by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 903 of
One Piece ?
When the Wano arc was just getting started, it was easier to forgive the pacing, but now that the arc is making its way into more frivolous side adventures, the problem is getting increasingly fraught with each week. I really, really, really, really wish the encounter with Urashima in Bakura town could have been condensed into one episode—even if they had to make up some filler in the future to compensate—because the last two episodes would have fit perfectly together in one installment without issue.
Last week, Luffy jumped into the ring to challenge Urashima head-to-head in a sumo match, and it takes the entirety of this week's episode to conclude the exhaustively repetitive fight. Visually, it looks great! But that doesn't address the fundamental issue. There are far too many stretches of time where all we're seeing is Urashima's flurry of sumo slaps and Luffy dodging without a care in the world. The episode opens with the two fighters recoiling from each other's attacks, and then windmilling their arms at the edge of the ring to keep their balance for a straight minute. I was already worried how the anime was going to adapt the fight at this half-a-chapter-per-episode pace, and it announces at the outset that it's not even going to try.
This entire Bakura Town subplot exists to ensure there is levity in the Wano arc; a fun little diversion to make sure the One Piece spirit doesn't get drowned out by all the complicated lore and villainous doomsaying. Instead, it just kind of feels pointless and tired. It's very common for this series to fight back against its own momentum with detours and humorous asides, but there isn't enough here that's genuinely entertaining. Urashima is every entitled rich guy baddie we've ever met in the series, and his comeuppance arrives with Luffy's default "I'm gonna be King of the Pirates!" catchphrase that would have landed better if this were earlier in the series. There's so much other story baggage that's sure to be weighing on the audience's mind that it's hard to simply sit back, relax, and admire Luffy's mystifyingly beefy physique. It's amusing that the story commits to a mid-arc sumo match at all, but I'd hardly call it a thrilling fight.
There's a lot that could be forgiven if the pacing was better. The plot is going through the motions on just about every level: Luffy's defeating colorful schmucks one after another in a location where he's supposed to be keeping a low profile, there's a sweet little girl who's been kidnapped, and there's intrigue regarding the history of Wano that implies the good guys who used to be in power were framed by the bad guys who are currently in power. We're cycling through an alphabet soup of One Piece conventions, a series of tropes and archetypes that each have an equal shot at being subverted or played straight. For whatever grand design Eiichiro Oda has planned to bring all these elements together, it would be nice if these less consequential developments went down smoother.
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