by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 716 of
One Piece ?
Because this is One Piece, we open this week's episode with the continuation of Señor Pink's backstory. Last we saw of the Franky vs. Señor fight, we were still in the midst of Franky's victory pummel as he lands the final blow. Señor Pink, having accepted his defeat like a man, remembers his vegetative wife's smile, something he was only able to summon by dressing up as their dead baby in a bid of desperation. Somehow, this continuation manages to be even more melodramatic than what we saw last week. Eiichiro Oda had done a miraculous thing by turning the silliest of Doflamingo's officer's into one of the most sympathetic and memorable, and now Toei is here to milk it for all it's worth.
As the rain of punches reaches its climax, the music swells as Pink looks up at the skies and sees that the rain in his heart has finally stopped. It's incredibly grandiose, but also committed to with so much sincerity it's hard to think it was funny on purpose. Based on the execution in this episode, you'd almost think we spent an entire feature length film's worth of time with Señor Pink and his family, with this moment of redemption and acceptance being the classic Act Three turn.
Ultimately, Franky lands the final blow and wins the fight of manliness. He pities his adversary when he sees the officer on his back with tears in his eyes. “If we see each other again someday…” Franky impresses. “Let's have a drink, and you can tell me about the woman named Russian.” He walks away. The perfect punctuation to one of the longest, strangest and most surprising fights in the entire arc.
One of the main qualities of this episode, at least this first half, is that the soundtrack is noticeably well curated. One Piece has an enormous library of great tracks to use as background music, but I've noticed this arc rarely wants to draw attention to that fact, opting more for music that fits in seamlessly as opposed to music that stands out and gets the heart pumping (I usually prefer the latter with this series). A lot of great, classic tracks are aplenty this week as the episode sells the absurd melodrama.
Side B of this episode wraps us back around to the Diamante fight as Kyros, Rebecca and Robin are defending themselves against the fiend. I'm still not sure I get how Diamante's Devil Fruit works, but we'll roll with it. This half of the episode has a lot of neat visuals going on. I was just thinking about how it's been a while since we've had a straight up bad-looking episode, a nice bonus for sitting through this seemingly endless string of fights.
There are small pieces of cool movement and animation here, but my favorite stuff lies in the colors. This is especially true when Diamante unleashes his stardust attack, where he throws up a bunch of ninja-spike looking things that look like stars in the sky just before they fall to the ground, attacking the whole flower field. The sky takes on a cool dark blue that really bounces off all the reds and yellows we see in this scene.
Robin has successfully cloaked herself and Rebecca from the falling spikes by pulling out a huge chunk of the ground and using it as a shield, but Kyros is on his own. With nothing but his sword he manages to swat away every spike that falls near him. Diamante is shocked by this, crying, “Don't tell me he can even avoid getting wet in rain!” Looks like we've got another character for the list of cartoonishly manly dudes in this arc.
The biggest crux of this episode, however, lies in Rebecca's pleas to her father to let her fight alongside him. Once Kyros finally feels the weight of the falling spikes, we see the would-be princess at her angriest, showing off some scary facial expression to reveal even Diamante. However, Kyros continues to refuse her help. Beaten as ever, he stands up and gives an enormous speech about how she never has to fight again, showing off his unbroken determination even with great injury.
Rebecca and Kyros' story is a tricky one, because it very easily reads as a story about how women shouldn't have to fight, and that it's all up to the strength of men to overcome difficulties in life. That, combined with Rebecca's infamously skimpy and out-of-character outfit (I know there's technically a story reason for this, but let's be real here) really makes it easy for this conversation to become about the internet's favorite topic: sexism.
Frankly, I don't know what to make of this. I think it's reasonable to argue that this is an example of a larger pattern demonstrated throughout the series, but I also think it's reasonable to look at it as an isolated situation. If I wanted to discuss further the implications of gender roles and yadda yadda, you could predict what I'd say pretty easily, and I don't feel the need to pick at it more than loads of people already have.
However, looking at it as an isolated story (“this isn't a story about women, this is a story about this woman”, etc.) reveals that the Kyros and Rebecca storyline is still… kind of a mess. I mean, what is the character arc that we're looking at? We opened Dressrosa with Rebecca's desire to be strong and protect the Toy Soldier (Kyros before turning back into a human) and now we're supposed to find the thought of her having to fight to be tragic. It's supposed to be a beautiful moment when her father becomes human again and is finally able to protect her.
But we weren't crying earlier when she was alone in the colosseum. We, the audience, were completely on board with the idea of a gladiator princess, and her biggest problem at the time had nothing to do with the fact that she had to fight, but rather the fact that she wasn't as strong as someone like Luffy in order to compete against the likes of Doflamingo. The arc started out as her story, but the moment Kyros became human again her story didn't matter. “Your hands are still clean!” Kyros shouts, referring to her defensive fighting style and the demons of his own past haunting him. It makes perfect sense why Kyros would want these things, especially as a protective father, but it feels really strange that the story wants us to side with him and care about what he wants over what Rebecca wanted a few dozen episodes ago. Because, again, this story started out being about her.
I really love the Dressrosa arc, but it's definitely the One Piece adventure where Oda's godlike sense of big-picture storytelling begins to crack and show its weaknesses. On top of the irresponsible number of characters and subplots, the Kyros and Rebecca storyline does not strike me as something that was appropriately planned out. It feels like Oda dove in with a vague idea of where he wanted it to go, only for the pieces to not fall completely into place by the end of it. This was around the time that Oda was dealing with a lot of illness and exhaustion, and now that we can take a few steps back and observe, it's definitely starting to show.
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