by Grant Jones,
How would you rate episode 953 of
One Piece ?
Right back into the action, Kaido and Big Mom are facing off on Onigashima. Their battle involves crossing blades, soaring through the air, and the raw expression of the power of the Emperors. The island itself is wracked with explosions and lightning. Below ground, Queen receives a call from Babanuki back at the prison. The warden reports that everything is okay!
...because back at the prison, Tama has turned Babanuki to their side with a single millet dumpling. He even goes so far as to play games with her and lightly toss her about on his trunk, which she loves. Chopper, meanwhile, is receiving teary-eyed thanks from the prisoners he has helped cure, just before Luffy gets them riled up again thanks to being back at full strength. Boss Hyogoro is also visited by the bosses of different regions, all of whom are overjoyed to see him. They are less excited to hear Luffy's over-familiarity with Hyogoro and nearly chop him to bits for being disrespectful. Raizo calls Kinemon regarding the number of troops they have gathered, Luffy's recovery, and the liberation of the prison. Raizo also informs Kinemon of the weapon factories and lack of swords and spears.
At the bridge. Kawamatsu and Hiyori have a tearful reunion. The samurai is overjoyed that she is okay, and Hiyori apologizes for running away all those years ago. Hiyori saw how he was wasting away for her sake, and ran off so that he would stop suffering and live for his own. We then follow his saddened and desperate pursuit of Hiyori via flashback as he tries in vain to locate her. Back in the present, their reunion is interrupted by gun-toting riders on dinosaurs who open fire immediately. Thankfully, Zoro and Kawamatsu leap into action and make short work of them. Onimaru is wounded during the fighting, and runs off in tears with Zoro in pursuit before the To Be Continued card closes things out.
A solid episode overall. There were undoubtedly moments of excitement and emotional heft, but nothing quite on the level of the last few episodes. Perhaps part of the problem is that things start with such a bang that very little that follows can truly measure up. Kaido and Big Mom's battle – two of the Yonkou unleashing their powers against one another – is both a thematic and visual highlight. The action is fluid and vibrant, the direction is sharp (I loved the matching cuts from Onigashima's eye sockets back and forth to Kaido and Big Mom), and the stakes feel as big as they possibly could be. It's so rare to see an Emperor fight, let alone two, and further still against one another - the thematic importance cannot be understated.
Which is in part why the rest of the episode feels like an understatement. The Kawamatsu/Hiyori flashback is fine, but it does not hit quite as hard emotionally as it might otherwise. I think the core issue is that Kawamatsu and Hiyori are, relatively speaking, new characters to the audience. We haven't spent all that much time with them individually (or collectively, given how much is going on in Wano) and other than Hiyori tagging along with Zoro, there is little here to connect them to established characters. That said, I liked the visual links between Hiyori and Kawamatsu running alone through the wilderness, both trying to protect one another in their own way. Kawamatsu's hunger feeds (pardon the pun) into the wider themes of the arc overall, which is a nice touch.
Another issue is the telephone calls. On the one hand, Den Den Mushi are such a delight and any time they are on screen you can't help but laugh either at the ridiculous faces or the voice actors making the little ringing noises. On the other hand, a significant portion of the episode's runtime is phone calls between characters delivering exposition – definitely a step down from the opening Yonkou battle, even if it is necessary.
Oh, there was more precious Tama content in this episode, which is a huge plus in my book. She's a sweet kiddo and clearly the heart of the arc, so seeing her contribute and get to have fun is a blessing for us all.
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