by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 871 of
One Piece ?
Eventually, everything must end.
It might come as a surprise to viewers at home that Luffy and Katakuri's big finishing attacks last week were, in fact, the end of the battle. Without a single punch left to be thrown after all that buildup, it almost feels unfinished, but the denouement of this long and arduous journey wants you to think about anything other than closure. We've accomplished something amazing by wandering into Big Mom's domain, stirring up trouble, and getting out with our butts intact, but has anything really changed? Throughout this arc, we've come to like two of Big Mom's children in particular, Pudding and Katakuri, which is its own reward in a way, but now it's time for the Straw Hats to say goodbye to both of them and resume their regularly scheduled adventures as if nothing happened.
First up is Sanji and Pudding's farewell, which is extremely "here's looking at you, kid." We meet back up with them as they're sneaking around Cacao Island, waiting for Luffy to emerge from the mirror world. Pudding knows this is the end of the road for her surprise tsundere crush, and she's doing her damnedest to force out an apology for all the deadly conspiracy stuff, but she blurts out "Shut up!" instead because honesty is hard. Not that Sanji cares for an apology either way. He's a pirate, so that's a Tuesday for him. Instead, he simply thanks her for playing the part of the blushing bride and assumes she'd rather stay on antagonistic terms now that the wedding cake is finished. He's just being sweet and cool across the board.
Ever since the wedding, Pudding has struck a chord with me. She's the real main character of this arc in my eyes. The further the story ran with her wacky rollercoaster of emotions, the more sympathetic and complex she became. There's a massively layered character arc drawing back to our first encounter with her. There was Good Pudding and Evil Pudding, and somewhere between them was the real Pudding, the little girl who just wanted to be like her big sister Lola. Interpersonal relationships are a weird paradox of honesty and performance. Where does a lie end and the truth begin? To what degree does it even matter? Ultimately, Pudding's story is about finding the acceptance of another person, only for it to make the loneliness hurt so much more, and understanding that sometimes the hardest part about opening your heart is realizing that it might have to stay empty a little while longer.
With Pudding's big three-eyed snot-nosed crying mug in the top right corner there, I think back to the way Eiichiro Oda describes drawing his famous ugly cry scenes. Supposedly, it's a personal policy of his to make himself cry before making his readers cry. And you know what? That could very well be an exaggeration, just an arm of the salesmanship that made him such a beloved and personable author in the first place. Pudding's crying face was the first time in quite a while that I felt that brand of rawness beaming off the manga, and I stand painfully aware of how my own self-projections make that possible. It's strange how much our relationships with comic books and TV shows and whatnot are based on constructing fantasies about what must be going on behind the scenes, but that's just how it is sometimes. Pudding feels very real to me.
The scene ends as Pudding fights back tears to make one last request of Sanji, delicately pulling the cigarette from his mouth and getting closer, only for the scene to pan away. What is she about to do? We may never know. (It's a smooch. She's gonna smooch him.)
Next, it's time for Luffy and Katakuri to put a neat little bow on their recent bro-down. Even with the race against time, the fight has taken so much out of them that they both have to collapse and take a quick nap. Eventually, they both get back up and Katakuri asks Luffy if he'll ever come back to defeat Big Mom for real, to which Luffy says, "Of course! I'm going to be King of the Pirates!" and Katakuri responds, "Ah. You're seeing very far into the future," before falling once again and finally signaling his defeat. Slick. The motif here is that first Katakuri fell face-forward, and then got back up and fell backwards just to spite that fake legend of him never laying on his back. Also, I'd like to share the manga version of this panel because it looks super awesome and the anime doesn't do it justice.
As Luffy is heading out, he decides to remove the little fedora that was covering his straw hat, a leftover from his gangster disguise, and then place it over Katakuri's mouth as a final gesture of kinship. The two technically haven't exchanged a single word about Katakuri's mouth or scarf with each other, but Luffy seems to understand the situation intuitively. Hopefully this way Katakuri won't have to worry about his siblings finding his body and being shocked about his true appearance. He can keep playing the handsome big bro character if he really needs it to survive, or at the very least he can ditch the facade on his own terms.
I think the workmanlike direction of this episode holds it back considerably as an individual installment, but this is one of those cases where the core story developments are so strong that I find myself won over anyway. So much of what I think this arc is trying to express comes to the forefront as we set off to put Whole Cake Island behind us. It's crazy how much meaning can't quite be mined from this story until the series' underlining gentleness is re-affirmed in episodes like this. The thing that's really hard to pin down with this final stretch of the arc is how warm and compassionate it is in contrast to its really dark implications. We're just straight up leaving Pudding and Katakuri behind to be stuck with their mom. What the hell.
I feel like I'm at risk of insinuating that this is the actual ending of the arc and that Whole Cake Island is over. It's definitely an ending of sorts, since Luffy and Sanji are officially free of their Charlotte counterparts, but we still have to escape the army waiting outside the mirror and then finally find out what happens when Big Mom eats that cake. Assisting Luffy out of the mirror world is our good pal Pekoms, the lion Mink belonging to the Big Mom pirates who helped us sail into Totto Land. He's betraying his crew by helping, but he's indebted to the Straw Hats and Pedro, so how could he not? It turns out the way we escape the inescapable country is to make friends. Who knew?
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