by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 804 of
One Piece ?
Flashbacks are akin to holy territory in One Piece, and you can always tell that the anime wants to go the extra mile in getting them right. Last week's episode began with Sanji's father disowning him so hard that he faked his own son's death and locked him up in a blatant Man in the Iron Mask allusion, all while Sanji's siblings get to grow up basking in approval.
It's here that we get the show's trademark flashback-within-a-flashback, as an imprisoned Sanji remembers his first attempt to cook food for his sickly mother, Sora. I think there's a good balance in giving Sanji a fascination with cooking, even back then, while also making it clear that he's awful at it and misguided at this point in life. A lot of his general philosophies both in and out of the kitchen will eventually be a product of his experiences with Zeff, so it's good to know that we can get this tragic prequel story and still preserve Zeff as his most important role model.
One of the things I found noteworthy was the use of distinctly old East Blue era tracks in the music, the kind of stuff that's sparse nowadays but always added a tender charm to the series. Child Sanji is especially emotional in this episode, looking cuter and sadder than I think I've ever seen. The scene where his mother eats his rotten dirty food after he trudged through a storm to give it to her is as genuinely sweet and adorable as you can imagine. There's a lot of contrast between happy Sanji and sad Sanji, especially once his mother passes away. It's heartbreaking.
There's also some down time spent with his sister Reiju, who cleans him up after his brothers discover him in the basement and decide to beat on him once more. There's a potential parallel between adult Sanji's love for women and the fact that women were the only nurturing figures in his life during childhood, but then you're kind of contradicting the Zeff stuff, and I don't find it all that compelling a connection to begin with. The most striking dynamic here is between Sanji and his father, where during the climactic scene of the episode, Judge gives him a chance to escape under the condition that they never discuss their familial relationship to anyone. It's a threatening scene that highlights Judge's patheticness. Obviously Sanji flees, and it ultimately leads him to a better life, but you can really feel how much damage it does to his own self-worth to be reminded that his father doesn't love him, even in an otherwise cathartic escape.
This is an episode that I wish could have looked a little nicer for the sake of the content that's being covered, but it's otherwise an installment that juggles a lot of unusual tones expertly. It's sad, it's scary, it's pleasant and hopeful. The episode ends as we return to the present where Sanji's brothers are giving him another brutal wallop, showing off how nothing's truly changed. The tragedy is that Sanji ever had to cross paths with his family again at all, and you really feel it as we close out.
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