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.

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.

How I Will Be Covering Rick and Morty Season 3

If you are currently unaware, Adult Swim hosted an April Fool’s Day stream in which they looped the long-anticipated season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty. Although we will tragically have to wait until summer for the remaining nine episodes, I thought now would be an appropriate time to discuss how I will be covering the upcoming season.

If you remember back to late summer/early fall of 2015, when season 2 was in its prime, I was writing weekly episode reviews. Similar in style to my current One Piece chapter reviews, I would analyze the episode, and speculate its implications on the overall narrative.

For season 3, we are going to be doing something a tad bit different. I will still be covering each episode, conducting the same thorough analysis. It is the medium, however, that will change.

Over on my YouTube channel (the link to which you can find under the YouTube Channel section of this blog), my friend Zack (123zc1) and I have been podcasting for almost an entire year. Our main show is The Two Fine-Looking Brothers Podcast, in which we discuss whatever we wish to on our own schedule. When RWBY Volume 4 debuted, I was working in Washington, D.C. I would not have had the time to write weekly episode reviews. In order to still cover the show, I decided to create a spinoff podcast titled The Fine-Looking Brothers Talk RWBY. Along with our friend Alberto, Zack and I covered each episode with the same level of detail and care I would have used in my text reviews. This podcast blew up in a sense, quickly becoming my most popular creative product to date.

In order to fill the void on my YouTube channel that the RWBY hiatus has created, we have decided to start a spiritual successor podcast. That’s right, The Fine-Looking Brothers Talk Rick and Morty is on its way! In other words, I will still be sharing my opinions on a weekly basis, just not on this blog. If you’re sick of hearing just what I have to say, the opinions of my co-hosts Zack and Alberto should tide you over. Feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel in order to ensure you don’t miss an episode.

The premiere podcast on S3, E1 will be uploaded this week, while the rest of the series will coincide with the airing of the remaining episodes this summer. I hope you all enjoy this change of pace, and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

One Piece: Chapter 858- Review

Chapter 858 was one of the most satisfying chapters of the Whole Cake Island arc thus far. Continuing with 857’s trend of explaining lasting mysteries, this chapter is one filled to the brim with immense payoff.

To start, a hearty chunk, or potentially all, of the New Fishman Pirates are confirmed to be hiding out on Whole Cake Island. Now that we know this information, there is a much larger change that the crew will come into play when it comes down to the actual wedding sabotage plan. Further, we learn that Pekoms, one of the few characters with potential of ratting out to Big Mom, is being stalled and tricked by the hiding crew. He is oblivious to Jinbe’s defection from the Big Mom Pirates, and potentially clueless of his alliance with the Straw Hats.

Continuing with the A plot of the arc, we finally get a look at Capone Bege’s hideout. Although the art leaves it vague as to whether this is a ship docked, or simply part of the island, the citadel fits Bege’s aesthetic perfectly.

This castle also serves as a house of reveals and plot progression, starting with more information on Lola’s backstory and Big Mom’s relationship with the giant race. It is revealed that the powerful suitor that Lola evaded marriage with was actually the prince of Elbaf, the home country of the giants. We learn that Elbaf is the strongest nation in the world militarily, further edging the buildup towards a seemingly inevitable Elbaf arc.

Through Chiffon’s lament, we gain a deeper insight into Big Mom as a character. She is not only abusive to her children verbally and situationally, but physically as well- Chiffon being the victim of harsh beatings despite Lola being to blame for the situation. Big Mom is slowly making her way towards irredeemability, but hasn’t quite hit it yet. Maybe the actual wedding or the future Elbaf arc will cement this status.

This chapter wasn’t only oozing with serious narrative payoff, but with comedic punch lines as well. Luffy’s lost tooth and Brook’s skull crack were healed thanks to the magical abilities of calcium-rich milk! I typically place a mammoth amount of faith in Oda with regards to continuity. However, I admittedly thought these injuries would simply disappear between chapters at some point. I’m very proud of Oda for directly addressing such a miniscule detail.

Continuing with satisfying comedy, we learn that the member of Bege’s gang that looked similar to Caesar was indeed Caesar himself in hiding. Believe it or not, I was just as shocked as Luffy was. I thought this was simply an issue of similarity in character design on the part of one of Oda’s assistants. I was elated to learn of the truth, as well as of Caesar’s reasoning for being at the hideout. It makes perfect logical sense that Caesar would want a way to escape Big Mom’s inevitable wrath. The added plot element of Bege being given control of Caesar’s still cubed heart wasn’t necessary, but is not a weak loyalty insurance measure.

The main takeaway from this chapter is that Luffy and Bege officially formed a pirate alliance. Whether this alliance will remain intact after the wedding is yet to be seen. If the Heart/Straw Hat alliance is any indication, it may last longer than intended. This may be the next step towards my theorized endgame of a complete alliance between all of the Supernova crews.

Bege reveals to Luffy that he has already constructed a game plan for their now joint wedding crash. Whether this will be explained in the next chapter, or be communicated through the actual enactment is yet to be seen. If their plan ends up failing, I would say the prior.

If the next chapter is not an explainer, then it seems the climax of the arc has begun. I would typically offer a prediction on how the wedding will go down here, but I find it very exciting that I have absolutely no idea. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what Oda has in store for us. If his past track record is any indication, this will be a wedding for the ages.

Spirited Away is a Reality Show

As someone who grew up with Spirited Away, and hails it as a flawless masterpiece, naturally I am obsessed with getting other people into the film. Throughout my execution of this mission, I have noticed one common thread: everyone feels that the ending was anticlimactic. At first, I just dismissed my inability to see this problem as mere childhood bias. After all, I had seen the movie so many times that I have probably become desensitized to any flaws it may have.

However, after seeing the movie on the big screen with my roommate while living in D.C., something finally clicked. My roommate loved the film, up until the ending, as most seem to do. However, he explained his issue not just as one of anticlimacticness, but of a lack of payoff. He saw the driving force of the movie as Chihiro’s mission to return her parents to human form and return to the mortal world. If you did have to give the movie a simple synopsis for the sake of a magazine review or IMDB page, that is essentially what should be said. However, I also believe there is a huge misconception based on that very synopsis.

Spirited Away is not an epic fantasy story; it is a reality show. The fantasy adventure premise is merely a vehicle to transport you to a world. Once you are settled in this world, the movie is not about this central conflict. It is about Chihiro, a young immature girl, learning to adapt to a new environment, and mature into a responsible and strong individual.

It is, for this very reason, that the plot of saving her parents is somewhat abandoned for the second and third acts of the film, only to be quickly resolved in the last five minutes. The movie is not about that story, it is about a story of personal growth in a unique setting. But the conflict did get you invested in Chihiro and the characters that inhabit this world, didn’t it?

Reality shows are about people’s lives, individuals adapting to new situations and dealing with their own personal growth. Although person vs. person conflicts are present, they are often artificially inserted to get you more invested. Sound familiar? Hayao Miyazaki inserted an almost artificial fantasy conflict to get you into your seat, and then pushed it to the side to make room for the real Spirited Away.

It is also for this reason that there is no central antagonist in the story. Yubaba, the witchy owner of the bath house, may seem like an obvious candidate to point fingers at. Those assumptions would be misguided. What did Yubaba ever do to harm our protagonist? Yubaba didn’t turn Chihiro’s parents into pigs, her parents did that out of their own selfishness. Yubaba didn’t refuse to give Chihiro her parent’s back. Chihiro never asked for that directly, Haku told her to just ask for a job in the bath house instead. Rather than simply turning Chihiro into an animal, she decided to allow her to work. Yubaba was just a greedy, but overall redeemable person, using a bad situation to profit. Despite being a spirit, she was just being human.

That’s the core of Spirited Away to me, a story about people. Through Chihiro’s eyes, it’s a peak into a world that has been static for a long time, and will continue to be static after she leaves. Chihiro isn’t some epic fantasy heroine that is going to change the status quo of some fantasy world. She’s just a girl, thrown into a rough situation and learning to mature from it. Spirited Away is not a fantasy adventure, but a reality show peering into a fantasy world through the eyes of an outsider.

The Smash Pros: The Art of Long-Form Comedy

In my opinion, long-form comedy is the most satisfying form of comedy out there. Although I do love stand-up and short videos, to me, the pinnacle of the genre comes in the form of the the long game. The core of the artform of comedy is jokes: setup and punchline in that order. However, I believe that, if executed properly, a long joke can serve as the best the genre has to offer.

As explaining this with simple vocabulary is a bit of a challenge, I will use a case study. Garrett’s Response to the Falsely Made Poorly Played Stream is one of my favorite pieces of comedy of all time. This excerpt from internet comedy group Mega64’s 2013 MLK Day stream is essentially a 41 minute joke. Despite its mammoth length, it still manages to follow the comedic formula we have all become accustomed to. The setup to the joke is purposely made to be excruciatingly lengthy. This makes the punchline, which encompaces the last 5-10 minutes of the video, even more rewarding. If you are a fan of Mega64, or of good comedy in general, I would highly recommend checking out this masterpiece.

For a few years, this video remained in my consciousness as the cream of the crop when it comes to long-form comedy. When explaining that style of humor to others, that was the video I would always recommend. However, I recently discovered a series that not only is the best piece of long-form comedy ever made, but is one of the best written pieces of media. This is the YouTube mockumentary The Smash Pros.

A spoof of The Smash Brothers (a popular documentary that examines the competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee community), The Smash Pros is far from a simple derivative parody. It’s very hard to explain The Smash Pros to someone who hasn’t seen it. Saying it’s a mockumentary of a sub-par documentary about the competitive Melee scene doesn’t do the series the justice it deserves. I guess the best way to describe it would be that it takes a simple comedic premise, and develops an entire world, with its own rules, unforgettable characters, and flawless execution of long-form humor.

The first two episodes of The Smash Pros are admittedly very difficult to get through upon first viewing. The constant barrage of information that the writers throw at you may seem overwhelming at first. When I tried to watch the series for the first time, I dropped it after episode 2. I thought I just didn’t get it; I wasn’t a hardcore smasher. However, I urge you to push through. The Smash Pros is a series that needs to be consumed from start to finish before any judgement is passed. Upon completion, you will realise that a majority of this barrage is actually the setup points for the massive, climactic punchline that is Episode 5: The Grand Finale.

One of the key aspects I must point out is that, no matter how absurd they may seem, The Smash Pros universe is bound by rules. In what is probably one of the greatest climaxes and conclusions in writing history, The Grand Finale sees the slow collapse of this rule system. In the epicenter of this collapse is the genius payoff to the massive joke that is The Smash Pros. Although the comedic formula is the same, the setup and punchline is extended over an entire show. It gives the viewer an illusion of feeling lost; maybe they just don’t get it. But, if the viewer is patient enough to stick with it to the end, they realize that that they were supposed to feel lost; they were still in the setup. Their minds will hopefully be just as blown during the payoff as mine was, leading to one of the most satisfying and rewarding punchlines in the history of comedy.

The only series I can say comes close to this radical extension of the humor formula is Curb Your Enthusiasm. Curb enters the long-form comedy fray via its seasonal arcs. However, even then, these arcs are not present in every season. Furthermore, not every episode within a season weaves into the setup and payoff based narrative of said arcs.

Please be patient with The Smash Pros. Don’t make the same mistake I did upon my first viewing. Just power through, and you will be rewarded for your loyalty with one of the greatest pieces of comedy in history. Stay tuned for some more in-depth Smash Pros analysis in the near future. I have so much more to talk about, and I hope you’ll stick with me as I do so.

Moana and Wind Waker: Perfecting the Polynesian Ocean Explorer Aesthetic

May as well cash in on the Moana hype train for a second time. There is a particular aesthetic in media that I have become increasingly fond of over the years. This is that of the Polynesian ocean explorer. Today I am going to be explaining this aesthetic, as well as why I appreciate it, through two pieces of media that perfect it. These are Moana and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Moana takes a very direct approach with regards to implementing this aesthetic. After all, the movie is literally about a Polynesian girl who wants to explore the ocean. Every single trait of the aesthetic is there: island inhabiting tribes, personified sea life, traditional Polynesian fashion. However, the element that stands out to me the most is the exploration of the ocean itself.

Despite being from entirely different mediums, both Moana and Wind Waker perfectly portray the vastness of the oceans at hand. In both instances, the audience knows the true constraints of the body of water. In Moana, it is limited to the confines of Earth’s Oceania region. In Wind Waker, it is bound to the grid-based world map that the player is given early in the game. Despite these literal constraints, the writing manages to make the oceans seem endless.

The idea of Moana’s deep-seated calling for ocean exploration is presented very early in the film. This already gives the sea a sense of vastness, as she is truly unaware of its constraints. She has never left her island; she has no perspective as to the true size of the body of water. To her, it may as well be infinite. This cleverly ingrained theme is only amplified when she actually begins to explore the ocean with Maui. Together, they encounter many unique characters, islands, and magical entities. The feeling that you can come across almost anything only supports this illusion of oceanic endlessness.

Wind Waker, while extremely different, flaunts the very same aesthetic in a similar manner. Before comparing the game directly to Moana, I must explain the context of Wind Waker as a part of a media franchise. The Legend of Zelda, a video game series produced by Nintendo, is one of the most well known high fantasy sagas of all time. The series typically takes place in a somewhat generic high fantasy world known as Hyrule, which always has the typical geographical tropes. A volcanic mountain region, an aquatic lake/river region, a mystical forest region, and a harsh desert region can be seen in almost every game in the series, regardless of where it lands on the timeline. However, aside from minor strides in Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker was the first game in the franchise to truly turn this world upside down. During the time between Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker (the two games directly next to each other on the series’ timeline) the world of Hyrule was flooded by the gods. Wind Waker is the first game in the series to take place in the ocean that is the aftermath of this very flood. There is no longer a main continent, only small islands formed over the peaks of what used to be traditional Hylian landmarks. Now, rather than exploring a vast landmass on horseback, you are sailing across a massive ocean on a small boat.

Although Wind Waker naturally borrows many elements from its franchise predecessors, it manages to use this oceanic atmosphere to its advantage. It seamlessly blends the traditional European fantasy concepts that defined the series with a Polynesian ocean explorer aesthetic. Link, rather than living in a farming village or forest haven, now lives on a small tribal island. The attire of the villagers is influenced heavily by Polynesian style. Once you leave your village, you sail to many islands and come across a plethora of unique creatures, but this aesthetic still remains. In fact, many of the staple characters and enemies of the series get an oceanic makeover. The Kokiri get a re-imagining that feels like it stepped straight out of Polynesian mythology. The Zora race is replaced by the Rito, a group of anthropomorphic bird people that live in a society that is literally that of a Polynesian tribe. Bokoblins, rather than running around Hyrule as bandits, now patrol the seas from rafts and watch towers as pirates. Even the main antagonist of the saga, Ganondorf, now looks somewhat like a tribal chief.

However, what Wind Waker succeeds at the best with regards to this aesthetic brings me back to what Moana did so well. Despite there only being a limited number of original characters and creatures, as well as only 49 small islands to visit, the world of the flood still manages to feel massive and unexplored. This aesthetic doesn’t even wear down the more times you complete the game. With each playthrough you manage to notice new things. Whether it be a hilarious character you never talked to before, or a secret area on an island you thought you knew by heart, the world of Wind Waker still manages to feel endless after all these years. Although the second and final game to take place in the flood era of Hylian history, Phantom Hourglass, does not succeed in implementing this aesthetic successfully, we will always have the endless appeal of Wind Waker. This replayability is one of the main reasons why it is, and probably always will be, my favorite video game of all time.

This is also why I would love to see Moana sequels in the near future. There is just so much of this world still left to be explored. I would love to see new islands, meet new characters, and face new threats with Moana and Maui, as long as the movies continue to be as well written as the first.