by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 850 of
One Piece ?
As glowing as I was toward last week's episode, I was kind of conceding to its choice to frame Pedro's sacrifice as entirely heroic. I figured that either the anime wasn't interested in committing to the darker atmosphere and opted instead to play things completely straight, or that the murkier flavor was just me reading too much into things. So I'm elated to come back this week and see the show indulging in as much of that darkness as I could have reasonably asked for.
It's noteworthy that these days we have a show like My Hero Academia, which puts so much emphasis on asking its heroes to take care of themselves. It's a notorious struggle against overwork for manga artists and animators, which can so easily cast themes of self-sacrifice and tenacity in shonen manga in a new light. Eiichiro Oda is pretty infamous for an unhealthy commitment to his work. A series like MHA says don't get yourself killed. Think about how much pain you're putting your loved ones through by romanticizing that kind of overwork. Whole Cake Island feels like the most that Oda has ever empathized with that kind of message (appropriately at a time when the manga is taking more frequent breaks for this very reason), but in doing so, he seems to also acknowledge that his characters might be incapable of ever learning that lesson.
"I have to live up to the expectations that made you sacrifice yourself," is what Carrot says to herself in the wake of Pedro's death. The smoke from Pedro's dynamite blocks the daylight. The sound design is straight out of a horror movie. There's a jaguar-shaped hole in our crew now, and sympathy for the dead is just twisting the knife. I love how the Straw Hats are still glancing at the shoreline, expecting Pedro to have survived just as much as the audience, but instead it's that damned Perospero walking the explosion off with only a missing limb. The sickening mixture of emotions is so potent.
For how slow the anime adaptation can be, this is one of those episodes that feels like it's over within five minutes. On top of the Pedro fallout, the problems continue to stack up with Katakuri's counter attack, the Coup de Burst's warm-up time, and Big Mom already chewing on the back of the Thousand Sunny, looking even more like an actual monster. Luffy doesn't miss a beat in securing his role as captain of the ship. When the Sunny finally does blast off, he yanks Katakuri into Brulee's mirror world with him and smashes the mirror so neither of them can escape back to the Sunny. He's leaving the naval battle to his crew, the cake-baking to Sanji, and the fight with the one billion man to himself. The whole situation is so thrilling and badass.
The One Piece anime is firing on all cylinders this week. This is an alarmingly good episode, a cut above what I've gotten used to expecting. It's atmospheric, visually detailed, and rich with a plethora of emotions vying for the audience's attention. I know the show can't stay at this level of quality for long, but I desperately wish it could. Carrot gets a lot of focus this week, to my delight, and we see a version of Luffy that's been absent for a while—the underdog with balls of steel. The crew is willfully throwing themselves into those big one-in-a-million chance scenarios and my blood is on fire with excitement as a result.
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