by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 764 of
One Piece ?
Last week we received the stunning revelation that a.) Sanji was a member of an infamous family known as the Vinsmokes, and b.) he was scheduled to marry the daughter of Big Mom, one of the Four Emperors. This happened in one of the arc's many flashbacks, explaining why Sanji is the only absent Straw Hat in the present day part of the story.
We pick up on the inside of Bege Capone's castle body, with Sanji stressed beyond belief over his dire new circumstances. He never intended to think about, let alone meet, his family again. In a moment of desperation, he decides to toss his crewmates back outside where they would be safe under the protection of the Minks, staying behind with Capone's gang so that he and Caesar can be taken to Big Mom's island. Sanji's stated goal is to settle things with his family and then return back to his crew.
The cool set piece here is the presence of Cat Viper, the Straw Hats' saving grace when it comes to finding safety in the shadow of Capone's crew. Cat Viper is referred to as a "monster", and even in his wounded and amputated state he stands as a threatening enough figure to scare the enemy pirates off. The image of Capone's body standing alone underneath the humongous Cat Viper is such a cool one, really putting the Dukes of Zou high on the "don't mess with these guys" scale of One Piece characters. Of course, Cat Viper shows his fun side immediately after when his face lights up at the sight of catnip. He's really got that Miyazaki catbus thing going on.
Back in the present, Luffy announces that he wants to follow Sanji to Big Mom's home so they can ask him what he intends to do, since there's some disagreement amongst the crew as to whether or not Sanji really intends on returning (Brook seems to doubt it based on his familiarity with the Vinsmoke name). "Rescue arcs" are One Piece's bread and butter. I think of this less as the story getting repetitive and more of the story getting back to its strengths. The Nami, Robin, and Ace rescue arcs all had their own things to offer, and each succeeded in making the world of One Piece feel like a bigger and more interesting place. I discussed a bit last week that I think this is the right move for the series, which has been slacking a bit on the dramatic heights that we saw during its golden age. Sanji's been with the crew through its highs and lows, so I'm interested in finding out what he thinks makes this situation different, and why it's so important that he take care of it on his own.
There's a lot going on for the Straw Hats at the moment. They're now in direct contest with two of the Four Emperors, the Whitebeard and Shanks level guys the series has thoroughly established as the strongest of the strong, still standing way out of Luffy's league. The Doflamingo fight never quite scratched the itch that it needed to for me, which may have been Yet-Another-Warlord syndrome, and it's been time for a while to see Luffy tackling something too big for him to handle. Zoro is quick to remind the crew (and the audience) that their actions on Dressrosa make a fight with Kaido imminent, so they need to think long and hard before deciding to divert their attention to the equally scary Big Mom. Of course, our main character is Luffy, so having a complete and happy crew takes priority over any sense of safety. Off to Big Mom it is!
As of now, the barrage of Zou flashbacks seems to have wrapped up. The biggest mystery, Sanji's disappearance, has been explained, and now it's up to our heroes to react. Zou was never meant to be an especially long arc, more of a rest stop before we gear up for the next world-changing adventure, but now it feels like everything's about forward momentum. We're twelve episodes into Zou and it only now feels like the arc is in full motion. That's not necessarily a criticism, since One Piece is among those stories that I want to take as much time as it likes to be more dramatically interesting, and all these moving pieces promise big things for the future.
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