by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 901 of
One Piece ?
All eyes are on Okiku in the land of Wano. She reflects a mishmash of different fandom concerns regarding female characters in One Piece, in both good and bad ways. She's one of several new faces in this arc whose design is tactlessly similar to Nico Robin (especially in the black and white manga), but on the flip side she wastes no time revealing that she's a powerful swordswoman here to kick ass and take names! Though... perhaps her ass-kicking is a little lean in retrospect. Maybe the anime can add some cool filler action in the upcoming episodes. The official reveal that she's a dyed-in-the-wool samurai is presented in an oddly dramatic way for someone who already a) talks like a samurai, and b) lives in a country full of samurai. There will be many, many, many opportunities in the future to delve further into her character, so we'll leave it at that for now.
The immediate conflict is that Tama has been kidnapped by Bat-Man and Gazelle-Man, and they've taken her to Bakura Town, which you might remember is where Urashima had invited Kiku to watch him perform a sumo-match. We've hardly begun our fight against the Animal Kingdom pirates, and already the number of villains and subvillains is reaching comical status. We've got Kaido and the (as of now unseen) shogun co-parenting the primary villain role, but their hierarchy of schmucks is also bizarrely layered, with a million groups within groups and associates of the bad guys who come and go as they please. Why does the Wano arc need so many mini-bosses like Hawkins, Urashima, and Holdem? You can sense how the story is trying to structure itself so we can gradually build our way up to more intense situations, but too often it feels like important events are being sidestepped or put on hold just so the plot can do its usual rigamarole.
Speaking of Holdem, we finally meet the headliner from Kaido's crew whose design is too wacky not to share. The lion parts that developed from his Smile Fruit powers take the form of a fully conscious animal, clipping through him like a glitchy video game character. The bait-and-switch where the story leads us to believe we're about to meet a scary lion man before revealing his true appearance doesn't quite translate into the anime perfectly, since we have a chance to wonder why the lion in all these extreme close-ups isn't moving his mouth and we can smell a punchline coming from a mile away, but the novelty of his design sticks nonetheless. Holdem's introduction also comes with a golden sequence where he bickers with the lion, and then the lion retaliates by punching him in the balls. Tragically, the two share a pair, so the lion ends up hurting himself as well.
In spite of the generally muted stakes, there's a lot going into making this episode as breezy as possible. The cavalcade of character introductions and local texture paints an effective atmosphere. Kiku's an alluring character who's bound to play an interesting role moving forward, and the goofy Smile-users of the week are significantly more compelling than last week's offerings. Bat-Man's got nothing on Holdem, a character so aggressively silly and pathetic that you can't help but root for him to side with the good guys at some point. Urashima's fairly stock as far as entitled rich manbabies are concerned, but his obsession with Kiku is beginning to take a much more sinister turn, so hopefully things will take us by surprise.
An episode like this epitomizes Wano. It seeks to overstimulate the audience with oddities, but that's not always the same as being exciting. It's charming, but also so full of well-trodden One Piece-isms that it can be difficult to make heads or tails of what's we're supposed to find important in a given moment. It's possible the story is trying to overcompensate for how exposition-heavy this arc is by mimicking the rollercoaster ride of twists and turns and goofy subplots that we come to expect, but it ultimately leaves the energy feeling depressingly compromised.
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