by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 859 of
One Piece ?
With the first stage of the cake baking finished, the Big Mom chase is getting ready to transition into the next phase. There's a refreshing new direction for the majority of our concurrent subplots, but as usual we're still waiting until the story can get its original momentum going again.
There are two main plotlines we're concerning ourselves with the most this week:
1. Luffy's Nuts Island Adventures—With Brulee in tow, Luffy's left Katakuri trapped in the mirror world without an exit, but while he's waiting for his Haki to recharge before he re-engages with that battle, he must dodge Big Mom and a handful of her more powerful children. There's a lot that this sequence offers, since it gives the Katakuri fight a chance to move between multiple locations beyond just the mirror world. This feels like the kind of detour the audience is likely to quickly forget, but then eventually go "Oh yeah! Remember when ______ happened?" It really pushes the comedy and surrealism of Totto Land. Brulee is our heroes' new overwrought hostage to take Caesar Clown's place, and we're weaving between several of Big Mom's tougher daughters as Luffy stays on his toes long enough to get back to the Katakuri fight.
I love the idea of baking little pocket set pieces like this into the narrative, but I wish that it was a more meaningful change-up for the story. Imagine if Katakuri had to follow Luffy to Nuts Island, and the rest of the fight took place with a raging kaiju Big Mom in the background? Rather, this set piece is more about compensating for how inconvenient Luffy's Fourth Gear is, and your regularly scheduled mirror world fight will resume shortly as if nothing had happened.
2. Sanji and the cake—The wedding cake is officially on the move, which means the Sanji crew has to get it by Oven without raising any red flags, which turns out to be futile anyway because Oven finds Chiffon untrustworthy to begin with. Chiffon's father, Pound, is also in the mix, and so there's a whole 'nother layer of family drama going on between a man trying to meet his daughter for the first time in years, and said man trying to fend off his ex-step-son because nobody in the Charlotte family has any respect for Big Mom's former husbands. Trying to keep his presence low-key, Sanji has to intervene by moving so fast and hitting Oven so hard that he's invisible to the naked eye. It's pretty much Sanji's only unique feat of strength in the entire arc, and it's really badass, but it comes at the cost of Chiffon being awkwardly forced into a damsel role so that the men can beat each other up a little. One step forward, three steps sideways!
These past few episodes have been a pallet cleanser to extremely mixed results. There are a ton of ideas that are interesting, but not especially productive towards the endpoint that the story is actually building to. The family drama stuff is tender, but also poorly defined. The only thing that really separates Big Mom's children from each other is that some of them have turned over to Team Straw Hat by pure happenstance, and some are still antagonistic out of an unexplored sense of family pride. Oven doesn't have his mom breathing down his neck in this scene. He's a jerk because he wants to be, and there are currently so many other places we could be drawing conflict from in a situation like this. Whether a given Charlotte kid is misguided or straight-up evil seems kind of arbitrary.
For all of its faults, this episode certainly isn't boring. I think this is the messiest stretch of the Whole Cake Island climax that we get, and it comes just as the anime's recent boom in quality is starting to calm down. Production-wise, this is a perfectly average episode. But "average" by Toei standards isn't really helpful once the story starts to get this tedious. A little more TLC could have gone a long way here.
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