by Grant Jones,
How would you rate episode 954 of
One Piece ?
Back at the bridge, Kawamatsu and Hiyori flee the scene of the battle so as not to be caught off guard by more of Kaido's forces. As they walk together and reminisce, they discuss how they have spent their years apart. He discusses the tradition in Ringo of the Eternal Graves and burial rites involving swords, as well as what happened here thirteen years prior.
Kawamatsu had come to this burial area to commit seppuku, but was interrupted. A fox was chasing off bandits and they came into contact, revealing to Kawamatsu how it had been protecting the swords from grave robbers all these years on its own. This fox Onimaru had been injured in the fighting and Kawamatsu nursed them back to health. At one point, Onimaru catches Kawamatsu disturbing the graves and attacks him. Kawamatsu explains that he has to do this in the hopes that one day the samurai will rise up again. On that day they will need weapons - and that the land of Wano is still a battlefield. He is not robbing tombs for himself but for the future of Wano. He convinces Onimaru to help, and together they gather swords for the coming battle.
Eventually grave robbers approach once again. This time Kawamatsu and Onimaru work together to send the thieves running with their tails between their legs. He took up the name Gyukimaru in that time, protecting the bridge from interlopers. However, he was eventually caught stealing food and ended up in prison and separated from Onimaru.
In the present, Kawamatsu and Hiyori catch up with Zoro and make contact with Kinemon. Kawamatsu tells him of the weapons stockpile he has acquired. Kawamatsu is perplexed at just how many weapons there are, and in turns out that the fox was shape-changing to the warrior monk all along. In the final moments of the episode, Hiyori promises to give Zoro Oden's blade Enma - the same blade that cut Kaido all those years ago.
A solid enough episode for how much exposition there was.
I think your enjoyment of this one will hinge on how engaging you find Kawamatsu as a character. Personally, I like Kawamatsu but don't necessarily love him as a character so this was a bit of a mixed bag. It's all well-executed in terms of the production of the episode, but the core source material is only mildly engaging for me.
Kawamatsu and Onimaru have an interesting relationship. It's a unique one to be sure - a samurai frog man and a shape-changing fox protecting these important burial grounds. At times, there are extremely emotionally charged scenes, most particularly Kawamatsu's “This is still a battlefield!” line. I think it all does a great job of underscoring how extensive and multi-faceted the effort to take down Kaido has been.
On the flip side though, most of it is simply okay. Most One Piece flashbacks leave me in a smoking crater of emotional pain, but this one was mostly “oh neat” throughout. I think the big problem is that Onimaru has not had that much screen time and basically bails as soon as the flashback is done. Kawamatsu's freedom might feel more important too if it hadn't already happened weeks (months?) ago for the week-to-week viewer to boot. On the positive side though the anime production team once again is having a blast. Even a rather run of the mill episode like this has all the special touches that I love. Elements like switching to widescreen for particular scenes or the film grain over touching moments of Kawamatsu and Onimaru's flashback help cook in that old jidaigeki/chanbara film flavor. The scene with them teaming up at the bridge and all the theatrical flourishes like spotlights, confetti, and Kawamatsu's vocal delivery helped tie in the broader kabuki themes that have been running through the arc as well. An enjoyable execution for a decent segment of the manga.
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