by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 789 of
One Piece ?
The One Piece anime has been bizarrely paced recently, with its choices of opening scenes and ciffhangers not serving the story especially well, but that doesn't mean Whole Cake Island's story doesn't still come through. The return of Jimbei, the whale-shark fishman and former member of the Seven Warlords, is so exciting that it's naturally going to dominate my enthusiasm for the whole episode.
So here's the deal with Jimbei if you're not up on the last 300+ episodes of One Piece: Jimbei was Luffy's closest ally during the Impel Down and Marineford arcs that served as the climax to the "Part One" half of One Piece. He's a pirate captain formerly responsible for the likes of Arlong, and he has various political ties to many of the strongest forces in the world, including Big Mom. He's also commonly accepted amongst fans as the most likely character to become the tenth member of the Straw Hat pirates.
His rejection of Luffy's offer to join at the end of the Fishman Island arc (geez, that was well over 200 episodes ago now that I think of it) could have easily been brushed off as one of many similar scenarios in the series, but it always had a caveat: Jimbei actually wanted to join, but he had unfinished business elsewhere. Unlike Vivi, who decided not to join the crew after being asked, Jimbei's rejection was always a firm, "I can't sail with you yet." The person he considered to have unfinished business with? Big Mom, who offered her flag as a sign of ownership and protection over Fishman Island as well as Jimbei's Sun Pirates. Whole Cake Island may feel like a big picture detour on Luffy's path to fighting Kaido, but it's actually bringing a lot of the threads that began in Fishman Island to fruition.
I have a humongous investment in Jimbei joining the crew. He's our big, beautiful fish uncle and I remember getting choked up with excitement when Luffy finally asked him to join all the way back then, only to get turned down the next week. It's been half the series' run since the Straw Hats added a new member (Brook was the ninth member, still the "newest" Straw Hat to this day), and even in the days of larger alliances and grand fleets and all that, nothing beats the excitement of someone becoming an official member. That was always one of the things that kept One Piece exciting for me catching up. Seeing that family grow bigger and change, having that little honeymoon phase that happens with a new face is a feeling I've missed dearly in modern One Piece.
But that's just me gushing about a single character's reintroduction, and there's a whole actual episode to talk about besides. Jimbei's return comes by way of Big Mom's rampage, which began last week. She's got hunger pangs for croquembouche, and Jimbei, ever the helpful subordinate, arrives to give it to her by way of slamming it down her throat, since she's too violent and crazy to do it any other way. It's extra bizarre that this snack appears to be a plate of living croquembouche, complete with cartoon faces and apparent sentience. They say, "It's okay, as long as we're delicious," but they certainly don't look like they're happy to be eaten.
It was weird to see last week spend so much time on Big Mom's rampage, since all the most interesting stuff about it happens here. Before Jimbei arrives, she's destroying the city, eating the buildings and all that, but then one of her many sons, Charlotte Moscato, Minister of Gelato, appears in an attempt to calm her down. The idea is that when she's in rage mode, family means nothing, and she has no problem straight up murdering her own son with her soul-based Devil Fruit power, which she does. It's extra tragic too, because we saw Charlotte Moscato, Minister of Gelato, save a child the moment before, so it's possible that even among the fighters, Big Mom's crew is not made of wholly evil people.
Also in this episode is the continued Straw Hat semi-filler misadventures as they sail closer to where Sanji is supposed to be, and this time it's extra weird as they combat living monster fish that disguise themselves as giant fruits. We've seen the Straw Hats hunt and eat giant fish plenty of times, but there's something incredibly alarming about seeing fish (and we've just been told that they're real fish), get divvied up into regular looking giant fruit slices that the crew eats without a second of guilt or disgust. It's weird and uncomfortable in a way I never thought I would ever have to try and describe.
The slowness of these past few episodes are a real problem, but we're also entering the part of the story where I'm just gonna have a lot of feelings to discuss. I love my man Jimbei and his arrival to talk to Big Mom about possibly getting out from under her umbrella is so overwhelmingly exciting. It's also worth mentioning that this episode is the first time we really get to hear Big Mom's new voice actress when she isn't singing or screaming for croquembouche. Mami Koyama is doing an outstanding job so far, and there's a surprising amount of little performance choices going on here as we explore the many moods of a character who has moods in spades. If we were measuring this episode purely from a pacing and animation perspective, it's far from anything to write home about. But the momentum of the story is starting to get real interesting regardless.
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