by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 886 of
One Piece ?
Wow, even with the usual amount of space allocated to recapping an old arc, this episode manages to feel significantly more substantial than the preceding weeks.
For starters, we're introduced to the lore of the "Empty Throne", which was built on the exact center point of the world where the four oceans and the Grand Line intersect. The throne is entirely symbolic (or so the story goes), and represents the different nations standing on equal ground without one true ruler. When a new person becomes king or queen of a country, they're asked to make a pledge by placing a sword in the ground in front of this throne, ensuring that it remains empty and defends the broader World Government from dictatorship. Stelly is a new king, so he's being asked to make this pledge, but he's dumb so his head is swarmed with ambition at the thought of ruling over everybody.
While the Game of Thrones influence is pretty evident, One Piece has been running with themes like this since day one. The pirates are all after a throne of sorts, and in that context world domination looks like a charming romp. The Empty Throne stands as the government's attempt to offer a civilized alternative to the pirates' ruthlessness, though committed audience members are sure to see the hypocrisy coming a mile away. The government is still ruled by the Five Elders, and the Celestial Dragons (the descendants of the twenty royal families who formed the World Government hundreds of years ago) are still allowed to do whatever they like, no matter how heinous.
This same episode sees the return of Charlos, the Celestial Dragon that Luffy famously punched back on Sabaody, who immediately swoops in to kidnap Shirahoshi. The Dragons are so privileged that they're allowed to enslave another country's princess, and her loved ones are expected to just deal with it. All that concern about starting a diplomatic incident with the marriage proposals last week turns out to have been in vain, because the worst of the worst are just going to take what they want anyway. The good guys try to fight and get her back, even though it would likely mean their own countries would get destroyed as a result, but they're stopped by Rob Lucci and the rest of CP0.
This connects us to our recap for the week, highlighting the battle against Lucci and company back when they were still known as CP9:
- Enies Lobby arc: If Alabasta was One Piece's first epic arc, Enies Lobby was One Piece becoming a lifelong commitment. Technically, Enies Lobby is just the second half of the Water 7 saga and doesn't stand in isolation very well, but between Robin's flashback, some of the best one-on-one fights in the series, and the Going Merry's funeral, this arc is brimming with iconic moments. Rob Lucci is in a weird spot as a villain because he was so threatening at the time, but now that Luffy's beaten him and moved on to bigger and better things, he's going to remain stuck as a side character on the rare occasion that he shows back up. Regardless, the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc is a fan-favorite for a reason, the kind of story that only could have been told at that exact point in One Piece's lifetime. The series will probably never have that perfect synergy of world-building and high-octane emotion ever again.
Along with the Enies Lobby recap, this episode gets sprinkled with flashbacks to Fishman Island. However, those scenes aren't prominent enough for me to do a mini-review of that arc just yet, as much as I'd like to. (Spoilers: Fishman Island is Good, Actually.) That story is the one the audience is probably the most in-need of a refresher for, because this Reverie was meant to be a culmination of the Fish-people's efforts to join the human world, and now their worst hopes and fears are coming true. Shirahoshi's savior is the most unlikely person imaginable: another world noble who jumps in and clocks Charlos with a mace. This man is Donquixote Mjosgard, the Celestial Dragon who washed up on Fishman Island back in the day and was spared by Queen Otohime. To everybody's surprise, he's turned over a new leaf and wants to assist the people of Fishman Island, saving Shirahoshi and fighting back against Charlos.
Okay, so, there's a lot to unpack here. Back during the original Fishman Island flashback (the Fisher Tiger/Queen Otohime story), Mjosgard was slovenly and hateful just like any other Celestial Dragon. We didn't know much about him, other than that he was a terrible douchebag for Otohime to demonstrate her unwavering kindness toward. That flashback plays into the audience's beforehand knowledge that Otohime's story ends in tragedy, so when she decides to follow Mjosgard to the human world to bargain with the Celestial Dragons, the audience expects that to be the end of the road for her. But it isn't! Somehow, off-screen, her plea works and the people of Fishman Island can begin petitioning to join the World Government again. We don't see any more of Mjosgard during this transition, and then Queen Otohime gets assassinated by an unrelated party because life isn't fair; so on and so forth.
What makes the Fishman Island flashback so good is that it threads the competing ideologies of pragmatic anger and naive optimism with stunning delicacy. Ultimately, the story never outright says that Otohime's approach is "correct", so much as she has to be correct and that's why she sticks to her guns. One Piece gets pretty radical with its approach to racism, suggesting that progress is either going to come from betting everything on the absolute best case scenario, or burning history and culture to the ground and rebuilding society on its ashes. In-between measures haven't been working out so far. Anything less than either of those two extremes is going to perpetuate a cycle where the marginalized tear each other apart while the wealthy reap the rewards. The Fish-people arriving at the Reverie this year was their attempt to see Otohime's vision all the way through, even if King Neptune isn't as emotionally strong as she was. When he sees his daughter being kidnapped, he's ready to fight and kill to get her back. He's giving up on his wife's dream of coexistence.
Mjosgard was a one-off character we never thought we'd see again. He shows up right in the nick of time, saving the day with the shocking revelation that Otohime's kindness actually mattered. It planted a seed of humanity in a single person, and hope for a better future can now live to fight another day. This is the kind of thing you could only do in a long-running story like this, because it's been literal years since the audience has so much as thought about this character. This development is a small consolation prize for all the villainy that still exists in spite of it, but it's enough to keep this story moving and I'm fascinated by it as an example of a "redemption arc" that's spared from the usual discourse. Nobody ever gave a crap about this guy, and because of that, he was able to clean up his act in the absence of expectation. (Also, we're learning now that Mjosgard's family name is "Donquixote", implying that he must be Doflamingo's uncle or something, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.)
There's maybe twelve minutes of new story material to work with this week, but I still feel like I got several episodes worth out of it. The Empty Throne is a killer piece of world-building, better defining the government's ethos (hypocritical or not) than what we've seen throughout most of the series so far. It's great seeing all of these pro-Luffy kingdoms come together and stick up for each other, and the Mjosgard reveal is one of the most delightful payoffs in all of One Piece. You can feel the Reverie firing on all cylinders, and the filler is failing to hold it back for once.
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