Ever since the Reverie arc, Red Haired Shanks has been a character that’s on everyone’s mind.
From being a happy-go-lucky pirate to entering the offices of the Gorosei at Mariejois, his character arc has seen a seismic shift.
It all began when he arrived at Marineford, ended the war, and gave the combatants an ultimatum that if you don’t stop this war, we’re going to enter into as well.
The truce helped both sides recuperate. Or so it seemed at that time.
With the ensuing mess that was the War at Marineford, there was one quote Shanks said that caught my attention:
“The courageous moment that you created by risking your life just now has changed the future of the world tremendously – for better or for worse”.
At the time, the implication of this quote revolved around Coby giving Shanks enough time to arrive. It also helped the Whitebeard Pirates take Luffy and Jinbe to safety from the menace of what could have become Akainu’s war of attrition.
As heroic as he was at Marineford, since the Reverie arc, we are now starting to see a totally different side of Shanks. A side that is apparently concerned about the balance of the world. This, in turn, makes one look beyond the heroics and analyze the last part of his quote, “for better or for worse”.
Who was it better for? And for whom was it worse?
To answer that, I’ve created a timeline of events that show how badly Shanks is after maintaining the status quo.
Before the war was hardly a possibility, Shanks arrived at Whitebeard’s ship to warn him about Marshall D. Teach.
He feared for the day when Blackbeard would rise as a pirate and become a threat to Whitebeard’s position as a Yonko. Whitebeard paid no heed to his warnings, which eventually led to Ace’s capture and the war of the best.
One part of Shanks’ plan failed when Teach gained the powers he needed to become a Yonko at Marineford.
But it was a minor setback in his grand plan. He was, nevertheless, able to stop Kaido from entering Marineford.
Had he failed to stop Kaido, not only would the Whitebeard Pirates collapse, but the Marines would also be significantly weakened. A World Government without its naval might would give the Revolutionary Army ample room to strike at the heart of the current order and fulfill their plans without increasing their casualty rates.
With his interference, he was able to stop the world’s domino from collapse.
When Coby made his iconic speech before Akainu, the needless bloodletting was observed everywhere. For normal Marines, as the war dragged on, the body count increased as well.
Had Coby not made that speech, and not given Shanks enough time to arrive, Akainu would have been ready to wage a war of attrition.
To succeed with his ideology of Absolute Justice, he would have sacrificed more and more men in the war until all the pirates were utterly defeated.
In such a war, the morale of the regular Marines would have been shattered, even if they had come out victorious in the end.
Shanks helped prevent all of that. Because of his actions, the next two years were relatively peaceful. The Marines regrouped, the Yonko maintained their territories and made no special moves. The only development during that period was the Payback War, and the world witnessing Blackbeard’s rise as a Yonko.
Two years later, the status-quo would be challenged again.
This was the turning point of that peace. Whatever balance Shanks was able to maintain, Luffy tore it all down by declaring war on Big Mom at Fishman Island.
At the time, it meant nothing more than Luffy’s show of solidarity to the Fishman race.
But times have changed. Luffy’s actions at Whole Cake Island, Big Mom and Kaido teaming up at Wano, and the Mink-Samurai-Ninja-Pirate Alliance ready for battle against them are just some of the major signs that the power balance of the world is going to get turned upside down in a way we’ve never witnessed before.
But Luffy and the Straw Hats weren’t the only ones responsible for this.
Before Law re-entered the story, the Straw Hats had only challenged Big Mom and had resumed their journey through the grand line.
At Punk Hazard, everything changed. Law made an alliance with Luffy to take down Yonko Kaido. The alliance led to a chain of events that’s led to the current situation at Wano.
But where does Shanks fit in all of this?
The final stages of the Punk Hazard arc saw Law giving Doflamingo an enigmatic speech while destroying his SAD factory:
Law ended the speech by saying that he’s “broken the gears”. This clearly implied that he had broken the order of the world and the status quo as it stood.
Understanding Law’s quote, as well as Shanks’ arrival at Mariejois during the Reverie, it should be pretty clear how he was able to skillfully restore the balance of power of the world by his actions.
Knowing the many variables involved in the Shanks’ supposed rescue of Luffy, his quote, “for better or for worse” takes on a different meaning.
For “better” emphasized that Coby’s heroic speech ultimately gave Shanks enough time to arrive at Marineford and restore the balance of the world in favor of the Marines.
While for “worse” implies the eventual damage and course of events that would happen in the future when Luffy came back. A concern that eventually surfaced when Luffy returned, formed an alliance with Trafalgar Law at Punk Hazard. Law, in turn, “broke the gears”, thus supercharging the events leading up to the entire Yonko Saga.
On his end, Luffy started breaking the order of the world when he declared war on Big Mom at Fishman Island.
At this point, only Oda knows what he has in store for us. Will Shanks remain the contemporary protagonist, or become a major antagonist? This is something that only time will tell.
For now, I feel that he is focused on changing the course of events that either benefit his political position or save the world from utter chaos, thus giving his actions a complete contrast to the goals of our protagonists.