was younger, and as he got older and more perverted he lost the ability to do so. When Goku originally met Krillin, Krillin was a bit nefarious, he couldn’t ride on it. And so there are sort of some established magics in the world to distinguish a good from a neutral from an evil character, and the show pushes Goku as a purely good character. And in some instances One Piece does that with Luffy as well. I don’t think that that has anything to do with orientation, but it is one, I guess, in-world thing to keep in mind, because pervertedness is seen as an impure thing in these franchises.

Courtney: Yeah, and I mean that that could add to the pile. Because I’m– I’m kind of keeping a running tab in my head of what the plausible deniability could be. Because anytime there is a character that is not explicitly stated to be asexual and/or aromantic, if there is a good size population of readers that are themselves aspec and identify with that character, and we’ll say like, “Yeah, we claim them. We feel that.” – we even had that with, you know, Jessica Rabbits, one we’ve talked about outside of anime and manga – there is always a very, sometimes vicious, reaction from online fandoms to, like, ace headcanons and ace identification. Because there are a lot of pockets of fandom that are just very incredibly acephobic, and will use anything and everything to deny any sort of ace coding or vibes. And that doesn’t mean it’s right for them to vehemently deny anything and everything, but I’m thinking here, like– because I’ve seen these arguments so many times that I know what they throw out.

Courtney: We already discussed the human things, “Well, they aren’t human, so that doesn’t count.” Or sort of the hypocrisy of, “Well, other things are happening, other things are more important,” big doomsday, end of the world kind of a thing. To which some of the same people will also say like, “Yeah, super realistic to just start having sex right now at the end of the world, because that’s what you do.” So there is a hypocrisy in that argument from some folks. But then there’s also, like, the– the purity could be a component of plausible deniability too. Because in the real world, like, we also get some amount of ace hatred because there’s some amount of public backlash towards purity culture, and like the religious brand of celibacy. So that could be an element of plausible deniability. Even age, like, Luffy’s a kid, right?

Royce: Luffy’s an adult.

Courtney: Oh really?!

Royce: He’s 17 at the beginning of the show, and 19.

Courtney: Well, 17 and 19 still like… That’s still in an age where some people are like, “Oh, you just– you’re a late bloomer.” But at least with Goku, like, we see him grow up.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: So just some things to keep in mind. Because that’s also– It’s not an indictment on any ace person who would read and identify with these characters, or really like the headcanon, or even just like the way attraction and relationships are not the focus. But it still really does speak to how powerful it is to actually have named representation in other forms of media where the word is said, there is no deniability at all. It is on paper. There’s a lot of power to that. Because anytime there’s a gray area, or up for interpretation, and it’s not named and said for what it is, someone’s going to be picking a fight about it.

Royce: So, age-wise, by comparison, Sanji, the character I mentioned, starts at 19 and is 21 later in the series, so.

Courtney: Ah.

Royce: Most of the cast is pretty young, I think Luffy is on the younger side, but they aren’t kids. They aren’t young kids.

Courtney: [mockingly] You just haven’t found the right one yet.

Royce: So continuing this. There are a few bits here and there that line up with this. Most of it– the most overt instances are with Hancock. Otherwise, for the bulk of the show, Luffy just isn’t looking for a relationship himself and is just not in a position where it comes up. But at the end of this sequence, he has sort of proven himself to the people of Amazon Lily and is invited back to Hancock’s chambers. And her intent is to reveal all of her past, to explain that tattoo, to open up and tell him everything that’s going on. Which was something that she had been hiding for a very long time and something that she was very worried about. So it’s a very vulnerable personal thing. But he gets called into her chambers, and she’s sitting there waiting with her shirt off because her tattoo is very large and in the center of her back. And he’s told he can enter, and he says like, “Oh, is, is there food?” And then he– he’s like, “Oh, I’m coming in,” and says, “Oh, there’s no food,” and then says, “What are you doing all naked and stuff?” [Courtney laughs] And she brushes it off and reveals the tattoo, and goes into her whole backstory of how she got that and what it means, what it signifies. But–

Courtney: I really just like the, “I wanted food, not boobs.”

Royce: I mean another parallel, Luffy– Most of Luffy’s physical regenerative abilities come from consuming enormous amounts of food and very quickly digesting them, which the Saiyans in Dragon Ball also, their appetites were comic relief. But due to that situation, due to Luffy appearing on the island and having this very personal moment with Hancock, she falls for him and is following him around for a bit. She doesn’t become part of the main cast, but she’s definitely, like now, assistive.

Royce: It’s a big part of– The story overall is these pirates are going from town to town, place to place, getting involved with people in their affairs and making a lot of supportive friends by doing the right thing along the way.

Royce: This is one of the few cases where someone is overtly shown to have romantic interests in Luffy. And there are a couple of scenes, as he’s trying to leave, where she’s like, “I’ve loaded up the ship with your favorite foods. I think a thoughtful woman like me would make a wonderful wife.” And he’s like, “I’m not marrying you, but thanks for the food.” [Courtney bursts out laughing] And there are a couple of other instances like that, where she either indicates that she wants to marry him and he brushes it off, or she just starts talking and he cuts her off before she even gets to the point. He says, “I’m not marrying you.” And then she’s like, “Yeah, I know, but like this other thing I’m talking about here.”

Courtney: The man knows what he wants.

Royce: So at least the aspect of a relationship with this one person does come up and he does reject it. But that’s in the over a thousand chapters runtime, these are small moments. Because, again, this is not a romance manga. [Courtney hums]

Royce: Now there are other characters shown to be– generally, they’re shown to be in an established relationship in, like, a backstory or there, you know, you find people who are married or dating in the present day when you find them. I think potentially just due to– Well, due to the events that are happening, due to the fact that the characters are constantly sailing around the world, due to the time frame – so far this entire story has taken place within the span of under three years – there just isn’t a lot of room for that sort of growth. There are some instances. Sanji is sort of forced into an arranged marriage that starts to fall through. But you do see some other characters that do show romantic interest in one another. But even amongst the extended cast, which is – when you take into account all the places that they’ve been – is really vast, there just are not a lot of cases of relationships being the priority.

Courtney: Which that in and of itself could be a positive aspect for a spec readers, even if they themselves do not necessarily headcanon or identify with the ace codedness of these characters. We hear a lot in our community people saying, like, “Why is so much media so sexual? Why is so much media so romance focused?” So I – at least – see where the appeal’s coming from.

Royce: Yeah, I think the few bits and pieces here were enough for me to feel like Luffy is shown to be different than most of the people he’s around. His reasons for turning down the relationship aren’t that surprising. I think a lot of people who have other things going on would have done the same thing, in the cast. One thing that kind of occurred to me is Luffy is the one person in One Piece who is suggested is ace. Zoro, the sort of second, like Luffy’s right hand, we had a comment or mention. I haven’t dug into, like, fan speculation much about what the entire cast of characters could be ace, but the two women on the ship I haven’t heard any speculation about them. And I don’t think either of them give any indication of wanting relationships either.

Courtney: Yeah. And I mean, that– that’s where the vibes and the coding can be complicated. Because I have also critiqued other media by just saying like just an omission or an absence is not enough. Because some stories are just not about this. But I can at least see, as you’re explaining, these scenes with Luffy, with that Medusa woman and with, “I’m not marrying you, but thanks for the food.” Like, especially because the food, like, comparing appetites and, you know, the cake is better than sex, or cake or garlic bread, just aspects of ace culture in general. That at least gives him – even if they’re small moments in a huge franchise – he has been given an opportunity to refuse. To refuse a relationship, to demonstrate a lack of that attraction. Whereas some of the other characters, it sounds like maybe they just weren’t put in a situation where they could very clearly show a refusal. It’s just sort of a more passive absence.

Royce: Either a more passive absence or it’s a scene where it wouldn’t make sense, even for an allo person. Like Nami, the ship’s navigator, is one of the more prominent women in the series. She is normally rebuffing Sanji because he’s annoying.

Courtney: Oh right.

Royce: Yeah. I do think for Luffy and for Goku, when you compare them directly to other characters in similar situations, they appear distinct from them. Again, the word isn’t said. The discussions are happening at a level where you’re actually getting some of their internal thoughts and motivations, but it’s at least an inkling of something that reads different about them.

Courtney: So I’m definitely starting to see why Luffy has come up as a name in Ace Rep. But how do you feel after having read all of it so quickly? Would you have kind of come to that assessment on your own? Or would you have said some of the vibes, or otherwise appreciated it?

Royce: I think loosely, yeah. Again in a similar vein to how I see Goku. I see the two of them as being distinct from other characters in the show, but given the limited amount of time we see them in these situations, you could come up with a number of conclusions as to why or what that could be. But yeah, an ace reading does seem to be one of those that’s plausible enough. I don’t think– Well, I guess when I was originally watching Dragon Ball, ace identity wasn’t in my mind. I read the manga as an adult, but even then I don’t think it was really something that I was looking out for or was really considering, because, again, that wasn’t really why I was reading the show or what I was getting out of it, what I was paying attention to. And the fact that it is often a part of comic relief in the shows. I think it ends up getting pushed into the background.

Courtney: Well gosh, do we even swing the gavel for a ruling such as plausible enough?

Royce: I don’t think this is a– I think making a ruling goes against the point of the entire episode, which is just to talk about interpretations of vague things in long running franchises.

Courtney: Well, there you have it. Plausible enough, no swing of the gavel allowed. Not on Royce’s watch.

Courtney: So, on that note, if you made it this far, presumably, it is because you are an aspec fan of manga and anime. If that’s not the case, I commend you for making it this far. But nevertheless, I would love to recommend to you this week’s featured marketplace vendor: Kuroitani, where you can purchase a manga created by a BBlack Asexual Comic Artist. We ourselves have purchased volume one of this manga, entitled Seeds of Doubt. And on Kuroitani’s website you can also get adorable little charms of the characters. It is a very cute art style.

Courtney: The plot is: [reading] “Two boys, one who stands in spotlight and the other in the shadows, overcome the anxiety and fear that plagues their home. Their bond as companions is explored as they deal with issues of inner growth and their life path surrounded by the threat of the kyofun.” Please check it out. That author is Tani Andrews. Original manga, 100 pages, rated Teen. It is always super fun to discuss the really huge, big name manga out there, but it is also so important to support small, independent manga artists as well. So, as always, links to find this week’s featured vendor is down in the show notes. And with that we will talk to you all next time. Goodbye.