by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 857 of
One Piece ?
I have a pretty intimate attachment to this second half of Whole Cake Island, so I've always had the usual concerns for how the anime was going to adapt it. For whatever pacing issues still linger—for the record I still think the more tension-focused action fares much better with all the dramatic slow-motion than the plot-heavy first half—they are animating the hell out of the Katakuri fight, with many show-stopping scenes still on the horizon. Emotions are running crazy high now that Katakuri has a personal stake in the fight and Luffy is at least somewhat able to keep up with him in Fourth Gear.
The hits are getting so strong that the two fighters are sending each other flying hundreds of yards with each blow, and we're witness to some dreamlike tunnel vision as the environment warps around them to emphasize their speed. The fight is getting so exciting now, but by the end of the episode the status quo is restored with Katakuri recollecting himself and turning his pseudo-invincibility back on. It's an exhausting hit of the reset button that wouldn't be so bad if it were much earlier in the fight, but there isn't much you can do but sit back and wait for the next interesting story event to happen. I do like how it serves the power play of the fight, though, where as long as Katakuri can keep his cool and use his Observation Haki, he's the one in control of the fight. (I also like his new Bayonetta mochi arms.)
Elsewhere, we finally get an update on the cake baking subplot, where Chiffon's dad is knocking on the Sweets Factory, hoping to see his daughter for the first time since she was born, but he's coming face-to-face with Charlotte Oven, one of Katakuri's triplets. Oven's arrival on Cacao Island is where you really feel the wrinkles in the plotting of the Big Mom chase. He's there to offer some tension, a powerful foe just outside of the factory where Sanji and Pudding are making the cake. The Big Mom family have overheard the Straw Hats' plan to reunite with Luffy on this island, and so they're gathering reinforcements to make things even more difficult on the off-chance that Luffy wins his fight, but this new tension is coming at the same time we're being reminded that the Straw Hats' plan still has nine hours to go. You've got heroes and villains who want the same thing (a non-rampaging Big Mom) but can't work together because of Reasons™, and the points of tension keep coming at the most awkward times.
Now would be as good a time as ever for the audience to be asking themselves what they think is going to happen. The show is pushing this big gathering on Cacao Island including the whole Straw Hat crew, Luffy, Oven and his reinforcements, and then finally Big Mom herself. What's actually going to happen when Big Mom eats that cake? Will she be satisfied and let the Straw Hats go? Will she be just as antagonistic when she's sober? Maybe the cake will straight up knock her unconscious, like what Sanji bragged was going to happen? There's a really engaging puzzle box brewing in this chase, where the audience is being lured into trying to figure out the trajectory ahead of time. Mom's never rampaged this long so this is uncharted territory, even for her children.
The One Piece anime delivers another bombastic fight episode this week, digging its heels in the ground with a great production. I really like where things are going, but the rhythm at which it takes steps forward and then steps back can get cumbersome, which is an issue for how complicated the plot is and how desperately it needs to keep its story straight in order to be as impactful as possible. As has been the One Piece way for ages, the series keeps telegraphing how long-winded it is, almost like it's bragging, and I think episodes like this suffer the most from it.
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