by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 911 of
One Piece ?
How would you rate episode 912 of
One Piece ?
Episode 911: It has been over... *checks Wiki* three hundred episodes since One Piece began to trickle its samurai characters into the main story, starting with the Straw Hats fatefully meeting Kin'emon on Punk Hazard, back when he was looking for his missing son Momonosuke (it turns out they weren't really father and son), which resulted in the two of them hopping aboard the Thousand Sunny. The "traveling companions" are a unique trope to One Piece, where we're often introduced to secondary characters like Vivi and Trafalgar Law who serve as temporary crew members nearly on par with the main cast in terms of importance. The full shape of their journey with Luffy isn't something you can really sense in the present, but when you look back you can see that a fully orchestrated saga had been in the works from day one.
The samurai have been an especially long con; these guys have been tagging along on various adventures with the vague promise their story would be revealed when we get to Wano. They've just kind of been around, not being anybody's favorite characters. Their gradual inclusion, one character at a time, already leaned on a healthy amount of coincidence (Kanjuro and Raizo just happened to be waiting on the islands we were planning to go to anyway), and it's even more contrived in retrospect now that the time travel element has been revealed. Kin'emon recounting how their group got split up in the first place is downright farcical.
So after about three episodes of sitting around and catching our heroes up to speed, it sounds like we finally have a concrete plan for moving forward with the Wano arc. Kaido, who is revered as a deity in the country, is planning to hold a Fire Festival in two weeks. The goal is to discreetly spread the word around town about the rebellion in the meantime, and put an army together to attack on the night of the party. This feels important because after several massive arcs talking about the alliance's desire to fight Kaido, we finally have a specific date locked down that the rest of the story can revolve around. It's a little discouraging that there's still time to kill before the final battle commences, but "two weeks" sounds like just enough time for another full moon to hit, so I'm excited to see some sulong mink action in the near future.
Episode 912: Now this is quite the installment! Unlike the more exposition-filled episodes of late, this one flashy and impactful, while continuing to adapt the source material very thoughtfully. We've recently learned that there are still three members of the Akazaya Nine who are currently missing in action—folks going by the names of Ashura Doji, Kawamatsu, and Denjiro—who weren't part of the group that got sent forward in time. This is in part to introduce a few more mysteries to the plot, but thankfully the anime chooses to smooth some of this stuff over by mentioning up front that the bandit Shutenmaru is the aforementioned Ashura Doji now going by a different name. There are a lot of characters in Wano, and they apparently all have to have several aliases and secret identities, but at least as of this episode we've been spared at least one carrot on a stick.
Shutenmaru is a large, slovenly man (with startlingly pink hair) who's lost his samurai spirit in the twenty years since Oden's death, resorting to thievery to get by. The episode hypes him up a lot as the “strongest man in the world,” which is a complete fabrication to what was in the manga, but I find that to be a strangely charming detail. He can hold his own against Jack, the one billion berry man himself, and their fight is animated like it's nobody's business. It's fun to see such bulky men be so quick on their feet.
However, the real star of the show this week is Kaido, who finally emerges from his depression den to reveal his shenlong-esque dragon form. Fans have speculated for ages that Kaido might have a dragon-themed Devil Fruit, though it was never a guarantee. Another adaptational change is that the anime actually shows him making the transformation, as opposed to the manga that suddenly introduces a giant menacing dragon, and then reveals that said dragon is Mr. Kaido. The anime already showed its hand by showing off Kaido's true power in the opening, so I appreciate that it dropped the pretense altogether. We don't need to treat these cliffhangers and mysteries too preciously, and I think the story is improved by letting the scene unroll more naturalistically.
What really sets an episode like 912 apart is how dedicated it is to simply capturing the audiences' imagination. Eiichiro Oda's manga is really good at cranking out tightly constructed mystery boxes, but sometimes the suspense obfuscates the moment-to-moment pace and texture. This episode pulls you into the world and asks you to think about what it would be like to live there, and how it would feel to be among all these larger than life characters. Just when the plot establishes the heroes' plan to raid the bad guys in two weeks, the stakes escalate unexpectedly, and the episode ends with Luffy and Kaido making eye contact. It's clear a fight will have to happen sooner than later, but to what end? More than most episodes of recent One Piece, this feels like the kind of episode I'd reach at the end of a late night marathon, and I'd have no choice to be continue on to see what happens next, no matter how tired I am. That's my metric of a good episode.
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