by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 865 of
One Piece ?
The Eiichiro Oda method of storytelling: When in doubt, add more characters!
This week's episode introduces us to Charlotte Flampe, a new addition to an already bloated cast and the harbinger of the Luffy vs. Katakuri finale. Flampe is Katakuri's fifteen-year-old little sister, and her goal in life is to become the "King of the Little Sisters." She's like a parody of modern anime's little sister cliché, but inverted to where all the idyllic cutesy tropes we come to expect are qualities she's elected upon herself, and she's determined to foist affection onto an older brother who seemingly couldn't care less. She acts sweet and lovable, but really she's as selfish and petty as everybody else in this family.
Flampe risks feeling extraneous to the story, and in many ways she is, though I think the anime does a good job keeping the playfulness of her appearance interesting. There's more fanfare put into the famed "favorite little sister contest" (a program she surely runs herself), so I think her importance is made a little more clear, however random she feels at this time. There's definitely been a running theme in the series for a while about the things we project onto our role models, for better or worse, so hopefully it's easy to see where this is going.
For the first time in a while, we've got an episode that's almost exclusively dedicated to the Katakuri fight. The battle is meant to feel like a grind, like Luffy's playing the same hard part in a video game over and over until he makes gradual progress, but even with that in mind, it's been a tad too much. Thankfully, this episode is kind of great despite indulging in that continued repetition. Luffy's goal is to catch up to Katakuri's clairvoyant Observation Haki, so he's been closing his eyes and trying to dodge punches purely by feeling, and only by the end of this episode does he manage his first successful counter.
There's a lot working in this episode's favor to ease us in. Flampe and her cronies are present now, so we have new people to watch and commentate the fight. When it's just Luffy and Katakuri, we're watching Luffy lose repeatedly, but with these spectators, we have somebody around to recognize and be impressed by Luffy's speed, especially now that he's starting to get the hang of his opponent. There's also something going on with Katakuri himself, as he's getting frustrated by Luffy's willingness to get knocked down constantly. It's not just snobbish arrogance; for Katakuri, imperfection is a source of profound insecurity, so seeing somebody be unafraid of it is threatening to him.
Elsewhere, we see members of the Big Mom family responding the the Straw Hats' ongoing survival, but now with Stussy and Morgans (a secret government agent and a newspaper tycoon who were guests at the wedding) chiming in as well. The hook is that to the onlookers, the explosion from the Tamate Box that knocked over Big Mom's castle seemed like a calculated attack. No matter how wrong the assassination went, how messy the chase has been, or how many times our crew has barely avoided certain death, the Straw Hats' victory over the Big Mom pirates is going to look All According to Plan, and their clout is destined to go through the roof.
As slowly as we're inching our way through this fight, this episode is well-directed and story-conscious enough to make sure the little nuances feel like a big deal. The build-up to Luffy properly seeing the future for the first time is fantastic, with a steady but rhythmic soundtrack to carry us through to the big moment. As for the rest of the crew on the Sunny, they've successfully thrown Big Mom off the ship, but she's still chasing them as angry as ever and we can expect to see more of that in the coming weeks. On the surface, it doesn't look like a lot of ground has been covered, but I can feel in my bones that we're getting somewhere.
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