by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 902 of
One Piece ?
One Piece trudges on as we continue to explore the world of Japa—I mean, er, Wano—and we get a whiff of the next fragrance of local flavor in the form of sumo wrestling! We've already met Urashima, the yokozuna of Wano, but now it's time to finally see him in action as he struts his stuff and defends his champion position.
Luffy, Zoro, and Kiku have arrived in Bakura town, trying to track down Tama and her kidnappers. Urashima is their next obstacle, since the second Kiku is in his sight he hounds her with more marriage proposals. There's so good action as Luffy and Zoro fight off a wave of sumo henchmen, but the central conflict lies in how Kiku deals with the unwanted affection and manipulation. Characterization-wise, she's been really all over the place and it's never clear how much of that is intentional in the writing. Even when the sumos straight-up kidnap her, the Straw Hats prefer to stay hands-off since they've intuited her strength and would rather let her protect herself or... some such? There's a weird gag where Zoro stops himself from jumping in because he doesn't feel right about cutting up a bunch of naked sumo wrestlers, and rationalizes it by acknowledging that Kiku is "not just some teahouse waitress." It's really unclear whether characters mean what they say lately.
Kiku can't seem to make up her mind if she wants people to know she's a samurai or just an ordinary local woman. She tries hard to present herself as a waifish damsel type, but she's bad at it, as demonstrated by how she expertly slices Urashima's topknot off and dishonors him front of a large crowd, only to blush immediately after like, "Oops. Did I just do something badass? Sorry, I'm trying to reign it in!" There's a ton to be read into this. At this stage I wonder if the classic samurai of yesteryear are supposed to be extinct or in hiding. There are also questions about Kiku's gender and how that may or may not impact the way she behaves in front of others. This episode is kind of a subversion of One Piece's more conventional damsel tropes, but there's the potential for that to be an incredibly loaded twist if done poorly. She comes across as kind of a ditz, which adds a socially awkward charm to her character when she interacts with our heroes, but she's also book-ish enough to take notes on her enemies. She's a smart, dumb, girly, manly character. Everything we've seen so far could be expanded on in a million ways, but the story's actual intent is so obfuscated at this point that it can be somewhat frustrating.
Presentation-wise, this episode is great. The music swells at its most dramatic point—a new track I think? I really dug it—and the small amount of action we get looks fantastic. This is another case where I wish we could knock each mini-boss out within a single episode, rather than teasing it out across multiple weeks. We didn't need two episodes of Basil Hawkins and we definitely don't need two episodes of Urashima. As of the cliffhanger, Luffy's jumped into the ring with his shirt off and gleefully lures Urashima into a sumo match of wildly conflicting weight classes. What could have been a dour subplot is turning out to be much more fun and adventurous as Luffy must get a taste of the action, even when we still have a missing little girl to find. Providing us with a whirlwind of story tangents and finding humor and tragedy wherever we go is what One Piece does best, but we still have so much to do and see before this arc is over that I wish things could be a tad snappier than they are.
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