On the Topic of Dragons
Dragons. They exist in almost every culture’s mythology and without even the power of a Devil Fruit, they *appear* to exist naturally in the world of ONE PIECE. And yet, oddly enough, even after hearing morsels of information about them for more than 25 years, we still don’t know very much about ONE PIECE’s natural dragons or their history. There’s a decent chance that dragons will (eventually) play a role in the story (possibly even a large one!) so let’s review some of the major instances of dragons we’ve seen in the series so far!
Basically speaking, dragons in ONE PIECE are divided into two large groups: winged ‘Western’ dragons and wingless ‘Eastern’ dragons. Winged dragons are represented by the kanji 竜 and wingless Eastern dragons are represented by the kanji 龍. Since ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ dragons are terms relative to our own world, I’ll drop them for the rest of the column.
Outside of ONE PIECE, on the most basic level, both of these kanji (龍 and 竜) are read the same, ‘ryu’, with the physical differences between them indicating the variety of dragon. 龍 is reserved almost exclusively for mystical wingless coiled dragons, while 竜 , in addition to just ‘dragon’, is also used to describe very real-world reptiles such as dinosaurs and…moles.
●Wingless dragons (龍)
These are fairly easy to categorize since we basically (see the giragon exception below) have three very easy to understand examples:
Ryunosuke aside, these types of dragons do not mechanically ‘fly’ so much as they ‘climb’ artificially created ‘flames clouds’. The reading of the kanji 龍 is exclusively ‘ryu’.
●Winged dragons (竜)
These basically come in two varieties, only one of which has been explored in canon manga material.
1. Four-legged Winged Dragons
Thus far, these are the only ‘true’ manga canon four-legged winged dragons. Within the manga, when naming these dragons, the reading of the kanji 竜 is typically ‘doragon’ aka ‘dragon’, creating a clear and deliberate nomenclature barrier between ‘dragon’ and ‘ryu’ in Japanese.
Examples of manga canon winged dragons include:
2. Two-legged Winged Dragons aka ‘Wyverns’
As for winged dragons that have only been seen in original anime material, this 竜 is a two-winged two-legged dragon or what we would typically call a ‘wyvern’. Although they may be refered to as ‘ryu’, their name still uses the kanji 竜 and not the wingless 龍.
Examples of wyverns within anime original material include:
An example of this type of dragon appeared during the anime-only Warship Island arc. The Strawhats befriended a wyvern named Ryu (so…a *wyvern-type* *dragon* named *Ryu*…this is fine…) Ryu’s species was known as Sennenryu literally ‘Thousand-Year Dragons’ and while their existence may not be manga canon, aspects of their existence and interaction with the Strawhats serve as interesting fodder for debate on foreshadowing. For instance:
・An elixir made from their bones was said to grant eternal life, something we know that the Op Op Fruit can actually accomplish and was a topic that Imu was researching.
・The creature could communicate telepathically to Luffy, perhaps an early hint at Observation Haki and how Luffy can hear the thoughts of Sea Kings and Zunesha.
・Death and rebirth is also a theme that may parallel the existence of Joy Boy.
All of this should raise a fairly apparent criticism: with all the use of ‘ryu’ in both the dragon’s name and species, why isn’t this a contradiction to the established use of 龍 ‘ryu’? The answer, while a technicality, still makes perfect sense. Despite using ‘ryu’ in pronounciation, the kanji used for the dragon’s species is the winged version 竜. In addition, Ryu’s name リュウ爺 or ‘ryuu-ji’ meaning ‘Grandpa Ryu’ has Ryu written in katakana which automatically differentiates the name from a more aesthetically Japanese and/or kanji-derived name. Although, it must be said that given the youth of the series’ story at that time, it’s likely just a happy coincidence that a glaring error wasn’t made.
Colorspread ‘Dragons’: The appearance of dragons in colorspreads could be strongly linked to the world of ONE PIECE or they may simply be designs that Odacchi felt inclined to use at that particular time.
Noko/Tatsu: A somewhat problematic example due to differences that exist between (essentially) the same character’s itterations across ONE PIECE video games and an original anime arc, this antagonistic seahorse dreamed of becoming one of the aforementioned Thousand Year Dragons. Seahorses are called ‘tatsu-no-otoshigo’ in Japanese which means ‘the fallen child of a dragon’ i.e. a dragon’s child, dropped into the ocean. In the case of Noko/Tatsu, its naming convention follows the winged dragon nomenclature and therefore has no connection to wingless dragons despite being wingless itself.
As for the much maligned ‘Celestial Dragons’ themselves, they utilize the winged four-legged kanji 竜 and seem to have affection for winged dragons as well. Even their mark seems to be a dragon claw. Their history with dragons remains to be seen…
One Piece Vol.66 Ch.656
One Piece Vol.68 Ch.675
One Piece Vol.80 Ch.803
One Piece Vol.101 Ch.1023
One Piece Vol.103 Ch.1043
One Piece COLOR WALK 10