by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 763 of
One Piece ?
It now officially feels like the new "saga" of One Piece has begun. Punk Hazard and Dressrosa were the Doflamingo saga, and now Zou and whatever comes next are the Big Mom saga. Zou has been an arc of characters telling stories, filling each other in on what's been going on while Luffy was away from half of his crew. It turns out that it's still probably going to be a while before the Straw Hats are truly whole again, as the story of Sanji's absence in the present day is cemented into something much bigger.
Last week ended with the confrontation between Sanji and the two members of Big Mom's pirates who trekked it up to the top of Zou. Sanji was hoping it could be as simple as handing Caesar off, since they have no need for a hostage anymore, but it turns out there's another agenda on Big Mom's mind. Bege Capone, the Chicago-style gangster who was a super rookie on Luffy's level and now an underling of Big Mom's alliance, proves himself much cooler and smarter than I think a lot of fans pegged him for back in the day. He manages to not only capture Nami and Chopper, but also overwhelm Sanji and Brook with the mini army that lives inside of his body as per his Devil Fruit powers.
Capone's powers get officially labeled as the "Castle-Castle Fruit". His body is a fortress and anybody who steps inside his field can shrink and live inside of him. The crew (plus Caesar) become hostages inside of his body, while Capone and Sanji talk things out like adults across a long dinner table. The big reveal? Sanji is being appointed to marry Big Mom's daughter in a political marriage set up by Sanji's family. Who are Sanji's family? A group known as the Vinsmokes, who are at least famous enough to strike fear in Brook's heart (or at least they would if he had a heart). This is all completely new information to the audience, who had little reason to believe there was more to Sanji than the story we got all the way back in the East Blue.
Sanji seems just as shocked as anybody by this announcement, but it's more because he never expected to hear from his family again. This whole time, there was an entire other life that Sanji had completely put behind him in favor of his life as a cook. The idea of a secondary flashback for a main character isn't unheard of in this series, since that's exactly what happened with Luffy after Ace died, but it definitely raises a few points of interest. How far is Eiichiro Oda willing to go with these bonus backstories? Now that there's precedent, we can start thinking of all the ways that the other Straw Hats could be expanded on as well. We still don't know much about Franky's "famous pirate" father, I think Brook spent a chunk of his life as a soldier before he became a pirate, etc. Is a secondary flashback for every Straw Hat something that we even want? It certainly seems dramatic enough to have us chomping at the bit for more information, but if done wrong, it could easily become overkill.
There's a lot to dig into now that we have a general idea of where the story is going next. Sanji is being cast into One Piece's classic damsel-in-distress position (the gender roles for which thankfully got tossed out in this series a long time ago). The "we have to save our crew member!" stories have always lent themselves to the most emotional and desperate stuff in the series, which One Piece hasn't really tapped into in a long time. The movie Strong World felt like such a statement on how tight-knit the crew has become and how difficult it is to get any sincere drama out of one of them trying to leave, so it's nice to feel something actually threatening the crew's togetherness for once in such a long time. It's also noteworthy that the subject of this storyline is Sanji, the character that fans have been the least happy with in recent years. Sanji had devolved from one of the coolest fighters in the crew to a complete joke. His nosebleed adventures on Fishman Island are still a pretty significant blight on that arc. This is the first time in ages when we've gotten to see him serious, and it feels like Oda is deliberately addressing the fact that he let Sanji become one of the weaker links in the cast by going all in this time.
Production-wise, I have a lot of nice things to say again. We continue with the show miraculously staying on model the entire time, but this time with the added benefit of some especially expressive facial animation. I don't know exactly what's going on, but the faces really do get a lot of unique attention in the animation of this episode. They just seem a little extra detailed and alive These last few episodes really are how One Piece should look most of the time. They're not too stylish that they cancel out Oda's sensibilities, but they're never bland either. They just feel right.
This is definitely the trap that's easy to fall into with a show like One Piece. When the production's good, you start to forget when it ever looked bad, and the inverse is obviously true as well. I think about that really ugly clipshow a few months back, which felt like such a disaster at the time, but now it feels like a forgivable exception. I hope the next time the quality inevitably has to dip comes at a strategic point in the story that feels natural, and I don't have to forget about good episodes like this.
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