by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 910 of
One Piece ?
With the Wano arc still chugging along in the manga without an end in sight, a surprising synergy frequently appears between it and the anime. It's not uncommon to read a new chapter that directly plays off something that just got introduced in the TV show the day before. This week's episode/chapter pairing is the most uncanny instance yet, as the tale of Kozuki Oden begins to unfurl.
If I were an anime-only watcher, I'd probably figure this episode was meant to be a straightforward explanation of Wano's backstory, rather than a theatrical prologue for a significantly larger flashback to come. Every One Piece arc has a tragic backstory about a mentor or parent figure dying, and I've noticed that after a certain point the series stopped trying to keep anything a surprise regarding that sort of thing. We've known Oden's name, relationship to the other characters, and the exact cause of his death since the Zou arc, yet we still haven't seen what the guy looks like beyond silhouettes. In past arcs, the deaths of characters like Bellemere and Hiriluk serve as emotional anchors for the audience. They're the reason we hate the villains and cheer for their comeuppance, but modern arcs know that we've caught on to how the whole "dead parent" thing works, and now simply ask us to trust that the full backstory will be interesting, even if we already know the broad strokes going in.
So what do we know about Oden as of this week? Oden was the son of the shogun, however he was wild, rough, and ultimately banished from the country's capital. Kuri, the region that most of this arc has taken place in so far, was once a lawless ghetto that Oden took refuge in while winning the allegiance of its ruffians. He helped them build the town up and establish farms, eventually becoming the daimyo of the region before running off to be a pirate on Whitebeard and Gold Roger's crews. Despite his natural leadership qualities, he wanted to be free to stretch his legs more than he wanted to be in charge of anything, though he did return to Wano long enough to be tried as a criminal and executed by Orochi and Kaido.
Oden appears to be a very Luffy-like character in many respects. He's too big for the box he was born into, and people follow him because they're drawn to his effortless confidence. I think about this character a lot in terms of Disney movies. He's like the princess who wants more despite being confined to the expectations of royalty. Maybe his is a story about growing up and learning to be a responsible king who is duty-bound to his people (a quality we admire in the good kings of One Piece), or maybe it's the system that's wrong and the country will be free once it follows his free-spirited example. Which character arc would hurt the most to cut short?
There's also the matter of Oden's family. His wife, a woman named Toki, was the user of the Time-Time Fruit that sent Kin'emon and the others twenty years in the future, just before she died along with her husband. Like Oden, Toki is a silhouette more than a full character at this point, but there's a brief suggestion that she's from far back in the past and settled down in Oden's time for love, actively choosing not to send herself into the future anymore. Are we going to get a multi-episode flashback about her one day? She sounds fascinating. The Time-Time Fruit only works in a forward direction, so there's no chance of any paradoxes. Oden and Toki's son, Momonosuke, got sent to the future, but their daughter Hiyori did not. This is the first mention of Momonosuke having a sister at all, so now we get to be on the lookout for any adult women in Wano turning out to be a secret Kozuki family member all along.
This is a really entertaining and emotionally affecting episode, though there are some fundamental drawbacks that come with the adaptation. In the manga, this exposition is told to us almost entirely through Kin'emon's dialogue. The chapter may as well have had a flashing neon sign saying "THE REAL VERSION OF THIS STORY IS COMING LATER. THIS WILL ALL MAKE SENSE SOON, I PROMISE", and there are even passages of time where the Straw Hats get to hear more of the story than we do. The anime, contrasty, presents it like we're beginning a proper flashback. Furthermore, it's surreal watching the anime try to make do with Oden's silhouetted appearance as much as it can. They must not have had access to his full manga design ahead of time.
There's really nothing I can write about Kozuki Oden that won't be colored by my impressions as a manga reader. I'll keep it spoiler-free but I will say this: As of right now we're a few chapters into the proper Oden flashback and it's defined my impression of the Wano arc pretty dramatically. Really, the entire journey of the samurai characters who have been tagging along with the Straw Hats since Punk Hazard is an entirely new beast to me now. This arc puts a lot of heart into its themes about adolescence, leadership, machismo, and reflecting on a past you can never return to. I'm kind of amazed that One Piece can do an episode like this, where it deliberately keeps the reason you're supposed to care about the story vague and open to interpretation for no other reason than because it's self-assured in what it has planned. Bold.
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