One Piece Episode 774
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 774 of
One Piece ?
Zou has always been a wonderful idea for a fantasy location: a giant, millennia-old elephant (named Zunesha) that carries a country on its back as it wanders the ocean. That said, for something that seems to be a living, breathing animal, our characters haven't spent a lot of time wondering what its existence actually means. Last week, in the midst of Jack's onslaught, Luffy and Momonosuke heard Zunesha's voice when nobody else did. This calls back to the end of Fishman Island when Luffy and Shirahoshi heard the voices of the Sea Kings who came to halt Noah's fall. It's also reminiscent of the power Gold Roger's crew is often suggested to have: "the power to hear the voices of all things." Is this different to regular Observation Haki? Is this different to that time in Alabasta when Zoro heard the "rhythm" of his opponent's steel? There are a lot of similar powers to compare here, but there's always at least one detail out of place that keeps things mysterious.
I'm having a hard time finding the pulse on the momentum of these last few episodes. I generally try to imagine how watching the show would feel in a marathon, where the "shape" of the plot is easiest to grasp, but the awkward pacing lately is tripping me up. The Zou arc is nearing its end, and since it's more of a pitstop setting up bigger things, an episode like this is the closest we're going to get to a proper climax, with an impressive and bombastic action scene at its heart. (I'll get to that scene in a moment.)
Thinking back, Zou really does have a lot in common with the Fishman Island arc, albeit not as long and with a less traditional story structure. One of the main qualities of Fishman Island was that it teased all these new big picture elements, particularly the missing pieces of the world's deep history. It also promised a lot of dramatic things with Madam Sharley's premonition that Luffy would be responsible for destroying the island, and the kingdom's desire to reunite with the surface world one day. These things never came to pass within the arc itself, an element that felt anticlimactic for many, but there's something I found rather chilling about that approach. Those story ideas are actually so big and will end up meaning so much for the One Piece world that they may still need to be built up.
Flash forward to Zou and I'm seeing a lot of the same things. With the elephant being so old, I think the natural direction for the story to go would be to see it pass away from old age, or maybe even killed in a vicious attack from an enemy as strong as Jack or Kaido. The consequences of that would be felt immediately, and the Minks' necessary response would be very in line with the themes of the series. In a show with a faster burn, we'd see these ideas being toyed with by now. In any other story, twenty episodes would have been plenty of time to set up and pay off something meaningful of this magnitude. But like the ark Noah and the Sea Kings from Fishman Island, there's a clear message of "not yet." These things are connected to the elusive "truth of the world," which the story is not yet ready to show us beyond mere glimpses.
In place of any concrete answers as to the elephant's purpose, why it wanders the ocean, and what it's seemingly being punished for, we're given a pretty badass demonstration of its strength. It's not a proper One Piece arc if we don't have a character to peg as the "villain," and Jack plays that role however absent he has been most of the time. His return and attack on the elephant is meant to mentally prepare us for a showdown. Everything should be pointing to some kind of fight, as a poetic comeuppance is certainly due, and Jack's naval attack has left a few significant dents in the island-sized animal. However, a proper fight wouldn't feel right at this moment. Did Jack really show up just to give Luffy someone to fight for the arc? Are we really going to halt our progress toward Whole Cake Island for this?
The answer is obviously no. Jack returned so that Zunesha could receive Momonosuke's permission (another mysterious relationship) to fight back and smack Jack's fleet to kingdom come with its trunk, in a massive impact scene that's as lovingly animated and stylized as you could hope for. In the manga, it was just one slap, but the anime went the extra mile by having Zunesha slap them into the air, and then smack them out of the air in a triumphant victory. It's a really great scene. Sadly, the rest of the episode is slow, full of padding, and not that great-looking otherwise.
I really hope this impact scene is as satisfying as it looks to anybody experiencing it for the first time in the anime. For me, the weird pacing of the episodes leading up to it, on top of the fact that this scene is pretty much the only exciting one in this episode, has soured my taste buds just a tiny amount. It's a great moment that plays with dramatic expectations wonderfully, but I also think it deserved to have the stuff around it be a lot stronger for it to feel more like an A+ victory.
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