Ok, let’s go with Sanji.
There are many sort-of headcanons I really enjoy about Sanji’s character, and that I never really read about in the fandom (or at least it’s always kind of overlooked) ; his super-tight relationship with his job as a cook and how it influences his entire life, his just-as-tight relationship with women, and how both of those subjects are very intimately tied with his past and the fact that he is, compared to the rest of the mugiwaras, the person who understands the most the sea, a pirate life and the sacrifices that come with it.
I don’t know if you guys knew many things about pirates and sailor traditions before reading One Piece, but I sure as hell didn’t : I started reading a shitload of books on the subjects after getting into the fandom, and it suddenly came to me that Sanji represented much more than the random overly-romantic fool he passes for most of the time, because of how he would have been, in our world and at a certain period, probably the most important member of the crew.
A life at sea is a hard and merciless one, and Sanji knows that. He has lived and survived on the sea most likely his entire life ; contrary to most of his crewmates (I’m thinking Luffy, Usopp, Nami, or Franky) for whose the ocean was a close but still unnatainable dream, Sanji is a sailor at his very core, and this identity is the basis for his entire character.
[BEWARE : THIS POST IS LONG. THIS POST IS SO FRIGGIN DAMN LONG SON. THIS POST WILL MAYBE BE EXTREMELY BORING. THIS POST DOESN’T EVEN HAVE ANY PICTURES TO GO WITH ITS WALLS OF TEXT YET. THIS POST WILL PROBABLY ANGER YOU AND GIVE YOU A HEADACHE. I’M SORRY IN ADVANCE. PLEASE BE CAUTIOUS. PLEASE DON’T HATE MY GUTS.]
- [Sanji’s Role and importance as a (sea) Cook]
Take the fact that Sanji is a cook. It might sound like a job like anything else to a normal person, but at sea, a cook is the most important person on a ship. A cook keeps you from dying, a cook keeps the crew together through a good meal : it’s no wonders that cooks always held a pretty big part in a community, as they still are, in some parts of the world, considered like some sort of shamans. In sailor culture, a cook is the one who handles things in the most dire situations ; a cook is a lifeline. When there’s no more food, when you’re coming to cannibalism, the cook will be the one who will handle things, the one that will keep a straight face and will always be the neutral common ground. We’ve seen that with Sanji’s backstory : cooks are supposed to be the most solid member of a crew. To a cook, it’s not to the captain he’s supposed to answer, but to a bunch of starving men. Cooks are a inherent part of a crew, but they also are, in a way, completely out of it. They don’t pledge their life to a captain, but to the sea.
This is something we see very clearly with Sanji : he feeds everyone, anytime, even if that means putting himself in danger or starving himself. This is something that Zeff, an older, wiser cook, taught him, something that the sea taught them both : food is more important than anything else, and a cook has to be selfless in any situation : this is both a sacrifice and a blessing, and it’s a necessary price to pay when you’re a cook at sea.
And this relationship with his job is so intimate, is such a big part of who he is, that it transpires through his own relationship with people ; Sanji will do anything for his crew, he will sacrifice his own life and dreams to keep people he barely knows happy and in good health. A cook is first and foremost a life preserver ; and that’s the core of Sanji’s character ; he’s the lifeline and the true martyr of the crew. He’s the one who decided to forget all about his dream to protect the Baratie and pay his debt to Zeff, who himself sacrificed everything he had for Sanji. He’s the one who gets so angry when accused of being unable of protecting. He’s the one that will jump to fish Luffy out of deep water. He’s the one who can’t be noticed by marines thanks to his wanted poster, and you can bet he will use this anonymous statut to protect the entire crew at some point in the story. He’s the one that will stand between Zoro and Kuma, even when he knows he won’t come out of it alive. And he’s the one, if things ever come to this, who will cut his own leg to feed a starving crewmate. A cook is the ultimate barrier a crew has between the sea and their own humanity, because a cook is a part of both sides. He holds knowledges and powers that are closed to most people, and the price to pay is a heavier responsability than any captain could ever fully comprehend. When you’re a captain, you keep a crew alive. When you’re a cook, you have to keep everyone alive.
Have you guys ever heard of the Pirate Code ? This was a set of diverse rules that were invented by pirates during the 17th century, when piracy was at its peak. Rules mostly depended on crews, but do you know what was always, forever the number 1 rule on every ship ? Food distribution. That’s right. It wasn’t don’t defect, and it wasn’t even always obey the captain : it was “everyone has a right to have fresh food, and no matter which post you occupy, you’ll never starve on this ship”. This rule wasn’t written by a captain, it wasn’t written by a first mate, it wasn’t even written by the navigator or the doctor. The first, most vital rule of piracy was written by a cook. Because, in some ways, cooks were the people you listened to on a ship. Cooks are the lifelines. And even if One Piece’s characters arguably act like pirates most of the time, we can find this aura of respect and mystery surrounding cooks ; and we know that, even if Sanji acts most of the time like a retard, his role on the crew is much, much more deeply developped and on a much more personal and intimate scale than anyone else’s.
If you guys ever read the ancient greeks’ Odyssey, you should know that the definition of the sea changed a lot through history. Nowadays, we see the ocean like a huge puddle of life and mystery and we know it’s the origin of all living things ; we’re not afraid of sailing through it anymore, because we know where it ends, and we know how it (mostly) works. For ancient civilizations, things were much, much different. Ancient Greeks considered the ocean like a dead world, a trip with no returns. They hated the sea, they feared it (just see how Poseidon is represented : an angry, jealous, violent and merciless god that loves to torture humans ; for many theologists, Poseidon represented death much more than Hades ever did), and they were, to put it simply, very bad at orienting themselves on it (Odysseus spent 10 friggin years trying to go from point A to point B and the two countries were basically next to each other god damnit talk about a civilization of Zoros).
These two views are opposed in One Piece ; the world is mostly covered in ocean, and the entire society is concentrating on the sea(s) and how to survive on it/control it to its full extent. Pirates and Marines are the biggest forces out there, and their struggles inspire everyone around them and drives the entire world to the waters. To Luffy and the others, the sea is a neverending quest for adventure, and mysteries, and it’s an ode to life and hope and joys. Through Sanji’s and Zeff’s flashbacks, we see the other side of the coin ; the ocean is dangerous, and merciless, and it means death and hopelessness. The ocean doesn’t care who you are or what you do ; it’s the ultimate equality, because there is no pretense of justice ; only the simple truths of life and death.
And after knowing all of this -after realizing how important Sanji’s role is and what the ocean means to him-, you start to see his dream much differently.
Sanji and Zeff both dream of finding All Blue, the sea where all the fishes in the world can be found : as a kid, I thought that translated to “Imagine all the different dishes we could make if we ever found that sea !”, and this was enough for me. I can understand the excitement, for a legitimate artist, of finding something that would make all of your creations possible. This is, already, a big enough dream for a cook. But then, I re-read Sanji’s flashback. And again. And again. And I realized, that’s not what his dream is about at all.
Finding All Blue would be, for a cook, the ultimate victory against the ocean. It would be, to some extent, the victory of life over death. It would mean finally finding a place where a cook can save everyone, because there would be enough for everyone. This is a place where a cook doesn’t have to make the choices he was enthrusted with all his life, where he can live his passion freely ; as Sanji and Zeff said, "A true cook’s paradise". It would be a haven for every sailor on the seas, and it’s something Zeff and Sanji desperately tried to emulate with the Baratie. And this is why this dream is so unnatainable, why it seems so ridiculous to all the other cooks. Because this is dreaming of something that can’t possibly exist ; an ocean that doesn’t steal lives, but that gives life instead, with no prices to pay whatsoever : a true utopia for people who struggle every day of their lives to maintain health and cohesion through their respective crews.
- [Sanji’s relationship with women]
Then there’s Sanji’s relationship with women. I know I’ve been complaining a lot about this matter lately, and I’ve explained my views through many posts, especially since the time skip which, in my opinion, really disminished Sanji’s character to nothing more than a pervert, when he is -should be- a lot, lot more than this. I feel like Sanji is growing more and more like a parody of himself, even when (as you have read earlier on this post) his character is so full of potential and is so deeply rooted into the op universe. That’s what I’m going to talk about now - how Sanji’s relationship with sexuality, women and even -boom surprise- homosexuality makes sense and is culturally coherent with his role and backstory.
You all heard of the sailor custom of refusing women on crews, of the fantasm of mermaids and the general symbolism of feminity in sea-faring communities. Women, for a community that was mostly inexistant on the sea for a very long time, held a huge cultural significance for sailors. The ocean is a woman. Fata Morganas were inspired by a sorceress. Ships are always females. Figureheads were mostly female figures. Sea shanties are often about females, and not always in a purely sexual way like you would expect. Women meant home, and land, safety and pleasure, the past sailors left behind and the future they strived for : but they also meant danger, seduction and chaos. Feminity was a complicated, mysterious idea, that was considered both a sin and an unatainable form of power that no man could dream of having.
"Women are mysterious". "A woman is just like the sea". Does that ring any bells ? Yes, Sanji’s character is completely into this trend, and not merely because he is a sailor. I think the fact that he was raised on the sea is the reason he treats and views women the way he does ; not only because this is how women might be seen in the One Piece world (it seems they are, but it’s not completely assumed, since pirate women don’t seem to get that much criticism from other sailors for their genders), but because of the simple fact that, for all we know, Sanji wasn’t raised around women at any time during his life.
Sanji always was a sailor, and a cook, and both those professions were either exempt of women or were putting women in a separate universe altogether. There weren’t any working women on the Orbit (the ship Sanji was on before joining Zeff), or on the Cooking George (Zeff’s old ship), and there weren’t any on the Baratie either. Sanji heard of women from older men who, themselves, never really were around women that much (most of the Baratie crew were pirates and/or outlaws before, and we’ve seen that women aren’t as present in the criminal world) : they fed his mind with fantastical and romanticised images of perfect women, god-like women even, who had been molded through time by sailors’ beliefs. I suppose this is where he heard of mermaids for the first time, a tale of the ocean and human worlds meeting, both seductive and dangerous ; we can suppose this is the idea that mermaids are creatures that live entirely in the sea that first attracted Sanji as a kid, and not exactly the “female parts” per say.
We’ve seen how important this vision of women is to Sanji, and we sure as hell noticed how surreal it sounds to “normal” people. This is because Sanji doesn’t know women, but he thinks he does, and he was taught that what he was doing was the right thing. He wasn’t around women, he just heard of them, and of how wonderful they were. The only women he met were clients, aka people who stayed a few hours at most, and that he could only see and talk with through his job as a cook. So what could he do ? Well, he sublimed his twisted view of what women were through his gift of cooking. He offered them meals, and praised them, and fed them the best way he could ; because women are this far away notion to Sanji, this idea of safety and mystery and perfection that he always went after, for his entire life, through his job as a cook and his existence as a sailor. He can talk to women, and he knows they’re real, but he doesn’t understand them, and they never were a real, present part of his life.
This is why the fact that he compared the Mermaids Cove to All Blue didn’t annoy me as much as it did many people in the fandom ; because this is an important part of Sanji’s character. Because in a way, women and mermaids are an intense part of Sanji’s dreams ; they’re mysterious, and a haven for sailors, just like the sea he wants to discovers, and yes, it made a lot of sense for him to compare half-women, half-fishes creatures that he fantasized about all his life to All Blue. I don’t think it’s demeaning for his dream ; I think women are a part of his dream.
And maybe, maybe, in a way, Sanji is going against the current through his affection for women. I said earlier that women were a positive vision for sailors- but we could say the opposite ; after all, women were considered a bad omen on many ships, and were cast away from the sea for a very long time. Maybe Sanji was fed negative things, and his reaction was to defend women and treat them better than his sailing companions. Maybe he saw the mystery and fear women created in other men, and decided that, yes, women are exactly like the ocean, and he loved them even more for it. It’s still a twisted, irrealistic vision of feminity- but it would still explain a lot about his behaviour toward females.
And finally, let’s talk a little bit about Sanji’s view of sexuality and more precisely homosexuality (and I’m gonna put some crossdressing in there because YOU GUYS KNOW WHY AND STOP LAUGHING GODDAMNIT).
Because. Oh boy. Isn’t there a lot to speculate about.
This isn’t something that’s really rooted in canon, but that is present anyway and that maaaaaaaaany many people noticed within the fandom. Yes, I’m talking about you, yaoi shippers, and stop looking at your feet in shame because you did tap into an interesting part of Sanji’s persona.
I said earlier that Sanji didn’t understand women at all. He loves women. He respects women (well, that could be argued, but he thinks he respects women and I guess we’ll keep that in mind for now). But he doesn’t *understand* them. He wasn’t raised with them. He didn’t talk with them. In short, before joining Luffy’s crew, women weren’t a part of his life.
But men were.
Before you guys scream at me for thinking Sanji is canonically gay (which I don’t, not really, but it’s still a very interesting subject), think about it ; all of Sanji’s important, life-changing events were due to men. Zeff saved and raised him. His family on the Baratie was entirely consisting of men. Luffy opened the door towards his dream. There isn’t any female figures of any importance in Sanji’s story.
Sure, Nami and Robin are his nakamas, and sure, they seem to hold much more importance to Sanji than any other person in the crew, but that’s just an impression ; do you remember when Kuma separated everyone on Sabaody ? Sanji was overwhelmed with guild and horror at seeing Zoro, Brook, and Usopp disappearing. It wasn’t Nami’s or Robin’s disappearance that tipped him over and pushed him to go after Kuma, but these three. If Sanji really had cared that much more about Nami and Robin, he would have run just like Luffy had told him and protected them instead of trying a desperate move to protect everyone at the same time. I’m not saying Sanji cares more about his male crewmates ; I’m saying he cares for them all equally, staying true to his protective role, and this is true even through his adoration for women.
But there’s a truth in there, and it’s that Sanji knows men, Sanji respects and appreciates men for actual qualities rather than the mindless adoration he shows to women, and, more than anything else, Sanji acts naturally around men. He talks to them about serious shit, he laughs with them, he shares with them (Sanji tends to be seen opening up to Luffy or Usopp a lot more than he does with Nami or Robin imo) ; when he does communicate with females, everything is going through his "I-Love-Women" filter and he mostly ends up praising them and agreeing with everything they do/say instead of really exchanging ideas and feelings.
Because to Sanji, women are unatainable and untouchable. Do you remember, at any time, Sanji even remotely *hinting* that he was looking forward an actual relationship with any girl ever ? Do you remember him wanting to engage with a girl, or stay faithful to one woman only, or anything of the sort that wasn’t just him being a huge silly over-loving guy ? And this makes me think that, maybe, a relationship of any kind with a man would be much more logical ; because men are there, and men always have been a part of his life, and Sanji sees them as equal rather than infinitely superior to him. I’m not saying it should happen, and I don’t think it will ever happen ; I’m just pointing out that, most likely, a relationship with a woman is not something that should come easy to Sanji, and it’s not something that I see happening to him any time at all.
- [Sanji and Crossdressing]
And this is where I talk about Sanji’s view of crossdressing/gender identity. Aaaand this is where every fan either squeals in excitment or point sharp objects in my direction. I’m sorry in any case.
Have you noticed how often Sanji is put into a “OH BOY GAYNESS" situation ? I don’t think it’s purely for laughs on Oda’s part. I think that, once again, Sanji might be put in these situations because of his upbringing.
Because really, what is One Piece’s sailors’ views on homosexuality ? We just don’t know. Of course, there’s Bonclay, and there’s Ivankov’s crew- but they are seen and described as men or women who crossdress, and it’s never exactly stated they are gay. Okama can apparently be translated with gay and/or crossdresser, and japan’s view of homosexuality is already pretty messed up and complicated, so I wouldn’t know what to say about its place in One Piece. We can, although, speculate about it.
I’m supposing that Sanji was raised in an environment that pretty much viewed homosexual (read : M/M) relationships and crossdressing pretty badly (read : as in the traditional sailors’ distrust towars those), because the way he reacts towards it is extremely negative. Sanji pretty much hates the idea of men emulating women’s traditional qualities, because, I suppose, he considers men are unworthy of it and are bound to make a pretty horrible job of it (and, well, Oda isn’t really proving him wrong, which is kind of distasteful but welp).
But I think (and beware, this is an enormous leap of faith from my part) that Sanji might also be quite a bit attracted to the idea of being a woman.
Hear me out a second ; Sanji idolizes women. He loves what they represent to him- the mystery, the beauty. He appreciates what they do, the efforts they put into their appearances. He admires it, even. And we have seen, already, that Sanji isn’t exactly the kind of “manly-man” we’re used to see in any form of media. Sanji is a cook (which is still heavily considered a woman’s activity). Sanji is quite the romantic. Sanji bathes every day, and takes great care of his appearance. Sanji has a very strong sensibility (probably unassumed, by the way).
I’m not implying these qualities make a person gay or a crossdresser. What I am implying, though, is that no one else on the Baratie posess these kind of qualities. The Baratie’s cooks were ruthless, and dirty, and goofy, and overrall what you would expect a bunch of pirate cooks would look and act like. Sanji is ruthless and swears a lot just like them, but he’s still holding to those few out of place traits. Where did he got them from ? Zeff ? Maybe, but I’m not seeing it. Zeff was a pirate just like everyone else, and he didn’t show those traits the few times we saw him. So where does that come from ?
And that’s where I think women come into the story. Sanji saw women, and he heard about women, and he loved what women represented to him. Women were a glimpse into perfection. Women were full of all those perfect qualities. A man couldn’t be like a woman, for sure- but he could be inspired by them. A man could become a better person by trying to develop these qualities, by following into a woman’s footsteps. And maybe, just maybe, that’s where Sanji got these traits. I don’t think he was trying to seduce women by acting this way- I think he was genuinely admiring their prowess and trying, subconsciously or not, to emulate them.
And maybe that’s the reason he was so angry at the Okamas -because they failed at being women and they ridiculised, in his mind, what he loved women for. And maybe that’s the reason Oda still showed us Sanji crossdressing. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why, lately, Oda has put Sanji into Nami’s body. Because Sanji loves women as a man, sure, but he also admires them (or rather what he thinks they are) on a much more deeper level, in a way that makes him think, “man, why can’t I be perfect like this ?”.
And it’s more than probable that I am extremely wrong with this, or that I’m reading far too much into this, but let’s all be honest a second here ; do you know any male, *any* male, that would react the way Sanji did when being put into a female body ? You, as a male, would you be that overjoyed of becoming a woman ? Would you perv over yourself, cry tears of joy…Or would you, simply, lament the loss of your dick, like I guess anyone would ? Because, boy, if I suddenly became a man, I wouldn’t whoop around like a 5 years old on crack ; I would just look down and wonder where my awesome rack went, no matter how much I like men’s bodies. And that’s why I still think Sanji’s reaction was really fishy. Because he didn’t show a once of a regret. Not one second.
And I know all of this could be played entirely for laughs, or could be entirely a stroke of luck -honestly it most likely is-, but it’s still interesting to wonder about it.
And that’s it. That was my huge, huge headcanons post about Sanji. If you read through it, you deserve a cookie and a pill to ease your headache. And if you don’t agree with something, or if you think I forgot something, or if you simply just want to speak your mind about it, you can send me an ask.