by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 820 of
One Piece ?
A few weeks back, Pedro "won" his fight against Baron Tamago. It turns out that may have been a premature call, but at the time it was fleshed out and satisfying enough to work as a one-off fight. This week we return to the action, right back to the moment when Pedro slashed Tamago open and his egg yolk fell to the ground. The stylish confidence that this episode demonstrates as it cross-cuts between many different subplots goes a long way in making this work, because otherwise we'd have to believe that Pedro cut Tamago in half and then time just stopped for three episodes.
We're still far from returning to the traditional one-chapter-per-episode pacing, but whenever Toei can manage to frankenstein pieces of different chapters together like this to offer some variety, it pays off. This episode is packed with content, juggling at least four separate subplots, each with their own dense amount of information to parse. There's a lot going on here, so it's probably going to be easiest to tackle each of these plots one at a time:
Pedro vs. Tamago - This fight is just getting ridiculous in the absolutely best way possible. Tamago is the wielder of the Egg-Egg Fruit, which isn't quite like a Zoan-type where the user can fluidly transform between human and animal. His Devil Fruit is one of the more abstract and complicated ones where he starts out as Baron Tamago (Egg), and then when cracked open he digi-volves into Viscount Hiyoko (Chick), and then when broken again he becomes Count Niwatori (Chicken). Presumably at some point he's going to revert back to his egg form, prompting the obvious question: which came first?
It's blowing my mind how the goofier this fight gets, the more rad it becomes. We've known Baron Tamago for a while, but this is the first time seeing his powers in action, and the stone-faced way in which the editing and dramatic music fully commit to Viscount Hiyoko, this adorable chick-man, dual-wielding knives and partaking in badass fight choreography is hilarious. I was already head-over-heels for Pedro vs. Baron Tamago, but it just keeps getting better.
Brook vs. Big Mom - This fight ideally wouldn't have gotten so drawn out, but at least we finally got to the point where Mom is effortlessly slapping Brook across the room and taking him in as a pet. The bad guys get to rub it in Brook's skinless face that he failed to secure a rubbing of the Poneglyph, and now Big Mom's practically wearing him around like a necklace. She's much friendlier now that she got a new addition to her collection of weird creatures. This means we have yet another Straw Hat to break out of the enemy's clutches, but we also get some pretty interesting new info on the Road Poneglyph, namely the fact that once upon a time Gold Roger was able to read it by listening to the "voice of all things", and that Big Mom is putting a lot of pressure on Pudding to do something similar one day, since the tribe of three-eyed people that her dad came from are apparently known for that kind of stuff. Whether a half-human, half-triclops will have that same power is to be determined, but that tenuous relationship between mother and daughter is starting to show again.
I like these new details because one thing that the Straw Hats have always had over the Four Emperors in the Poneglyph arms race is Robin, the only person left alive who can read the dead language. This introduces the idea that there are ways around reading the Poneglyph the traditional way, and that the Straw Hats should never get too comfortable with what they've got. There are loads of ways their pirate rivals could gain the upper hand. It's also fun to see the other big shots of the pirate world continue to be petulant about Roger's successes.
Sanji and Reiju - Alright, so here's where we get one of the more perplexing developments. Reiju continues to assert that she's just as bad as her family and deserves to die. She has emotions unlike her brothers (the benefits of being born first), but she's been programmed to follow her dad's orders and has blood on her hands from her life as an assassin. The big twist here is that the bomb bracelets on Sanji's wrists were fake this whole time, since Reiju swapped them at some point in order to help him out. There's some real clunkiness going on here, as those bomb bracelets were a really effective threat and we spent a good portion of the arc wondering how Sanji was going to get out of them. Reiju's characterization is also all over the place, since her journey from being cold and aloof to secretly really nice and caring doesn't track elegantly.
But having seen where the story goes in the manga, it's pretty easy for me to see a moment like this as an act of course correction to get us to the point we actually want to be, which is the unprecedented scenario where Sanji is free to walk. The bombs are gone. If Big Mom kills the Vinsmokes, then there's nobody to threaten Zeff's life. Reiju spends this whole scene trying to assuage Sanji's guilt, and now it's up to him to decide what he wants to do from here. Amongst the chaos and the million competing subplots, this is a chance for Sanji to enter the eye of the storm: an unexpected moment of relief.
This episode also has Luffy's dash through Big Mom's territory to find Sanji, beating up whatever grunts he can on the way. It all looks pretty snazzy, and in the wake of this along with Jimbei's earlier revolt, the Big Mom family has a ton of messes to clean up. We're learning more and more that, while this crew is quite the formidable force, the kids' first priority to is to keep mama happy, and they will lie and cheat in order to keep any failures under wraps. Even Big Mom's strongest daughter Smoothie is afraid of what happens if her mother is put in the wrong mood, and the little cracks in the family's armor are slowly being established.
For an episode that only adapted a whopping 12 pages of manga (I checked), I was floored by how big it felt in scope. Even if we're still technically adapting the same amount of manga as usual, the episode manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Multiple subplots make significant steps forward, there are small but sharp nuggets of information that chart the path of the remaining arc, and we get a fight that manages to be wildly entertaining in a plethora of unique and unexpected ways. I really wasn't expecting my mind to be chewing on this episode as much as it has been, but here we are. I loved it.
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