by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 856 of
One Piece ?
It's that time of year again, where we get to be excited and then slightly disappointed by a new opening! Replacing 'Hope' is 'Super Powers', a cheesy, repetitive, and droning j-pop song that I can't help but kind of like for its lack of ambition. The graphic variety is once again held back by the absurd two and a half minute length, but there are a few really impressive cuts in the animation covering the Luffy vs. Katakuri fight, along with a significant amount of material that's being shaded out for spoiler-y reasons. I don't know how to feel about this one. It's not 'good', but I still find it bizarrely cozy.
The weakest element of this fight up until this point is how much of an arm's reach Katakuri has been keeping with Luffy. He's clearly powerful, but if he really wanted to win this fight it feels like he could have done so by now. Last week's cliffhanger, where Katakuri buries Luffy under a giant mochi cake to suffocate, is the most sincere effort he's made yet to actually kill his target. All the lip service towards how much of a pain Luffy is to fight kinda falls on deaf ears when you're the mac-daddy who can see into the damned future. You can't have your donuts and eat them too, man!
Speaking of: The whole reason Katakuri's finally in the tiniest bit of a hurry to wrap things up is because he's late for his daily merienda—his private snacking time where he munches on his favorite sweets, which happen to be donuts. He even builds himself a little shrine where he can eat in peace, out of sight from the rest of his crew. Obviously, he doesn't expect Luffy to literally eat his way through several tons of mochi and barge in on him during his special 'me-time.'
And that's when the big turn that this fight has been in desperate need of happens. Like his little sister Pudding, Katakuri has been hiding something on his face, and it turns out to be a ridiculous-looking set of monster chompers! Not only that, but he's enjoying his donuts while laying on his back, contradicting the silly legend that Brulee spouted a few episodes ago. Katakuri is less of a stoic, perfectionist badass, and more of an emotionally-repressed sugar gremlin. There's a lot going on with potential metaphors between Katakuri's true self and the tough guy act he puts on for others, not the least of which is brought home by the whole scene being jokingly framed as if Luffy had just walked in on him masturbating.
Something I think is important to note is that there's a little more information available in the supplementary materials of the manga. Maybe they'll elaborate on this more in the anime, or maybe they won't. Katakuri was not born with his mouth like Pudding was born with her eye. The idea is that as a kid he'd eat too much too fast, and at some point his mouth ripped open and had to be sewn back shut, so now he looks like that dude from Ichi the Killer. I think his mouth is meant to be an exaggerated mirror image of Luffy's own facial scar, which he got when he tried to stab himself to impress Shanks. If Sanji and Pudding received their "imperfections" from genetic disposition, then Luffy and Katakuri received theirs from being stupid kids. The main difference being that somewhere along the line Katakuri developed shame and Luffy did not.
And so now that his terrible, embarrassing secret is out, Katakuri must overcorrect and finally fight with some honest-to-god aggression. The family chefs have seen him too, and so he strikes them down to make sure the news doesn't spread. Very few people in the Big Mom pirates are supposed to know what he truly looks like.
This is exactly the gear change I've been looking for. Katakuri now has new emotional invest in taking Luffy out, and the animation kicks it up a notch just in time for him to launch his onslaught. I was really worried the anime's production values were going to be out of commission longer than this, but this is a really exciting and engaged episode from start to finish. Even outside of the action there are a ton of neat directorial touches, like the focus on comic-like splitscreen effects and heavy black shadow effects.
Despite his opponent's newfound anger, this development is a changing tide in Luffy's favor. When Katakuri's mind is on snack time, his Observation Haki fades and Luffy is able to get his first solid hit on him since the start of the fight. We also learn the secret behind Katakuri's invincibility, where he would predict Luffy's moves and morph his body in the perfect shape to imitate a Logia-type Devil Fruit powers, which explains why Luffy couldn't even hurt him with Armament Haki—none of his attacks were connecting in the first place. By the end of this episode, Luffy is finally busting out his Fourth Gear and the intensity of the fight increases further.
I'm about ready for something interesting to happen with one the other concurrent subplots right about now, but we've finally arrived somewhere in the Luffy vs. Katakuri fight. For all the "yeah, we get it" moments that can drag it down, I do love what this fight becomes in the grand scheme of things. For as evil as the Big Mom's family is, there are these moments of humanity where you can her children unraveling before you. This is not a fight between good and evil, it's more of a surrealistic headbutt between competing states of human nature. Katakuri's weird because I think he has a really clear character arc once all is said and done, but the story keeps so many cards against its chest until the very end, forcing you to see it play out in reverse as the layers strip away.
Anyway, I look forward to talking more about donut boy in the future.
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