by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 863 of
One Piece ?
Carrot's new transformation was never meant to last long, and already it's starting to tire her out. Thankfully Brook is there to take a page from her book, running across the water to take out a few ships of his own and catch her before she's completely done. I was already kind of iffy about the Carrot fight from last week, wishing the better cuts of animation could connect more without being sandwiched between so many flat panning shots, and now this episode has even less spectacle to work with as we focus more on dialogue and story than straight action. Carrot's Sulong form reaches its end, and now it's up to the Straw Hats to fight Big Mom face-to-face while she sleeps it off.
Elsewhere, Sanji and Capone are arguing over how to handle the cake as they make their way over. Capone wants to poison the cake and finally put an end to Big Mom's reign once and for all. It's the logical choice, since even if our heroes manage to escape Totto Land, we wouldn't want to know Mom is still kicking around. But we're not dealing with logic here. Sanji's determined to beat Big Mom purely on the strength of his cooking. It's that Dragon Ball logic of "No, we have to win the fun way!" that might infuriate audience members who don't want to see their protagonists be such prideful selfish dimwits. (But I love it.)
However, the real meat of the story lies with Big Mom. The longer her rampage goes on, the more you start to see Mother Carmel in her face, like a ghost that's followed her around for her entire life. Thanks to Prometheus, she now has giant flaming hair with a jack-o-lantern smile, and she's looking more like an otherworldly monster than ever despite the fact that she's gradually regaining her original consciousness. (At the very least, she can speak in full sentences again.) Our currently standing crew isn't a match for her up close like this, and now she's tearing the Thousand Sunny to pieces while our shipwright is far-off in the distance, waiting in a completely different arc.
I find this stage of Big Mom's descent into madness so powerfully compelling, especially in the manga where the stark black & white expressionism speaks to me in Rorscach-like ways. Big Mom is the abyss, the point where humanity and inhumanity are one and the same. She's the coked-up version of so many familiar human flaws—addiction, hypocrisy, and the need to impress imaginary versions of people we create in our heads. Within Whole Cake Island, there's a sobering acknowledgement that we are often creatures of impulse, and there's a primal fear that it's all we truly can be. Specifically, that panel of Big Mom landing on the deck is deeply etched into my subconscious. It's the image I most heavily associate with Whole Cake Island.
This is a strange episode that's abundant with unique directorial choices in shot composition and music, and yet the whole thing feels so unwieldy and distant. That sort of works in its favor by making the episode feel disorienting and off-kilter, but I don't think the energy's been exciting enough in the past few episodes to earn that sense of exhaustion. We need to feel like we've flamed out in a blaze of glory (the importance of the Sulong fight scene), and now we're trying to get our next high off the remaining fumes.
We're in a strange place with the anime right now, where the story is juggling a large variety of tones and ideas at once, so the pacing has to be a lot more careful than just padding everything out for dramatic suspense. Easily my favorite material this week is the stuff with Big Mom on the ship, but all of that is sadly packed into the last couple minutes. This is an episode of sluggish roughness that occasionally lights up with moments of brilliance because the story beneath the surface is so profound.
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