by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 819 of
One Piece ?
Once Pudding removed Reiju's memory of Big Mom's evil plan, poor Reiju fainted and ended up in the infirmary with only a foggy memory as to why she's suffering a bullet wound in her leg. Of course, Pudding didn't know Sanji was eavesdropping, and now our cook is off to visit his recovering sister and debrief her on everything that just happened. What ensues is more flashbacks to Sanji and Reiju's childhood, some of which is new information but much of it is not.
One connection that's been left up in the air for fans is that Sanji's late mother Sora shares a name with the marine hero from the famous comic book series that we were introduced to at the beginning of the arc, the one where Germa 66 and the Vinsmokes were the villains. The implication as far as I can tell is that the comic was loosely based on true events, and the real marine hero was a woman who fell in love with and married her supposed enemy. The Sora we meet through Sanji's flashbacks has only ever been depicted as a victim of Judge's thirst for power, but if we were to eventually learn about a more hopeful beat between points A and C, that would feel like an incredibly Oda move.
The new stuff that we get this week is Reiju recounting a fight her parents had while Sora was pregnant with the quadruplets, where Judge wanted to use his evil science to genetically enhance the children before they were born, and Sora objected to this by drinking a toxin in an attempt to undo the procedures. The enhancements succeeded on three of the four boys, making them strong ruthless killers and leaving Sanji as the only one able to grow up into a normal human. Obviously, we've already learned that this made Sanji the runt of the family and a prime target for abuse. The toxin that Sora took would also go on to make her sick, eventually killing her.
We have spent an inordinate amount of time going back to the past and dwelling on the terrible things that have happened to Sanji, probably giving them much more screen time than some of the longer flashbacks of the series. There is new information here, but we probably spend even more time recapping the parts of the story we already know again. The ending of this episode re-re-tells the story of Sanji's escape, only now in the form of a montage set to the pretty Luffy vs. Sanji music, almost like saying "look how far we've come!" less than halfway through an arc that's bound to be at least 80 episodes long. It doesn't help that this is also one of those episodes fumbling over itself to stay on-model. And then, as a cherry on top of the whole messy sundae, all the girls' boobs are inexplicably drawn bigger than usual.
The more we get into the weird stuff involving the Vinsmokes, their genetics, and the relationship between Judge and Sora, the more the story risks just becoming gross. There's lots of talk of vague science magic, pregnancy, dead moms and so on. There's a distinct balance you need to strike where the show doesn't lose that easy-to-digest fantastical quality but also fleshes out the Vinsmokes compellingly. Reiju seems content knowing that her family will die at the wedding, believing the whole country of Germa was just one big painful mistake, and urges Sanji to just up and leave so that their mother's one good kid can survive. Once again, a really important plot point in this conversation, one that would tie the episode together, is left out so that they can waste more time padding.
For such a boring and ugly episode, it sure has gotten me thinking about the inner-workings of this arc and its impressively complicated ambitions. As Big Mom's plan to eradicate the Vinsmokes starts coming to fruition, the villains become the backbone of the story. These are two vile, toxic, destructive families who deserve everything they're about to get, and yet we're being drip-fed both of their stories, even out of chronological order, implying that there's always going to be something new to learn. My gut tells me that Oda's playing a game to see how nasty he can make these villains and still eventually make them allies of the Straw Hats, pulling a magic trick with the audience's ultimate sympathies. Right now though, it's just kind of a feel-bad time.
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