by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 844 of
One Piece ?
Big Mom's wedding cake rampage has claimed its first victim with Charlotte Opera—just like Moscato at the beginning of the arc, Big Mom was able to yank his soul right out of his body. Since it's a soul-themed death, it's easy to imagine that he'll be revived at some point in the aftermath of the story (people die so rarely in One Piece anyway), but it's a blunt reminder of what the Charlotte family has to put up with on a daily basis. Their mom straight-up does not care about their well-being as long as it means she gets what she wants. The kids are still committed to revenge-killing the Straw Hats, but the more we get to see them as victims, the more we start to expect a change of heart out of them at some point.
The gear change from the assassination plot to full-on escape really goes a long way in bringing out the best in One Piece's glacial pacing. The thing that has always saved long-running shonen anime for me is the emphasis on propulsion, especially when there's a clear goal ahead of us. It's much easier to get lost in the moment, and it's more enticing to follow that 'To Be Continued' card at the end. Shonen momentum is a miraculous thing in that it still holds power even when you're witnessing everything in slow-motion. We're watching the heroes run straight for their goal (the ocean) and seeing the villains strategizing on how best to flank them. No more secret weapons or mysterious subplots waiting to surface. The audience is on the same page as everyone else.
On the good guy team, Luffy and his group are heading back to the Thousand Sunny while Chopper and Brook break off to reclaim the Sunny's submarine, which was left on another shore. The Charlottes' plan to kill two birds with one stone is to lie to Big Mom and tell her that the Straw Hats stole a bonus backup wedding cake, getting her to move away from the city and after Luffy. Meanwhile, Katakuri is using Brulee's mirror powers to warp onto the Sunny and wait, just in case. So the Straw Hats have the strongest character in the arc chasing them, and if they manage to survive that, the second-strongest character has already taken their ship hostage.
I love this version of Big Mom so much. She's a big lady, but she can absolutely book it across the island. She's physically imposing all on her own, but she also has her sentient cloud Zeus that she can ride like the Kinto'un from Dragon Ball, and she has her hat Napoleon who can also double as her sword. Sword-swinging, bandana-wearing Big Mom is the most the woman's ever looked like a proper buccaneer, and it's the most ferocious we've ever seen her attacks. The Straw Hats may have gotten a head start on the chase, but Big Mom's on their heels the second she's in the game.
Meanwhile, a band from the Big Mom pirates are also attacking Germa 66 at their base and getting into a surprisingly well-animated scuffle. This battle was mostly off-screen in the manga, another example of a side plot that could have conceivably happened in the source material if the author wasn't wrestling with limited page counts so much. There's also some setup for what Pudding plans to do, which is track down Chiffon (who's considered a traitor to the family) and work together to bake a new cake that will calm their mother down once the Straw Hats are disposed of. Mom's hunger pangs don't end until she gets her desired treat, and the head chef is out of commission.
This is a mere baby step in the Big Mom chase, and yet it's so exciting and busy. The way the different groups have to split up and strategize keeps the suspense going, and Big Mom is such an offensive force that it's hard to imagine what it'll take to finally sail away from Whole Cake Island. This climax isn't structured like a video game the way One Piece arcs often are, where we slowly build up to the final boss battle. The final boss is right here, and she's like level two thousand in aggro mode.
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