One Piece Episode 817
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 817 of
One Piece ?
Charlotte Pudding is a triclops and has been evil this whole time. It's the kind of twist that, when you know it ahead of time, becomes inseparable from the character. There's just no way to talk about Pudding and play along with the idea that she really is the idealistic fantasy wife that she's set up to be. Audiences with good memories probably already pegged her as the three-eyed girl from all the way back in episode 571, but that alone wouldn't confirm her true intentions. There's a degree to which I wish the phony Pudding could have been conducted better in the anime up until now, since so much of her charm comes from how skillfully she challenges the inevitable "Is she good or evil?" question.
Thankfully, it's also the kind of twist that remains impactful even when you do know the end result. It's especially surreal in the anime where we've spent so much time with Pudding, and the slow build-up to Sanji's discovery is tightly executed. There's a brief moment of "Wait, this can't be real", as if we accidentally stumbled into an alternate topsy-turvy universe, but sticking with the scene makes it all too clear that yes, this is reality now. Even when you're prepared for it, the third eye feels so alien.
The whole episode is about Sanji eavesdropping, deciding to sneak outside like a little scamp and get into Pudding's room late at night to offer her a romantic meal. What he finds instead is his sister Reiju, shot in the leg and being forced to listen to her assailant Pudding's theatrical monologue about how evil she is and how pathetic she finds Sanji. The character detail I like most here is how Pudding's personal skill is acting, and because she's so good at tricking people, she's momma's favorite child. Those times when we saw Pudding alone, looking sad? She was just annoyed by Big Mom's overbearing love and attention. Everything that earned Pudding some sympathy in the past is slowly eroded and revealed to have been fake this entire time. Not only that, but it turns out Pudding is also instrumental in the Big Mom's pirates' plan to blow the Vinsmokes' brains out at the wedding, meaning I can officially start calling this the Alice in Wonderland/Game of Thrones mash-up arc.
So we've got one team of evil villains out to kill the other, and crushed underfoot is Sanji, who just cannot catch a break this arc. It's a really effective turn of events, but it's crummy to learn that it will also be a victim of Whole Cake Island's pacing. The entirety of this episode consists of Sanji sneaking up to Pudding's window, Pudding monologuing, cutting back to Sanji, Pudding making fun of Sanji, cutting back to Sanji, and so on. Repeat that for twenty minutes and you've got the idea. I was hoping we'd at least get to the explanation of Pudding's powers, but even that doesn't make the cut.
The core of this episode is a great hook that suffers from the usual pacing problems pushed to their extreme, as well as art that sporadically drops in quality. Aside from that, the presentation does manage to offer some pretty surprising music, with a lot of tracks I don't think I've heard in the show before. There's a little mix of Disney and some old-fashioned soap opera, so the tone is on point. That final scene where we see Sanji failing to light a comfort cig with his tears and the rain dampening his lighter is probably going to go down as one of the more memorable crying faces in a while.
So here's where we stand so far. Luffy and Nami are stuck in prison with no way out, Sanji's one chance at a happy marriage was a ruse designed to kill him at the wedding (and if he tries to leave, Big Mom will blow his hands off with her bomb bracelets and/or the Vinsmokes will kill his mentor), and the Vinsmokes are planning their own coup against Big Mom just in case, but they're unwittingly walking right into Big Mom's trap. This is the kind of impossible scenario that I love out of this show, where even if the heroes could pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they're in the crossfire of two enemies who are much stronger than they are.
I would rate this episode higher, but the pacing really is killing me at the moment. Going back to the manga for reference is a shock to the system, because it's such a surprise how much content actually fits in a twenty page chapter, and it looks like things will continue to take it easy in the anime. This should be an all-time classic episode, but the repetition of the editing and dialogue makes me feel like they only had about five minutes worth of story to work with, and it's getting very frustrating.
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