I debated with myself multiple times over whether or not to write this blog. On one hand, it feels like beating a dead horse. On the other, I think Dressrosa lacked a sense of closure that other story arcs managed to convey quite well. But the true impetus for me finally publishing this piece is a comment made on a (sort of) recent episode of the long-running One Piece Podcast. Link to the page below:
At about fifty minutes in, the hosts begin their round table discussion of that week’s anime episode, which happens to be 702, entitled “A Celestial Dragon! Doffy’s Stormy Past”. As one might expect, the majority of the conversation revolves around the moral grounds of the citizens lynching the Donquixote family, as well as Homing’s questionable judgment in leaving Mariejois without having first researched public sentiment towards World Nobles. What surprised me, however, was the difference in opinion when it came to the actual torture scene. Some of the hosts expressed their discomfort at how disturbing the scene was; feeling both sympathy for the citizens and yet disgusted at how they could inflict such pain on innocent children. Another host chimed in and stated that, in retrospect, Doflamingo deserved every single misfortune he suffered. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment. A child who had no control over the environment he was raised in and was conditioned from birth to think himself better than others deserves this horrific punishment for crimes against humanity he himself had no part in. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. My curiosity piqued, I scoured the far reaches of the internet to see what other individuals had to say about Doflamingo’s past in relation to his present day self. What I found was that a significant amount of people subscribe to the notion that the Heavenly Yaksha is inherently evil. That’s right. In a series like One Piece, where seemingly irredeemable scumbags like Arlong are given shades of grey, this guy just happened to be born with the Jihad gene. All sarcasm aside, it seems to me that Doflamingo’s character has been the subject of numerous misunderstandings and confusion as of late, in no large part due to Oda’s contradictory changes in his portrayal. This document will attempt to serve as a remedy to that confusion, as well as an appraisal of Doflamingo as a whole.
First off, to those who haven’t yet read it, I’d like to recommend DancePowderer’s blog series entitled “The Smiling Man”. He does a fantastic job illustrating the mystique and magnetic charisma that makes Doflamingo such an intriguing character. Parts 3 and 5 are especially enthralling, as they meticulously examine Doffy’s lack of fear concerning authority and how deeply ingrained his upbringing as a World Noble truly is. I’d go so far as to consider them a prerequisite to this blog, as they eliminate the need for me cover the same ground in a much less satisfying manner.
With all the disclaimers and endorsements out of the way, let’s dive right in. To begin with, I want to address all of the points levied in favor of Doflamingo being a complete sociopath since birth. The most widely cited argument that I’ve seen is Corazon’s reference to Doflamingo as a “monster” and “not human”, showing disbelief that his mother and father could have given birth to someone such as him. While this may seem to be damning evidence in an otherwise open and shut case, we must remember that this is only one man’s opinion of Doflamingo. Opinions always have a bias. By that same token, biases have contextual reasons behind them that are usually rooted in experience. In Rocinante’s case, he witnessed his brother swear vengeance on a lynch mob and eventually murder his own father in cold blood. That kind of trauma would leave a negative impression on anyone, especially someone who loved their family as much as him. We must also keep in mind Rocinante’s mindset at the time of the incident. He was only six years old then and obviously didn’t possess a mature enough mentality to empathize with his brother’s frustration (which ironically enough would stand in sharp contrast to his older self’s forgiving attitude towards Law’s stabbing). Add fourteen years of separation that allow those memories to fester and you have yourself a very skewed view of an individual. At the end of the day, I don’t think Corazon ever really tried to understand Doflamingo.
The other argument I most often see posited is that while the two brothers have indeed experienced hell, Rocinante overcame any sense of ill will to become one of the most kind-hearted, compassionate characters in the the series, as opposed to Doflamingo. Therefore, Doflamingo must have simply had a natural affinity for wickedness. What this kind of reasoning ignores is the sheer variety of human disposition and the tremendous effect outside influences have on children. Right from the get-go of the series, Oda shows us that the inhabitants of One Piece are unique and diverse in their personalities. Even when put in remarkably similar scenarios (i.e. the death of a loved one), each person reacts in a somewhat different manner, a subtle detail that reinforces each character’s individuality. Doflamingo and Rocinante are no exception. All throughout their flashback, the polarity of the brothers is displayed. We observe that a young Roci is the quieter and shyer of the two, as well as more openly affectionate towards his mother, as seen when he clings to her leg in Mariejois and openly weeps on her death bed. Doffy, on the other hand, is visibly more talkative, more assertive, and more independent, as demonstrated when he walks the streets of an unfamiliar town alone and flaunts his (former) status as a Celestial Dragon. That’s not to say he lacks filial affection (on the contrary, we see that Doflamingo treasured the memories of his mother even decades after her passing), he simply doesn’t show it as blatantly as Rocinante. Doffy’s more outgoing temperament may also help shed light on why he was so heavily indoctrinated as a World Noble. Numerous scientific studies have stated that extroverted children often seek out role models beyond the home, as opposed to introverts who tend to rely mostly on close friends and family. Naturally, the only peer group present in Mariejois would be other World Nobles, who mathematically outnumber the well-intentioned Homing and his wife. Thus, it’s only natural why Doffy would idolize them so. To an impressionable kid like him who has lived all his life in a bubble, individuals like Saint Roswald and Saint Jalmack would be seen as examples to live up to.
All of these facts serve to underline how terrible Doflamingo’s suffering truly was. Imagine being ripped away from your home and being subjected to the most grievous abuse possible, never knowing if it will end in death, and all while having to scavenge for rotten food just to survive. Imagine being exposed to the elements with no shelter in sight, and wearing only rags for warmth. Imagine sleeping with one eye always open, constantly on the run. Imagine being powerless to help your mother as she succumbs to malnutrition and disease and wastes away before your very eyes. And imagine knowing that all of this could have been avoided were it not for foolhardy decision of your father. The feelings that would accompany such a scenario would best be described as fearfulness, sorrow, and most of all, anger. When Doflamingo responded to the accusations of the mob with an oath of vengeance, he wasn’t acting out of evil. He was an eight year old boy in anguish, and the one sliver of hope that he had was his heritage; a declaration that he would live on to see justice be fulfilled and one day return to his homeland. Like a child’s blanket that brings comfort in times of panic, the proud history and traditions of the Celestial Dragons brought Doflamingo what little security he needed. And with this, we come to the final, often overlooked piece of the puzzle. Ladies and gentlemen, I speak of course of Trebol. While it is safe to say that Doffy harbored a deep resentment towards his father, I honestly believe that he wouldn’t have murdered Homing without the encouragement of Trebol. Trebol was an enabler. He saw the beginnings of a deep-seated hatred burning inside of a young Doflamingo, and he decide to stoke the fire as it were. He provided him with power (in the form of a flintlock and the Ito-Ito no Mi) and swayed him into taking revenge. We even see that Homing’s execution is not a straightforward affair. Doflamingo doesn’t simply off him without warning or sadistically draw out his death for the sake of amusement. He took the time to list his grievances and demand an answer from his father for each one, tears streaming through his eyes all the while. In short, Doffy was conflicted. It was only when he pulled the trigger that he surrendered to hatred. He then journeyed back to Mariejois, confident that he would be welcome back with open arms and finally earn a respite from this hellish world. But we all know what happened next. They refused him. They refused him even when he had brought the head of the traitor who had dared to question their divine stature. Worse still, they hunted him down to preserve the secret of their national treasure. To a person like Doflamingo, who was so ardently committed to their beliefs, this was the most painful blow of all. It’s as if a little boy who had been raised on Hulkamania his whole childhood, who had taken beating after beating on the playground and been ostracized for enjoying wrestling, finally meets his hero face-to-face and discovers it was all a lie. That Hulk Hogan, is in fact, a racist asshole no better than the bullies on the sandlot. Heaven and hell blur together. Any faint inkling of optimism is snuffed out. It’s all a cruel joke.
From then on, Doflamingo was adopted by Trebol and the other executives and his hatred grew and grew, becoming a sea of flames ready to consume the world. Likewise, Rocinante was adopted by Sengoku, who helped give the young man a new purpose and light in his life. It was the influences that surrounded these boys that ultimately shaped their fates. While Rocinante forgave the ugliness of this world (and of the Celestial Dragons) and sought to help those without the strength to defend themselves, Doflamingo gave into despair and aimed to destroy all those who had brought him pain. In the endless discussion of nature vs. nurture, we may have made some progress after all.
Thanks for reading. I plan on doing a sequel to this blog sometime in the near future. It will hopefully cover Doflamingo’s worldview during the first half of the series up until the Punk Hazard arc, and the subsequent change in his characterization in Dressrosa.