One Piece: Chapter 868- Review

Of course they failed! In all honesty, I feel like somewhat of an idiot for believing that Oda was done addressing Big Mom’s backstory for the time being. The way he intertwined her continuing past narrative with the current action was outstanding. Although this chapter wasn’t quite as potent as its predecessor, there is still quite a bit to discuss. For simplicities sake, I will be addressing the backstory first, and finishing up with the minimal main narrative progression we did receive.

It was revealed that Linlin, Mother Caramel, and the rest of the orphans weren’t alone on the day of the cannibalism incident. Unbenounced to each other, two spectators witnessed this gruesome event, both equal in importance for current affairs.

The first was a giant from Elbaf, who came to check in on the new Lamb’s House. So disgusted by what he witnessed, he immediately fled back to Elbaf, where he informed the rest of the giants of the horrors he had seen. Big Mom became such a repugnant figure amongst their community that they do not even speak of her by name. Oda was quite clever in including this witness. As we now know Big Mom will probably not be killed during this arc, it is very likely she will be an extremely relevant character in the inevitable Elbaf arc. This giant, as well as the giants he informed, may be the ones to provide this crucial context to the Straw Hats once they arrive in the kingdom.

While the first witness was there to be a conduit for future events, the second helped to shape the basis for the current circumstances. Big Mom’s head chef, Streusen, was, at the time, marooned on this island. Finding the incident comedic, he saw potential in manipulating the young Linlin, and became her ally. Together, they would come to build what is now the Big Mom Pirate Empire. I always love when Oda takes a character of minuscule importance and embeds them with relevancy. It manages to make characters that would typically be forgotten amongst the sheer massiveness of One Piece’s cast more memorable (see Super Eyepatch Wolf’s discussion of Senior Pink for a perfect example). The subtextual character development here is tremendous. Streusen must be a man of astounding patience and intrepidity, working with someone as volatile as Big Mom for over 60 years.

The pirate empire the two formed had to start somewhere. The theories were correct, the island that Mother Caramel built the second Lamb’s House on would eventually become the capital of Big Mom’s territory, Whole Cake Island. The revelation doesn’t stop there. As I predicted, Mother Caramel was the one who sparked Big Mom’s goal of building a melting pot country. Through her insincere rhetoric, Caramel instilled the idea that would become the cornerstone of Linlin’s entire pirate career. If Caramel were a genuine individual, this would be an utterly touching scene. Our understanding of her true intentions, however, makes this revelation profoundly disturbing; Big Mom’s empire is built entirely on lies.

A subtextual, but not irrelevant reveal followed soon after. Linlin boasting that she performed “the trick that mother did,” without having been shown consuming a devil fruit that grew nearby helps prove that eating a devil fruit user can transfer their power. This not only provides new lore to the One Piece universe but may even provide context to a significant past event.

Note: the following idea comes from Best Guy Ever, a host on the Po D. Cast (which if you haven’t checked out yet, you unquestionably should, it’s the best One Piece podcast out there). His genius theory harkens back to the Paramount War saga. During the Battle of Marineford, Blackbeard concealed himself and a dying Whitebeard under a large black cloth. After several minutes, Blackbeard emerged with Whitebeard’s devil fruit ability in tow. Nate theorized that, under the blanket, Blackbeard must have eaten a piece of Whitebeard’s body. Although it isn’t perfectly sound, I personally find this theory plausible.

Enough theory crafting, back to the chapter at hand. Since we’ve addressed all the important details from the backstory segments, let’s move on to the current narrative.

Big Mom has hit a point of such immense, unprecedented rage, that her haki destroys the bullets flying at her, immediately halting the assassination plan. Even if Bege had extra bullets, the haki waves shattered their weapons. With Big Mom Pirates commanders closing in, it was imperative that the Straw Hats and Fire Tanks fled into the mirror world immediately. Sure enough, in a surprisingly hilarious scene, the entrance mirror was smashed by the haki waves.

At first I thought Bege’s auxiliary escape method (his castle being a sentient homie) was shoddy writing on Oda’s behalf. After further analysis, I discerned that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this reveal. It is perfectly characteristic of Bege to have a backup plan that he wouldn’t share with the Straw Hats unless absolutely necessary. Since he’s someone who is known for his betrayals and mafia-esque tendencies, I really don’t think the writing is contrived here. Let’s hope it stays that way as the alliance continues their escape next chapter.

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One Piece- An Analytical Dive Into Big Mom’s Backstory

One thing we often forget while following the adventures of the Straw Hat Pirates is that the world of One Piece is a very dark place. A government oozing with corruption, a class of nobles that is above all laws, and political conspiracies at every turn are just a few of the harsh elements that bring Oda’s world to life. Although definitely a major aspect of the central narrative, these world-building elements most often flourish in character backstory flashbacks. This in turn, makes them one of my favorite elements of the series.

With this in mind, you can understand my immense excitement when arriving at the cliffhanger that would begin Big Mom’s backstory sub-arc. Due to a combination of a suddenly busy schedule and the newfound knowledge that this story would only last two chapters, I decided to hold off for a double review. Since these chapters are so dense, I will only be addressing important details, as opposed to the typical complete breakdown.

Enough dilly dallying, let’s dive right into Big Mom’s backstory.

 

Chapter 866:

An immediately noticeable element of intrigue regarding Big Mom is that she is, contrary to popular theory, not a giant. Linlin may be unique in size and strength, but through her parental abandonment, we learn she is human. Although this abnormality may lead to some speculation in the theory community, I doubt it will be addressed by Oda any further. In a world with fishmen, various long-limb tribes, and anthropomorphic animal people, it isn’t too farfetched that an outrageously large, non-giant human would be born.

Just because Big Mom is confirmed not to be a giant doesn’t mean the giant race isn’t major importance in this sub-arc. We learn Mother Caramel, a woman supposedly dedicated to her religion, plays a direct role in the modern history of Elbaf. You see, after Brogy and Dorry began the battle that would come to serve as the catalyst for the Little Garden Arc, the Giant Warrior pirates were left without a captain. This void led to reckless pirating, which, in turn, led to their capture by the Marines. As the crew was about to be executed at Marineford, Mother Caramel arrived, stepping in to their defense. Long story short, she became a hero amongst the giants, and was given refuge in Elbaf. There, she began her orphanage, The Lamb’s House (named with clever foreshadowing from Oda *COUGH COUGH* LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER *COUGH COUGH*).

Oda didn’t just simply use Elbaf as the setting for this arc for the sake of reader familiarity. He took full advantage of this location by integrating every single giant character we’ve met thus far (aside from the hands-down best, Jaguar D. Saul) into this sub-arc. Our favorite giants from Little Garden, Enies Lobby, and Marineford either make cameos, or are referenced in dialogue. Even Hajrudin, who, as a reminder, is currently a division captain in the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, shows up as a child.

The last essential point of discussion for this particular chapter is the variety of the orphans. It seems almost all of children living in the Lamb’s House represent victims of different dark corners of the One Piece world. Political chaos and poverty induced slavery are just two emphasized examples.  This only adds to the unsettling nature of this sub-arc, and sets the tone for the chapter to come.

 

Chapter 867:

Before moving forward, I have some very strong general opinions on Chapter 867 that need to be addressed. This was by far the most disturbing chapter of One Piece in recent memory. After my initial, edge-of-my-seat readthrough, I was left with a gnawing lump in my chest for the remainder of the day. The sheer potency of this chapter is not something to be downplayed; Oda deserves a damn medal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took inspiration from Junji Ito when sitting down to write. His genius textual attack comes in two waves- the Mother Caramel reveal and the shocking ending.

Mother Caramel, the kind religious woman who takes in orphaned children, is not what she seems. Bringing a dark truth of the One Piece world back into the limelight, we learn that she is in fact an infamous child slaver. Every two years, she sells one of the orphans to the Celestial Dragons or the Marines. This practice doesn’t raise any suspicion, as she publicly pretends that these children were “finally adopted!” This explains the unconditional love she showed Linlin; the child was set to be her biggest sale yet.

The only confusing aspect of this reveal is who she was speaking to when it took place. In direct conversation with a CP agent, she has to defend her slaver actions. I am very confused by this dynamic, as one of the main objectives of the CP units are to cater to the whims of the Celestial Dragons (who make up the majority of slave masters in the One Piece world).

Regardless of this minor contradiction, Oda does a flawless job of writing Mother Caramel as an absolutely despicable character. Spending months building her up as a figure of kindness and compassion in Big Mom’s life, only to reveal her as a pure evil, real-world monster makes the punch all the more devastating. She reminds me of a more two-faced version of Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The dramatic irony of this situation is that, to this day, Big Mom still has no idea about Mother Caramel’s true nature. She continues to base the model of her entire pirate empire after the facade Caramel displayed. This helps us to develop a bit more sympathy towards Big Mom, which was probably one of Oda’s main intents when writing this backstory.

As if the chapter wasn’t perturbing enough, the closure of this sub-arc was downright nauseating. Big Mom’s days as a free child are numbered as her sixth birthday arrives. Keeping up the facade, Mother Caramel holds a birthday party for Linlin. All of the orphans are gathered to celebrate with a croquembouche feast (a clever throwback to the early chapters of this arc). Big Mom’s love for the food brings her into an eating frenzy. She loses all awareness of her surroundings as she monstrously devours the massive platter. After she finishes eating and confesses to getting overexcited, she finds Mother Caramel and the rest of the orphans are gone. Big Mom looks around for a while, but all of her friends are nowhere to be found.  

That’s right, she committed accidental cannibalism and ate all of her companions. Despite disturbing plot elements being commonly sprinkled throughout the series, this is a new level for Oda. This is the first time One Piece has made me outright scared. This fear is welcomed; we finally understand the true threat that Big Mom poses. When she loses control, there is no telling the atrocities she is capable of committing. If the members of her massive crew know this, it adds a whole new eerie contextualization to the entire arc. All of her subordinates that we’ve met, including commanders, must be living in constant fear.

With that, we are brought back into the current plot, as Big Mom completely loses composure in the face of the shattered Mother Caramel photo. Now that we understand Big Mom’s viscous potential, there is absolutely no way the assassination plan will succeed. There is no doubt in my mind that the Straw Hat/Fire Tank alliance will fail. This is actually great for the plot; their escape now becomes abundantly more interesting.

 

Conclusion:

Overall, the Big Mom flashback sub-arc was immensely satisfying. It stands strong in the company of the tragic backstories that play a pivotal part in making One Piece the series it is. Its brevity, disturbingness, and high level of fan service all work together to produce two masterful chapters. Successfully re-contextualizing the Whole Cake Island arc, this backstory added even more intensity to an already gripping climax.

Rapid Reviews- Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman serves as the latest installment in the infamous DC Cinematic Universe, a franchise that, up until this point, was yet to produce a good movie. With contemporaries such as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad in its wake, I was very pessimistic going in. The explosive critical and audience reception, combined with my pre-existing fanship for lead actress Gal Gadot, got me into the theater opening weekend. Two viewings in under 24 hours later, I am so happy I gave this movie a chance.

Wonder Woman is not only the first good DC Cinematic Universe film, but a game changer in DC’s formerly failing battle against its Marvel Studios rival. It manages to address a vast majority of issues that plague the average Marvel flick, namely avoiding being bogged down by its presence in a cinematic universe. The filmmakers traded pointless easter eggs and contrived connections in favor of a focused, stand-alone story. This gives the movie room to breathe, which pays off with its fantastic character development and gripping narrative.

Let me address the pressing question right away, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Almost no superhero actor or actress has managed to seamlessly blend with their character as well as she has. The only possible contenders that come to mind are Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Whenever I think of Wonder Woman from now on, I will think of Gadot. The exceptional writing of the character, combined with her strong performance and natural beauty create the core of this movie’s success.

Gadot doesn’t stand on her own in this fiery core. Wonder Woman directly combats the typical comic book movie flaw of weak side characters by creating one of the most developed and memorable film ensembles in recent years. Chris Pine’s Steve, Saïd Taghmaoui’s Sameer, Ewen Bremner’s Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief receive as much development as possible for secondary characters. This allows the viewer to genuinely care and fear for them in the danger they face while accompanying Diana on her quest. Terrific performances from all four only compliment this stellar character writing.

The one area in which this movie failed to outshine its Marvel competitors was in its villains. Without entering spoiler territory, the primary and secondary antagonists all suffered from poor writing, acting, and surprisingly little development. Their cheesy and over-the-top nature clashed with an otherwise tonally consistent film.

The privilege to see this movie for a second time only amplified my prior positive convictions. Wonder Woman is not only my favorite film of the year thus far, but the best comic book movie since 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. I now have a speck of hope for November’s Justice League, a project I previously thought to be doomed.

Final Verdict: Must See

An Analytical Breakdown of the Game of Thrones Season 7 Trailer

After a lengthier than usual hiatus, the penultimate season of Game of Thrones is finally nearing. As if I wasn’t impatient enough already, a fantastic trailer dropped this past week. I would have had this post up earlier if I wasn’t at MegaCon all weekend, but I’m sick of apologizing to a non-existent audience. Enough gonzo rambling, today I’m going to break down all of the important elements of this trailer, and what they mean for the season to come.

I feel I should get the elephant in the room out of the way- the new season will only consist of seven episodes (as opposed to the usual 10). I have a feeling this will lead to a pace increase and harsh narrative tightening. This can work as both a positive and a negative for the series. We will definitely be seeing more frequent fan service action. However, I sincerely hope this focus doesn’t betray the core of what makes Game of Thrones such a masterpiece, the quiet character moments. After what is arguably the best season of the show, I do have faith that Dan and Dave can stay true to this core. However, I’m still cautiously expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

An important element of the trailer that shouldn’t be ignored is that Cersei is the narrator. This leads me to believe that she will be paramount to this season. It seems that she may even be the main focus character, with all of the other arcs splintering off of her conduit narrative. Since Cersei is a fantastic character, and Jaime is one my favorites in the show, this is definitely not an issue for me.

What does concern me, however, is the complete lack of Bran in this trailer. With his arc coming to an all-time high last season, I’m concerned this abandonment will remove some of the mystical tension that has been building up in the narrative. Based on what is shown to us in the trailer, it seems season 7 will take more of a human route, focusing mainly on the non-mystical characters and “game of thrones” aspect of the plot, designating season 8 as the home for “ice and fire” developments. This follows my prediction that the War for the Dawn, Azor Ahai, and White Walker plot threads will come to a head only after Daenerys finishes or fails her conquest. Don’t get me wrong, I do think we will definitely see sprinkles of mysticality this year, as made evident by multiple beyond the Wall shots and a single Melisandre shot. Regardless, I really do hope we see at least a bit of Bran this season; his arc is one of my favorite in the show.

Cersei spends an early chunk of the trailer monologuing about the enemies she has in all four cardinal directions. While north is clearly implying Jon and company, and east is obviously referring to Daenerys’ forces, south and west require some further speculation.

With the ominous shot of a pirate-like ship accompanying “enemies to the west,” it seems like the ironborn arc is not dead. I was sure that Euron was only introduced in the show as a conduit to get Theon and Yara to ally with Daenerys. I’m happy that he will be more of a threat, despite being introduced so late in the game. It’s unclear whether he will mainly oppose Cersei’s regime, or serve as an obstacle to Daenerys’ conquest. I’m leaning towards the latter, but open to the prior.

The south, while still speculative, is a bit more straightforward. From this shot, it seems they are implying that the Sand Snakes and Dorne will serve as a more prominent aspect of the narrative than before. This opposes my post season 6 finale idea that their arc would probably just be assimilated into Daenerys’. This opposition comes as a pleasant surprise- they simply weren’t developed enough as characters to be through with. We also see a brief shot of Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand passionately kissing. This may be simple fanservice, but there’s also the possibility that this relationship will be integral to the narrative.

Circling back to Cersei, it is time to address one of my favorite characters, Jaime. The look on his face when standing next to Cersei in the throne room shows nothing but pure, unfiltered regret. He realises the monster that Cersei has become, and feels he is somehow responsible. This further ignites the flame under my theory that he will be the one to kill Cersei in an action that will parallel his assasination of the Mad King.

Speaking of parallels, Daenerys is definitively arriving in Westeros this season. Eerily mirroring Aegon’s Conquest, Daenerys has seemingly taken Dragonstone as her home base. This serves as a fantastic tribute to her ancestry; Dragonstone is the location the Targaryens made their headquarters after the Doom of Valyria. It was commandeered by Stannis after Robert’s Rebellion seemingly wiped out the Targaryen line, so it’s nice to see the island back under its namesake.

With Daenerys definitely in Westeros, it seems the vast majority, if not the entirety, of her conquest will take place this season. We even get shots of the Unsullied in direct combat with the Lannister army. While this may be depicting the taking of Casterly Rock, it seems more likely that these are glimpses into the actual taking of King’s Landing. The latter makes me a bit nervous; Daenerys’ arc is moving unprecedentedly fast. Regardless, I’m happy the trailer didn’t use any shots or imagery to imply the victor of this battle; knowing the writers, it really could go either way. However, I do stand by my theory that Jaime will kill Cersei and allow Daenerys’ forces to assume control of the castle. The Mad King parallels may even grow from there; it may be Cersei’s crazed command to burn the entire city with wildfire that triggers this assassination.

A potential liability in Daenerys’ success comes in the form of the Dothraki she has assimilated into her forces. Despite direct orders from their Khaleesi, it may be hard for a barbaric people to abandon their old ways in favor of formal warfare. Raping and pillaging might become an issue; despite being an integral element of Dothraki culture, it directly contrasts with Daenerys’ code of ethics. Will the Dothraki be able to break their old habits? Will this very regression be the key to Daenerys’ victory?

Moving up to the north, Littlefinger still hasn’t called it quits. With eerie imagery and dialogue, it seems like he is trying to manipulate Sansa behind Jon’s back. If Sansa is, once again, brainwashed by him, I will be very disappointed. In the show, Sansa is a character plagued by swift regression in the face of steady progression. With the show nearing its close, I pray that her character gets the permanent development she deserves. Regardless, this conflict seems like it will be a tedious, but important arc in the season to come.

Speaking of northern conflict, the Arya shots in this trailer hint that her past may be coming back to haunt her. Although not definitive, I theorize that the Faceless Men (particularly the agents they must have in Westeros) are still after Arya. This makes perfect narrative sense; it was way too easy for her to escape back in Braavos. The nature of this assassin cult also adds to this tension; they could be anyone. Since Arya is another character that I genuinely care about, I pray she doesn’t succumb to this horrid situation.

That’s pretty much it for this analysis. The trailer promises some essential fan service scenes, but is also plagued by some notable absences. Despite a probable focus on the non-mystical elements of the series in the upcoming season, I really hope we still get some drops of the mysticality to come. After all, season 8 is most likely going to cover the War for the Dawn. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones and/or A Song of Ice and Fire, you are in for a treat this July and August. I will be analytically reviewing all seven episodes of the upcoming season, so stay tuned.

Gurren Lagann- The Consequences of “Fighting the Power”

At its core, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a show about maturing as an individual and rebelling against oppression. Despite the equal importance and narrative intertwinement of these themes, today I will be focusing on the latter. More specifically, I will be looking at how, without the second half of the series, Gurren Lagann would not be remembered today.

Rebelling against oppressor is one of the oldest, and therefore, most used storytelling devices. After all, rebellion is a frequent and important element of real-world history. We saw revolution in the earliest human societies, and we still see it regularly throughout the world today. Further, it is so simple to garner support for a character when they are fighting against a tyrannical regime that is trying to put them down.

The first half of Gurren Lagann takes that narrative device and boils it down to its absolute pure essence. We are provided with one of the most clean-cut, smooth, and satisfying rebellion stories in fiction. There you have it, Simon and the rest of the Dai-Gurren Brigade defeated Lordgenome and the Beastmen forces, regaining control of the surface world. They had some tragic losses, but also made some new friends along the way. A young boy who started out as a non-confident, bullied antisocial in his underground village transformed into the man who led the rebellion to its victory. As most writers would put it, THE END.

What makes Gurren Lagann stand out from its contemporaries is that this “ending” is only the halfway point of the series. After a seven year timeskip, “act 2” begins with what I like to call the “political consequences arc.”

Historical rebellions aren’t as clean cut as most fictional works would have you believe. Revolution often comes with the desire for a new form of government, something that is immensely difficult to implement in a nation so accustomed to tyranny. Systems must be destroyed and rebuilt, citizens must be accounted for and entered into government programs, and all prior opposition must be dead or imprisoned to prevent regime reversal.

The second half of Gurren Lagann addresses all of these elements, and more. Simon and Rossiu, who occupy the two most prominent government leadership positions, are having an excruciatingly difficult time running their nation. Initiatives to move citizens from their underground villages back to the surface world are failing; they didn’t account for people wanting to remain in that oppressed lifestyle. They find out Viral, a high-ranking and unaccounted for member of the original oppressive regime, is working as a terrorist, undermining citizen relocation efforts.

When citizen dissatisfaction and political unrest begin to spread through the new capital, we see Rossiu, a rebellion hero and close friend to Simon, turn on him in a political move he believes is in the best interest of the nation.

All of this climaxes with the invasion of the anti-spiral forces. You see, it is revealed that the initial oppressive regime was present in the first place in order to prevent this external “nation” from invading. Simon must escape from political prison, gather his old rebellion friends (and even some former enemies), and fight against the invading anti-spiral.

Despite being presented through high-concept science fiction and dimensional shenanigans, the second half of Gurren Lagann is showing real-world consequences. Political turmoil, betrayal, and even foreign invasion in times of weakness are common elements of real post-revolution nations. Most fight against the tyrannical regime stories don’t dare tread these complicated waters, they are satisfying enough as it is.

The fact that Gurren Lagann takes a step beyond mere satisfaction, and addresses these logical consequences, is why it is still remembered as a masterpiece today.

Rapid Reviews- Alien: Covenant

Introduction:

Rapid Reviews is a new series I’m launching. Here, I will be covering films that I want to talk about, but don’t plan on writing in-depth analytical essays on. I will also include a final verdict section at the end of each review, so those who don’t feel like reading the whole post can gain an even quicker summary of my opinion (skip, worth seeing, and must see are the three verdicts I can assign). Anyway, enjoy the first of many rapid reviews to come. Who knows, one day I may expand to other mediums, but for now, I’m just sticking with movies.

Review:

Alien: Covenant serves as both the sequel to Prometheus and the second prequel to Alien. I consider myself to be somewhat of a fan of the Alien franchise, having really enjoyed the original, but not yet got around to watching Aliens. My opinions on Prometheus, however, can be best described with one point: I can’t seem to recall almost anything that happened in the entire movie.

Thankfully, Alien: Covenant doesn’t fall into the same forgettable trap. Combining the strongest elements from both Prometheus and the original Alien, Covenant serves as the bridging point between the two. Despite some major issues, I really enjoyed this entry into the legendary science fiction franchise.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as David, while also portraying a new character named Walter. Regardless of who he is in any given scene, Fassbender is the standout performance of this film; he’s worth the entire price of admission alone. However, when it boils down to the rest of the new cast, we are left with an undeveloped and generically bland horror ensemble.

What makes this movie stand out over its prequel predecessor is the villain, the identity of whom I will not spoil due to its implications in the Alien lore. Despite being an amoral and nefarious character, you find yourself rooting for him due to the sheer blandness of the protagonists. I found myself wanting his sinister plans to succeed, despite their horrible nature.

Aside from one standout performance and a tremendous villain, there isn’t really much to Alien: Covenant. At its core, the movie is a fun popcorn flick, and a solid entry into the classic sci-fi/horror saga. If you were disappointed by the lack of Xenomorphs in Prometheus, you will be immensely satisfied this time around.

Speaking of Prometheus, I would recommend giving it a re-watch before seeing Covenant, just as a refresher. It’s not absolutely necessary, but based on the amount of recap questions I had to ask my friend during and after the movie, It’s probably a good idea.

Final Verdict: Worth Seeing

One Piece: Chapter 865- Review

I want to start off by immediately addressing the elephant in the room. I apologize for the unannounced hiatus. I did not intend to cease posting for nearly a month. In the weeks since I arrived back in South Florida for the summer, I have been focusing my time and creative energy on both my fiction writing and professional endeavors. In this unexpectedly busy haze, I simply lost track of my gonzo journalism efforts. I promise I will go back to posting more frequently, at least once a week excluding One Piece chapter reviews.

With that out of the way, let’s jump right into this week’s chapter. Chapter 865 was an overall mixed bag for me. While there were some elements I absolutely loved, I do have some concerns that I plan on discussing in-depth. The main takeaway from the chapter was the cliffhanger, the implications of which I will inevitably address before this review is through.

The cover pages have always been one of my favorite components of the One Piece manga. I love how cleverly Oda uses a standard element of the medium that so many mangaka simply take for granted. He recently transitioned from fan requests back to traditional side-story arcs. This time around we are following the remaining captains of the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, and what each of their respective crews are up to. I find the potential in this cover story to be immense. We are dealing with intriguing characters that didn’t get the time they deserved in the immensely complex Dressrosa arc. Although I never really cared for Cavendish, the current subject, I look forward to the possibilities of cover pages to come. P.S- I don’t expect to see Bartolomeo in this cover story arc, due to his involvement back in Zou.

On to what you are all really here for, the main story. This chapter was heavily action based, which typically is not a problem. However, I was somewhat disappointed in the cluttered and disorienting action that Oda conveyed in this chapter. The smoothness and weighty impact that typically defines One Piece action was traded for a choppy, non-impactful, and hard to follow mess. I found myself constantly scrolling back up to make sure I understood what had just transpired. Panels didn’t flow into each other well, making the transition of focus between characters downright confusing. Although there isn’t any way to prove this hypothesis, I have a theory that Oda was heavily rushed on this chapter; it just doesn’t seem like him.

A problem I had with the previous chapter has become increasingly more evident this week. Judge is acting excruciatingly out of character. For a supposed genius scientist and power-hungry dictator, he is behaving awfully cowardly and unintelligently. I’m having a hard time telling if this is supposed to be comedic, or if I’m just dealing with bad writing. Even if he is being played for laughs, the fact that I am not sure whether this is the case shows poor character writing regardless. Obviously I’m nitpicking here; Oda is one of the greatest writers of all time. It’s just this particular instance that perplexes and disappoints me.

One element of recent plot progression that actually surprises me is how smoothly the Straw Hat/Fire Tank alliance plan is running. Obviously there have been some serious bumps along the way, but for a Yonko assassination plot I thought was for sure dead on arrival, I am pleasantly surprised. Obviously there is still room for the plan to fall apart (throwback to the Battle of Marineford), but, for the sake of the characters, I really hope it doesn’t. If we do end up taking the Marineford route, Jinbe is screwed.

I promised I’d circle back to the cliffhanger, and here we are. The final three panels of this chapter comprised one of the most simultaneously satisfying and frustrating cliffhangers in recent memory. We are finally getting a Big Mom/Mother Caramel flashback sub-arc, and much sooner than I expected! I was also correct about Big Mom’s ties to Elbaf; it seems this is where she and Mother Caramel are from. We are going back to the past people, 63 years ago in Elbaf to be exact. As someone whose favorite element of One Piece is the flashback sub-arcs, I got literal chills absorbing these finishing panels. The reason I bring the word frustration into play is because of how pissed off I am that I have to wait almost a week for the next chapter; I WANT IT NOW!

As I said earlier, this chapter definitely gave me mixed feelings. Despite choppy and confusing action coupled with strange characterization choices, the cliffhanger nearly redeemed my reading experience. I can’t wait to see what Oda has in store for us over the next few weeks, and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all only amplifies my excitement.