by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 864 of
One Piece ?
We left off last week's episode with Big Mom jumping aboard the Thousand Sunny. Carrot's out of commission, Sanji's on his way with the cake in tow, and Luffy remains in his perpetual fight with Katakuri, meaning the rest of the gang has their work more than cut out for them. The only member on our side who's more of a traditional fighter is Jimbei, and even he's getting swatted by Big Mom like a fly.
Big Mom's fight with the Sunny crew is her most direct antagonistic act in the entire arc. Depending on what you were looking for from the character, there's a chance you're already disappointed that our main villain's big fight involves her getting swiftly punked by the Straw Hats in a series of effortless tricks and clutch moments. One of the most common complaints that I hear about this arc is that the villains don't get a chance to look threatening enough. They come across more like a batch of incompetent screw ups than anyone capable of cultivating the amount of world power that they have.
But that's never how I've felt. I think the fun of the Big Mom chase is that it feels like we're outrunning a boulder. We came into this arc with a plan, the plan went terribly wrong, and now there's no turning back and we have to watch our heroes survive purely on luck and improvisation. Jimbei uses the ocean to put out Big Mom's fire, Brook's speed allows him to immobilize Zeus, and Nami uses her weather techniques to zap Big Mom with a huge lightning bolt. In the back of your head you can't help but think Big Mom would have completely sunk them if this were any other pirate crew, or even just the wrong combination of Straw Hats. Our heroes are ahead of the game, but always by very little and always by the seat of their pants.
It's strange, because I think I get what people are saying. There's a fine line between the Straw Hats' victory in this episode looking effortless as opposed to spontaneous. The former deflates all sense of drama and stakes whereas the latter (how I feel about it) keeps the excitement and energy going. I think there exist two types of "stakes"—stakes for the characters, when they think that they're going to die or lose something valuable, and stakes for the audience, where we think someone's going to die or that we will lose something valuable in the story.
One Piece has always been great at alternating between these two types of stakes, but neither of those elements have been present in the post-time skip era until now. The stakes for the characters are sky-high at the moment. Big Mom is ridiculously powerful, the circumstances that have allowed our heroes to survive this long have been one-in-a-million, and whatever the Straw Hats accomplish is surely going to be massive news heard around the world, but we know the heroes have to win in the end, (right?) so the stakes for the audience are still fairly low. For me, just watching the Straw Hats keep punching above their weight class again is all the thrill I need.
Part of the reason I bring all this up is because I'm still wrestling with how I feel about the anime at this point. The past few episodes have been a chore for me, and seeing a big fight like this spaced out in such a stilted way muzzles the fun and joy of the story. It's not swift enough, nor is there enough relief as we realize the crew is more in control of the situation than we thought. I'll never be Mr. Animation Expert, but am I crazy for not liking Yoshikazu Tomita's animation style? Those harsh black shadows against normal colored backgrounds are so off-putting. Whenever the anime finally struts with impressive animation, it's often immersion-breaking at best and aesthetically unpleasant at worst, not to mention how sick I am of Luffy vs. Katakuri opening and closing every episode while absolutely nothing about the fight changes or progresses. The anime has been making me feel very tired lately, and I need another shot in the arm soon.
Even in the manga, I was always operating on the assumption that the Big Mom fight will read very differently in a marathon versus week-to-week format when everybody's starving for blood, and the anime doubles down on those potential issues. This is a goofy action-packed episode that dances around the line between every tonal risk this arc is taking, with appropriately mixed results.
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