by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 834 of
One Piece ?
As of last week's episode, the Big Mom assassination plot's first main goal was accomplished when Brook snuck up on the framed picture of Mother Carmel and smashed it. The intended effect was for her to see the broken picture and enter her terrifying shriek mode, which is the tiny window of time where she would be vulnerable enough to hit with Caesar's rocket launchers. What the Straw Hats and Firetanks failed to predict was the exact effect that all of the encompassing chaos would have on her, so she spends most of the episode acting like a dizzied fighting game character, still unkillable because she hasn't decided where to focus her rage between the broken picture, the busted wedding cake, and all the treason. The alliance's next goal is to grab the pieces of the Mother Carmel picture and show them to Big Mom once again to ensure she panics in the exact way that they based their plan around.
But in order to do that, they have a much bigger fight on their hands as Big Mom's various children spring into action. For an episode that easily could have been a breather for the animation staff given the more significant story episodes ahead, the action looks fantastic. I think Sanji ends up getting the best stuff between casually dodging Pudding's bullets (he may have found her emotional sore spot, but she's not willing to concede just yet) and facing off with her older brother, Charlotte Daifuku. Daifuku's Devil Fruit summons a big genie from his belt that he commands like a JoJo Stand, though he brings it forth by rubbing his stomach in a provocative way, and that belt rests a little too south of his border for comfort. Penile genie smoke aside, the sense of energy and impact coming from Sanji's fights this week is really commendable. It looks great.
We're still hanging on to a chapter-per-episode pace to my delight, though this episode takes the chance to really expound on what was going on in the source material. The fights that ensue with the lower-tier Big Mom pirates leaves a much bigger impression, though I know most of these crazy-looking side characters, especially on Luffy and Jimbei's side of the fight, aren't going to be sticking around much longer. While the Straw Hats and Firetanks buy time to figure out how to get their plan back on track, Capone has to play the villain so that he doesn't raise the family's suspicions. Unfortunately, that can't last long because he's dealing with Katakuri and his Future Sight Haki, and by the end of the episode he's openly antagonizing Big Mom's scariest kid. "Even if we can't see it, we all have the right to change the future!" is a pretty cool way to confront a dude with clairvoyance. There's also the mention of Katakuri looking pale because he sees something disastrous on the horizon that nobody can stop.
Beyond the fights that the Straw Hats find themselves in, this is also a major turning point for Judge and the Vinsmokes, now that they're being forced to see the trap that's been set for them. Perospero has the whole family glued to their seats with candy, and all they can do is watch while the fighting happens around them and their imminent death is promised. The emotional position that the story puts us in with the Vinsmokes is pretty weird. This arc has finally wrapped up in the manga, so I can look back with hindsight and say that a further exploration into the backstory of Germa 66 isn't in the cards for Whole Cake Island, which is sort of necessary to understand what their overarching journey is meant to be.
It's been pretty clear that Sanji's motivation for saving his family has nothing to do with their value as people, but rather a simple instinctual obligation. He's working his own feelings out by taking action. The Vinsmokes can work as both the secondary antagonists and the damsels in distress at the wedding, but this scene has us facing a weeping, humiliated Judge who screams about his lost dreams as he faces the consequences of his thirst for power. He's confused as to why his sons are so calm and ready to accept their deaths, and Reiju promptly reminds us that he removed their ability to feel emotions in an attempt to make them super soldiers. There's an intimacy to this scene that makes it feel like more than a "Ha! Take that!" moment for the audience to get emotional revenge on Judge, but what that extra something is, I couldn't tell you. Based on my knowledge of what's coming, he's not on the verge of a traditional redemption arc, but there also feels like a deliberate juxtaposition between his dreams and Big Mom's that has yet to be explored to my satisfaction.
There's a lot of movement as we push on through Big Mom's tea party this week, but it's mostly trying to get us back to the point we thought we already arrived at last week with the Mother Carmel picture. I was surprised at how much mileage this adaptation managed to get out of what could have easily been an unexceptional episode, so I I have nothing but kudos on that front. Weeks like this start to give me hope for what's to come, because I'm getting exactly the saturated craziness that I've been asking for, despite the pacing only marginally improving. So let's see what happens next!
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