Two years (and change) after parting ways the crew of the Straw Hat Pirates gather again at the Sabaody Archipelago. Each character arrived in his or her own time, and it was reasonable as a viewer to expect that Roronoa Zoro would be the last to arrive. Why? It is because the master swordsman Zoro has a particularly bad sense of direction. In this article we will look at Zoro’s character and his past and then I will make some speculative conclusions about Zoro’s unconscious mind.
It is a common trope in anime that the strongest characters have troubled senses of direction. There are numerous forum threads dedicated to characters with impaired senses of direction, with many choosing the perpetually lost lineage from Ranma 1/2 to be the best example. Characters like Kinpachi on Blech and Shin from Eyeshield 21 often find their troubled senses of direction further hampered. Even on One Piece Zoro isn’t the only character who has trouble making it to intended destinations. Luffy, the captain, often takes arbitrary routes decided by his whimsical logic (South is the direction where it gets warmer, is a great example).
However Luffy’s kind of being lost and Zoro’s have different feels to them. Luffy gets off track less because he can’t find his way and more because he generally doesn’t care how he gets to locations, sometimes seeming to prefer a random or inefficient route because it takes him to cooler places. Zoro doesn’t seem to care for detours. He wants to get where he was heading, but is unable to. Even when given clear and simple instructions he can get lost while walking across a room as seen during his time at Mihawk’s castle.
Zoro’s poor sense of direction has been useful from both a need for comic relief standpoint and to appropriately space out victories during combat sequences. It has also been pointed out elsewhere that this weakness is a popular one to have in strong characters, but for me the question remains: why can’t Zoro find his way? I have a suspicion that it is deeper than “because it’s funny.”
As a child Zoro was a dojo buster, that is until he arrived at the dojo run by Koshiro and his daughter Kuina. Unable to defeat the young Kuina, Zoro stays on as a student taking Kuina as his rival. In the little bits of his life from this period revealed in the anime, it seems that Zoro has not yet gain the capacity to get lost within a room. However Kuina dies tragically as an indirect consequence of her duel with Zoro, and he leaves the dojo carrying her sword and his promise to become the greatest swordsman in the world. We know he traveled for a time as a bounty hunter, but have no clear evidence one way or the other about his sense of direction. By the time he joins Luffy as a pirate, it is safe to conclude that he had already spent some time without the ability to find his way.
Sometimes we refer to someone who can find their way as being oriented, but we also use that to discribe those who know who, where, and when they are and have a basic understanding of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Somehow Zoro has become disoriented, and while I’m not using that in the way we might in today’s medical settings, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the events that spurred him into his current quest played some part in his troubles. Seeing as how he can get lost walking across an open room, Zoro’s malady suggests that unconsciously he is resistant to move forward. I can think of two possibilities as to what he might be resisting. The first is that the quest of becoming not just stronger, but the strongest swordsman was tied up on Kuina’s growing gendered identity. So even though she was undoubtedly important to young Zoro this quest is ultimately not his. The dissonance that follows may have found expression in Zoro’s inability to find his way.
The second possibility revolves around unresolved grief over the death of his precious friend. Zoro’s deepest mind may be sending him down all the wrong paths in an attempt not to see the promise with Kuina to its completion. Zoro’s action might be interpreted as those of someone who through whatever means wants to keep open a door that death had shut. He might be acting out of a lingering sense of guilt over his part in her death, or maybe simply because without the connection implied by the promise he can see no other way of maintaining the relationship with her. Had Zoro had a chance to grieve and let go, he might not have found moving forward so difficult.
Whether the cause of Zoro’s profoundly poor sense of direction is unresolved grief or a symptom of cognitive dissonance or something else all together, it remains a character trait that adds an interesting depth and dimension to the taciturn swordsman of the Strawhat Pirates. This article feels particularly overthought, but I wonder what your thoughts might be. Feel free to use the comment box below to let me know.