One Piece Episode 836
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 836 of
One Piece ?
Before she ever became known as the woman named "Big Mom", Charlotte Linlin was once a mere child like the rest of us. Okay, maybe not exactly like us. Even at five years old, she was still monstrously huge and boasted enormous strength. With the Whole Cake Island arc, One Piece seems determined to stir its penchant for abnormally large human characters into some kind of mystery of world-building. We've already established that giants are a race within this world, independent of large humans like Big Mom and Whitebeard, and now the story of Big Mom's childhood brings us to the giants' homeland of the Elbaph, where she spent her childhood.
When we first meet baby Linlin, she's being abandoned by her biological parents—normal sized humans—who don't have the means to take care of her. They drop her off on Elbaph in hopes that she'll be taken in by the woman known as Mother Carmel, a nun who famously saved the lives of Dorry and Brogy's giant pirates from execution and runs an orphanage called the House of Lambs where children of all races and sketchy pasts can grow up in harmony. The other kids don't take to Linlin right away, since she's the most dangerous combination of stupid yet powerful, but it quickly becomes evident that the giants' village is the only place where she could realistically grow up. Their houses and people are perfect for her size.
Flashbacks in One Piece always come with the knowledge that tragedy will strike. We already know going in that the giants will grow to hate Big Mom by the time the present-day story rolls around, and by the end of this episode, just as things seem to be going well for everybody, an early example of Linlin's city-leveling hunger pangs awakens and she's labeled a "god of destruction." She tried her best to go with the giants' fasting traditions before the Winter Solstice Festival, but it only took a few days before she started glowing red eyes, buffing up in rage, and screaming for more of the sweet, sweet semla pastry that she got a taste of before the fasting started. The cliffhanger sees the village on fire as we watch this five-year old set out to murder some giants.
I'm not sure how I feel about the quality of direction in this episode. There's a significantly larger amount of plot, since the story has to catch us up on a lot of information, so it moves at a brisk pace, but with this material there's so much room to play around. Linlin's world is a colorful and childish one, but that's just how the anime normally looks, so it offers no ironic detachment to the events unfolding. Not to praise the source material too much, but there's a real arm's length emotional distance to everything that's happening. There's a scene in this episode where Linlin kills a bear because she wanted it to get along with the wolf that it was fighting, and Mother Carmel's quick attempt to console her by telling her how kind her intentions were come across much more harrowing in retrospect of the larger story. The implicit nihilism of Big Mom's backstory doesn't bite hard enough for my taste.
Regardless, this first step into the history of Big Mom and Mother Carmel gives us a lot to chew on. It's a pretty big deal to jump straight to Elbaph, the viking giants' homeland which has been discussed but never seen throughout this entire series. As a result, we get to see this new story reference many of the giants we've met on our journey so far, even giving us a glimpse of Hajrudin, from Luffy's unofficial grand fleet, as a child. I also think that the designs for the giant chiefs are incredible. Their beards are to die for.
The main quality to keep an eye on are the clear parallels between Carmel's House of Lambs and what Big Mom goes on to eventually create with Totto Land. My gut instinct when it comes to Mother Carmel is to think of her as a Queen Otohime type, a nurturing and forgiving person. Carmel's origin story as the woman who saved the giant pirates even feels like an echo of the race relations being explored in the Fishman Island arc. However, where Otohime's patience and forgiveness were depicted as strength and courage in the face of a tortuous history, Carmel's forgiveness of a child's destructive tendencies ultimately proves to be negligence at best, if only because we know the kind of person Linlin grows up to be and that this story eventually ends with Carmel's mysterious disappearance.
"Mother... Please listen to me, Mother..."
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