by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 816 of
One Piece ?
Ever since One Piece changed to its morning time slot years ago, you can tell that it's subtly been trying to de-emphasize its violence. Dragon Ball Super certainly isn't as bloody as its predecessors were, but One Piece is still adapting material that needs to get dark on occasion, so it's always a pleasant surprise to see the anime stay faithful to the dirtier stuff. First of all there's Luffy, who spends the episode trying to get out of prison by twisting his arms around his body again and again in the hopes that his arms will stretch so far that they finally tear off and he can be free. The sound effects and visuals as his arms thin out and tear like bleeding rubber bands is frightening. The other example involves the story behind Pedro and Baron Tamago losing their eyes, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Brook continues to impress as he goes head to head with Big Mom, whose powers get shown off a little in this episode. Beyond having the ability to steal and manipulate people's souls, she has an anthropomorphized sun and cloud (Prometheus and Zeus, respectively) that can flare up into monstrous balls of fire and lightning. This is a case where the anime art was never going to be as impactful or dynamic as it was in the manga, but they look pretty cool nonetheless. Brook's coolheaded nature—"When you face an Emperor, you have no choice but to turn defiant instead of being nervous."—puts a neat little bow on the whole thing. Both Brook and Pedro's sides of the episode benefit greatly from how much the Four Emperors have been hyped up as the final frontier for Luffy's adventure.
Speaking of, the real star of the episode is Pedro's fight with Tamago, where the animation kicks it up a notch with lots of smears and exaggerated limb movement. Weaved in and out of great action and ridiculous pun-based attacks like "Legs Benedict" is some of the backstory behind the fight, where Pedro and his old crewmate Zepo ran amuck on Whole Cake Island years back. They managed to take out Tamago's eye in battle but were eventually caught and subjected to Big Mom's roulette wheel, just like Jimbei in the present day.
A lot of this is material that the anime has embellished. Since Zepo is the older brother of Bepo from Trafalgar Law's crew and this flashback informs a lot of the connections between the Minks and Big Mom, it's appropriate that we give some screen time to this character who's barely seen in the manga. Big Mom wants a hundred years of life force in return for the damages, but she can only pull thirty out of Zepo before he perishes. From there it's Pedro negotiating to get the remaining number of years down so that he can survive, and this includes plucking his own eye out in penance for taking Tamago's. We don't get to watch the actual plucking, but we see blood running down his face and his eyeball sitting in the palm of his hand as he offers it. It's awesome.
This is a superb episode that respects the audience's time as it briefly detours from the Pudding story. Pedro vs. Tamago easily could have been another background subplot, but this episode is gratefully a one-off with a great final scene that sees Pedro as the victor, all set to that classic Movie 5 soundtrack and flashbacks to the Minks' belief in the "Dawn of the World", just to make it extra dramatic. The worst thing I can say about this episode is that there were several stand-out shots where the art was trying to play with perspective, and it looks awkward and ugly as a result (a worm's-eye angle is not flattering on Big Mom, let's just put it that way), but all in all this episode cuts straight to the heart of what there is to love about One Piece's more melodramatic side.
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