Nami has spent her whole life trying to save Cocoyashi Village. She’s been stealing money all her life from various pirate groups, trying to make 100,000,000 Berries to buy back her home from the villainous Fishman pirate Arlong. She almost had enough, until the corrupt marine officer Nezumi swings by to “investigate” and steals her treasure for herself. Worse yet, the one who called Nezumi? None other than Arlong himself. The people of Cocoyashi Village have had enough of Arlong’s abuse and are embarrassed by how they pinned their hopes for their freedom on Nami. They rush off to their inevitable deaths. In one final, desperate plea, Nami asks Luffy quietly in tears to help her.
Significance to the Narrative
Prior to these events, the Straw Hat Pirates were doubting Nami’s loyalty to the crew. Zoro thought he saw Usopp stabbed by Nami’s hands, Usopp heard straight from Arlong that she was loyal to him, and Sanji barely knew her. However, they come to eventually trust her when they are told of Nami’s past by her sister, Nojiko. Luffy was the only one who trusted her without any evidence to support his belief otherwise. When Nami asks for help, this is a unifying moment for all of them. This is the moment where they finally have come together as a crew and realize that they’re the only ones who can stand up to this oppression.
However, what really makes this work is its placement in the overall story of One Piece, specifically in the anime. Johnny and Yosaku’s speech to the people of Cocoyashi was actually an anime addition, but it adds an ominous tone to the scene. This isn’t just the salvation of the people of Cocoyashi: they’re at the beginning of a legend. The editing here is great, as we get some last lingering shots of the Straw Hat crew’s march to help us burn their images our mind, right alongside the villagers.
Impact on the fandom
The Arlong Park arc is often spoken of as a deciding moment for the series. If you are not a fan of One Piece by this point, chances are you won’t be in the future. It defines exactly what you should expect out of the best of One Piece! A little, unassuming hero that doesn’t care about what the world thinks of him, standing up to impossible odds, and ignoring any potential danger to himself to do what’s right. This is the formula that One Piece has been based on for the past 20 years. First Luffy was saving small villages from strong by relatively no-name pirates and marine captains. Now he’s liberating entire nations and standing up to the Emperors of the Seas. His methodology and attitude haven’t changed. Only the size of the conflicts.
The mystique of the walk to Arlong Park has only grown over the years. Arlong was the first major threat the Straw Hat pirates went up against, and his defeat was what gave Luffy his very first bounty. Now, 20 years later, Luffy’s crew has doubled in size and has made alliances with several pirate crews and nations. But the legacy of the Straw Hats began with this one stroll through the park.