by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 852 of
One Piece ?
One thing I wish we'd gotten more detail on last week was the elaboration on Pudding's relationship with her older sister Lola. See, a lot of Big Mom's children are put in charge of the smaller islands within Totto Land and serve as "ministers": Katakuri is the Minister of Flour, Perospero is the Minister of Candy, and so on. We learned last week that Pudding is the favorite candidate to take over as the Minister of Chocolate, but she's been turning the role down over the years, hoping to keep it vacant in case Lola—the only surviving runaway of the family and the original Minister of Chocolate—ever returns. This is one subplot of many that goes tragically unaddressed by the end of the arc, but there's so much to unpack nonetheless. Ideally, we'd hope that Pudding could get out of this family, as opposed to asking for Lola to come back.
It's funny that the title and preview for this episode exclusively focus on the continued Luffy vs. Katakuri fight, which makes up such a small percentage of an episode that clearly belongs to Sanji and Pudding's side of the battle. The baking trio has arrived at Cacao Island, but Sanji has to be snuck into the Sweets Factory unseen and Chiffon has to be let in with handcuffs since she currently has criminal status. (They just blame her actions on her husband.) Pudding then has to wipe the memories of all the chefs they'll be working with, so they just think they're helping Sanji and Pudding bake their first cake as newlyweds, and they have no idea about the Big Mom vs. Straw Hats chaos going on outside.
This is where the general flow of the protagonists vs. antagonists story gets really goofy and mechanically complicated, since both sides want this cake baked, but for slightly different reasons. The bad guys want to help Big Mom and Katakuri crush the Straw Hats, but they don't want Big Mom to keep rampaging and killing everyone else afterwards. They're counting on Pudding to have this cake ready, but they don't realize she's playing double agent for the Straw Hats and that Sanji is helping her ensure it's the most delicious cake Big Mom has ever eaten. Mom doesn't appear to be especially nice to any of her children, but how much they're still playing for her team seems to vary from person to person.
For what's mostly a breather from the action, this episode is jam-packed with content. Sanji gets to strut his stuff as a cartoonishly talented cook, drawing up a recipe and blueprints for the new cake perfectly from the mere scent of the original. This is also the turning point where the gamble on Pudding's characterization starts to pay off. Her silly reactions no longer feel like a gaudy burden on the story, and now she's just a landslide of charisma. You really understand why she's so popular with the locals of Totto Land, and her pairing with Sanji turns them into a supportive and mutually attracted couple who make ridiculous goo-goo eyes at each other while working together on this project.
What really makes me feel good about where the anime is at right now is just how good it looks, even when there's little movement. This has been five episodes in a row where, at a bare minimum, the art has been wonderfully detailed and polished with the intent of breathing as much life into Eiichiro Oda's art style as possible. This continues to be true in the Luffy vs. Katakuri fight in particular, which is still bringing the goods. Katakuri has upgraded from imitating Luffy's gatling attacks to imitating his Third Gear attacks, only much stronger. By the end of this episode, Katakuri's siblings have found another mirror in the mirror world that connects to the Thousand Sunny, and now Luffy has to worry about shattering it to make double sure his friends are safe.
Somehow events feel like they're just flying by. This is a very plot-heavy episode as the cake-baking has to lay a lot of groundwork for the remainder of this climax. The actual baking is going to take several hours, and in that time Sanji has to trust his crew to survive while also strategizing about how they're going to get this giant cake to Big Mom in the first place. It's been a long time since I've found myself this eager to tune in to the One Piece anime every week, and we still have some of my favorite material in this arc ahead of us.
Feels good, man. Feels good.
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