by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 873 of
One Piece ?
Slowly but surely, we're knocking down the last remaining obstacles standing between the Straw Hats and their long-promised escape. Last week, Germa 66 arrived at Cacao Island just in time to give Sanji and Luffy one final opening, and to deal some payback damage of their own for the wedding gone wrong. Sanji's family continues to be in an odd place narratively, since they're honoring Sanji's help from earlier but they're still firmly in the camp of evil world-dominating villains. "Redemption arcs" and how they should or shouldn't be executed are a hot topic in the world of shonen these days, especially when it comes to villains whose misdeeds might be just a little too grounded in reality; such is the case for stories of familial abuse (not to mention Judge's nakedly fascist ambitions). Sometimes the suggestion that people can change or are secretly good deep down doesn't ring true.
One Piece's take on this dilemma is a mishmash of conflicting ideas in regards to both the Charlottes and the Vinsmokes. They're extremely complicated families that still pose huge issues for the greater One Piece world, but the Straw Hats have been through enough hell lately so anything of larger scope than their immediate escape is a problem for another day. I think that's a big part of why this arc ends so inconclusively. It wants to explore these feelings and yet no cut and dry solution actually feels 'right' for these characters. Sanji's brothers show up to aid him and make a considerable effort in helping him escape, but they're still condescending to him while they do so because they don't want to look too nice. (Now they're the tsunderes.) The show juxtaposes their present callousness against Sanji's memories of bullying, and it's clear something has changed for the better, though at no point does Sanji actually begin to like his brothers. Even well after this arc, Sanji still talks about his family with disdain, but the main development is that he even talks about them at all now.
Thankfully, we have Reiju to keep the disparate emotional pieces of this episode together. Sanji's siblings are handing Sanji off to each other like a baton while they begin completely wrecking the Big Mom pirates, and Reiju's the last of the Vinsmoke kids to say goodbye, pushing him off the island just as she did when they were kids and once again encouraging him to escape and never look back. She's the good egg of the Vinsmoke kids, but she's still programmed to follow dad's orders, so she gets grouped into that category of allies who aren't promised a happy ending. The Straw Hats are destined to be The Ones Who Got Away, while the rest of the supporting cast have their arcs cut short or left open-ended.
The first half of Whole Cake Island was obnoxiously oversaturated with Sanji's childhood flashbacks, especially in the anime, but it's been long enough now that it feels appropriate to return to those memories as a bookend. Reiju's send-off this week feels particularly sweet, and I was really struck by the soundtrack in the final stretch. I don't think I've heard that song in this show before, but I thought it was beautiful. The weakest part of this episode, however, were the action scenes. The anime has been consistently good enough lately that I'm not too bent out of shape over it, but I have a distinct memory of how big and flashy the Vinsmokes' super sentai finishing moves felt in the manga, and I'm not getting much excitement here.
The Germa stuff was never my favorite part of this story, so even our emotionally twisted goodbye to them is mostly just a break between the stuff I really care about, which is the Charlotte family material. Big Mom's been a background detail for weeks now, as she's still chasing Capone's ship and the wedding cake without anything new or interesting happening, but her episode is definitely coming. If we absolutely have to be stuck with Germa for a couple of weeks in the interim, then I think this was a serviceable send-off to the Vinsmoke kids, with brief yet potent moments of tenderness to keep the more complicated aspects of their role from weighing us down too much.
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