by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 822 of
One Piece ?
With most of the Straw Hats hanging out in the mirror world, the story's goal now is to streamline and build up to the point where Luffy and Sanji can reunite. There have been several examples now of open subplots either reaching their final destination or just ending altogether, and the conversation that the crew has with Jimbei about his relationship with Big Mom highlights this. Way earlier in the arc, before Jimbei made his grand reappearance, we were left in suspense over his fate, since anybody who tries to leave Big Mom's alliance must face her mysterious roulette wheel of undefined consequences. Jimbei's entire reason for not joining the Straw Hats way back at the end of Fishman Island was that he wanted to make sure he left Big Mom's crew with honor, but that roulette wheel spoke to him with malicious intent, and it turns out Big Mom was never going to give him that chance to begin with. Like Sanji's handcuffs, there's a sense that maybe there was once a plan for this subplot to go somewhere, but it had to get written out as the story simplified.
The last couple of episodes did a fantastic job maintaining a sense of momentum as the story barrels toward its obvious conclusion, but given this arc's infamous pacing, that wasn't going to last long. The heaviest legwork in getting us to that Luffy/Sanji reunion is done, but the story still has to dawdle just to get Sanji in the same place as Luffy, where he's ready to head back to the scene of their fight. Even though all of his reasons not to go are now gone, he still has a moment where he thinks he has to play along with the wedding and die with his family. This is obviously meant to create a low point so that he can snap back to reality when one of Big Mom's crewmates goes sniffing around his picnic box—where it just so happens that the lunch he made for Pudding was really a collection of the Straw Hats' favorite foods that he made on instinct. It's one thing to feel conflicted, but it just doesn't make sense for him to think he has to get himself killed.
Speaking of Big Mom's plan, easily the best scene of the episode is between her and Pudding, discussing their strategy for killing the Vinsmokes at the wedding while an absolutely stunned Brook listens in. The scene is a mix of stylized silhouettes representing the various characters, as well as Big Mom getting a little too into acting the plan out herself. The idea is that when Sanji (who is completely in the dark about this, as far as they know) lifts Pudding's veil to kiss her, he'll see her third eye for the first time and panic. This is when Pudding will shoot him in the head, signaling the rest of the Big Mom pirates to turn their guns on Sanji's family and assassinate them so that they can claim Germa's military power. Oh, and there will be cake. That's the most important part. The theatrics of this scene are what really sell it, and there's something morbidly sweet about Pudding and Big Mom getting excited about something together.
Elsewhere in the episode, we continue to see the Charlotte family fail to keep their stories straight about their enemy's status. Rumors are flying that the Straw Hats are on the loose and that Jimbei is committing treason, but nobody wants to fess up to being responsible for letting prisoners escape, so misinformation abounds. This both shows us a stronger example of how messy Big Mom's crew can be and slowly removes the Straw Hats from their radar, right before they make their big comeback.
We don't end this episode feeling like we've made a ton of progress, as Luffy is still hungrily wandering the streets and fighting off enemies on his way to the meet-up spot and Sanji has only just now decided to do the same. All the scenes involving Big Mom and her crew are good for clarity, but it ultimately feels like we're dragging our feet just when we thought we were getting somewhere. This episode is littered with moments to love, but that constant "so close yet so far" feeling toward the plot's progression is a real buzzkill. It requires some faith from the audience to trust that things are going somewhere, which is always a sticky situation.
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