One Piece
Episode 786

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 786 of
One Piece ?

Out of all the shows that are airing right now, as much as I love them, One Piece is still the one I look forward to watching the most every week. Obviously, I've been a superfan of the manga for a massive percentage of my life, but even the anime manages to be something of a warm comfort blanket for me. There's been a lot of ennui circling Toei's One Piece these days, and I can't really blame people who are feeling fatigued, but I also have the urge to remind fans that the show has always gone through phases. Sometimes it's on-point, sometimes it's a slog, but it never truly dies. It'll never be the hot production that gets everyone talking like My Hero Academia or Attack on Titan, but at this point in my life, I just don't need it to be.

I bring this up because this week's One Piece episode is great. I've been enjoying all of these Whole Cake Island episodes so far, but this is the first one that seems to be putting everyone on the same page. It's just an all-around good episode, as good-looking and well-paced as everybody asks the show to be. It's still not as good-looking or well-paced as the hits of this season, but it's a good example of the bar we have set. For my money, I like this episode because it validates what I've been saying about the ones leading up to it. There's something in the water here that calls back to the mid-2000s era of One Piece. This show has been slow as molasses with barely average-quality animation for a long time, but that never stopped people from falling in love with it.

The enthusiasm this week starts with the exploration of the town that Luffy and Chopper get to go gaga over. They've got people of all races living there, as per Big Mom's dream to run a unified country without discrimination, and in this town in particular, everything is made of chocolate. Clothes, musical instruments, buildings, everything. Every inch of this place is edible. This kind of "Wow! Look at this crazy new place!" feeling is common in One Piece, but something about it here feels especially reminiscent of the Water 7 days. It also helps that Luffy and Chopper's voice actors are doing an especially great job conveying the excitement this week.

But that's just the beginning of the episode. I've been preaching patience when it came to the Whole Cake Island episodes, but even I was floored by how much stuff was crammed into this week. Maybe "crammed" isn't the right word; it's more like "summoned", because this episode is just a wave of really cool details and ideas that felt like they could have been right out of the manga, but were just extrapolated on for the anime. Did you know Pedro uses his electro power to light his smokes? That's not in the manga as far as I remember. We're back to a one-chapter-per-episode pace, but even by those standards, there's way more in here than I'm used to seeing per episode.

But the real clinchers here are the proper introductions of Big Mom and one of her many children, Pudding. She's a smart, kind young woman who runs the chocolate cafés of the town, and she's generous enough to help Luffy and Chopper out of a "snackalism" accusation by the local police. Pudding's a real sweetheart, and her moments of blushing over compliments to her chocolate recipes are as adorable as can be. The story we can gather from here is that Pudding knows she's scheduled to marry Sanji in three days, and while it is a little sad that she doesn't have a say in who she marries, she's comforted by the thought of being with someone as strong and kind as Sanji. Gee, this Pudding girl seems so nice and genuine. How does she belong to a family like Big Mom's? (Pause for dramatic irony.)

All of that would've made a satisfying episode on its own, but the show has one more final scene to execute before it's over: a musical number where we see Big Mom in full for the first time, as she sings about making a wedding cake for the upcoming matrimony. The twist is that the song is actually super morbid, and the ingredients she's gathering are the result of her underlings scoping the best products out from nearby islands and murdering whatever locals get in their way. This scene can only be described as a trip, since it feels so different from everything else around it. The Disney/Alice in Wonderland inspirations are obvious, and you can see the animated dancing employing a lot more American-style squash and stretch as the various living objects that spin around with Big Mom go to town.

This sequence is a shock to the system since it's both incredibly fun and surreal, but it's also pushing Toei's limits in a few places. The low-framerate style of Japanese animation doesn't do the scene any favors, and Big Mom's anime model is not what I expected, at least for now. I don't know what it is, but something about the spacing of her eyes and her hyper amount of detail compared to all the other characters is really unnerving. Then again, making Big Mom as creepy as possible was a part of the goal, and boy did they succeed there. Other than that, I've been obsessed with this sequence, watching it over and over again since it aired. The way the song builds and climaxes, and the way that the dancing in Big Mom's domain is intercut with her crewmates slaughtering hundreds of innocents leaves an insane impression.

I'm just baffled at how rough around the edges this show can be and still inspire this amount of excitement. It's the same story I read in the manga, but just seeing it again and evaluating the adaptation choices is fun to me. Whole Cake Island is off to a great start so far. That's kind of always the case, with arcs beginning strong and then dropping once the freshness of a new location is gone, but there's a spark here that I'll always admire, even when I know it's temporary. It also helps that the show's new animation director clearly has his fingerprints all over the place, at least lending a bit of hope that things will continue look interesting enough to keep fans engaged for another full-length arc. Good episode, man.

Rating: A

One Piece is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.com.

Sam Leach records about One Piece for The One Piece Podcast and you can find him on Twitter @LuckyChainsaw


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