by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 898 of
One Piece ?
Equipped with a samurai's katana and facing down a powerful rival, Luffy knows exactly what to do: Punch! Yeah, the weapon in his hand is mostly just for show, but he still clings onto it tightly, even with Zoro begging him to let him see it for just a moment. They're just little kids bickering on the playground and making up their own rules as they go.
After a rockin' first few months in the Wano arc, the anime has momentarily simmered down and returned to its old ways. This episode is the battle against Basil Hawkins and his henchmen, and it is shockingly slow and uneventful. Every major story beat is cushioned between long pauses, and too much time is spent watching characters standing around while we wait for something to happen. Wano's been really good at using its slow trod to effectively flesh the story out and improve the source material, but now we're back to DBZ land. This Hawkins fight is not a substantial one in the grand scheme of the arc, so it would have been nice if the whole thing could have been packaged in a tidy little one-off episode, but the samurai gods have not willed it so.
Hawkins' Straw-Straw powers are among the more complicated and multi-faceted Devil Fruit abilities we've seen in quite some time. He's a magician, and his attacks range from tarot card readings to voodoo possession. On the card-reading front, he can tell fortunes as well as draw various power-ups at random. So far his premonitions haven't seemed all that useful, since he has to keep standing still and moving cards around just so he can print out a random percentage that isn't really useful to anybody. It's more of a storytelling device so we can have a character periodically telling Luffy "You're chances of survival is one percent," or whatever. He's also just as capable of pulling a card that hurts him (like one that possesses his subordinates to fight each other) as he is pulling one that helps. We're trying to have a fist fight and this guy's over here playing Yu-Gi-Oh! The voodoo angle is much more interesting, as Hawkins can store the souls of his subordinates inside of straw dolls, and then his body serves as a puppet that can transplant attacks that hit him onto somebody else. He has multiple lives, like a cat.
The climax of this episode sees Hawkins pulling out his "Straw Man," a giant voodoo ghost monster that's easily the coolest thing in the episode once the painfully long summoning sequence is over. Visually, it looks really cool, but it's the sound design that really blows the doors right off. It has a ghostly cackle that sounds like the Friday the 13th theme sped up for true nightmare fuel. It's too bad we didn't get to see more of it before the cliffhanger, because it's pretty rad.
Of the Wano episodes, this is easily the weakest one yet. This is the point where the magic spell that made the most out of the slow pace is starting to wane, and this week's installment is disappointingly ordinary on just about every front. It doesn't help that Hawkins isn't an especially compelling obstacle for our heroes—they just kind of run away from him in the end—but that's the sort of thing that would have mattered less in a tighter episode. Clearly, the anime has its work cut out for it in terms of staying behind the manga, but ideally the pacing should feel like a product of curation, not necessity.
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