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.

One Piece: Chapter 859- Review

Chapter 859 followed one of the two routes I anticipated in my previous review. In many ways, I felt as if I was reading an extension to last week’s chapter as opposed to an entirely new chunk of the story. I can’t complain, that’s just a given issue of long-form storytelling through the medium of serialized comics.

This week we were treated to what was essentially just a lecture on Bege’s Big Mom assassination plan. Despite its genius, the plan is far from flawless. Clever planning and research was evident, but there are simply too many red flags for this plot to go over without a hitch.

A major component of the strategy relies on the complete cooperation of Caesar Clown, a character we have come to know as anything but trustworthy. Although Bege’s ownership over Caesar’s cubed heart is a strong insurance measure, it is not foolproof. Caesar may have calculated a plan of his own to retrieve his heart, one that may not aline with the goals of the Straw Hat and Fire Tank crews. Further, even if Caesar does not have any ulterior motives, he was initially captured and taken to Whole Cake Island; he does not have a ship to escape on. This leads me to believe that either the Straw Hats or the Fire Tanks will have an unwanted stowaway in the near future.

Another major liability comes in the form of Brûlée and Diesel. If they somehow manage to escape before the assassination and retreat are completed, the entire plan shatters. Not only will the Straw Hats and the Fire Tanks be unable to escape without Brûlée’s mirror world ability, but either her or Diesel will, without a doubt, warn Big Mom.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite Yonko, we learn that Big Mom can’t simply be killed like an ordinary human. If I remember correctly, immense skin strength is a characteristic amongst most of the Yonko. I attribute this trait to some form of powerful busoshoku haki. It would simply be too contrived if it were another aspect of her devil fruit ability.

We learn that her only weakness comes in the form of a mysterious new character named Mother Caramel. Big Mom’s weakness in the wake of Caramel’s absence opens the door to a potential Big Mom flashback sub-arc in the near future. Some of my early predictions for this character see her as a mother and/or mentor figure to Big Mom. I also see potential in her being the former holder of the yonko position that Big Mom currently occupies. Whatever the case may be, the fact that Mother Caramel is noted to still be alive signifies her importance in the future of the narrative.

Luffy spends the chapter bragging about a “super cool” wedding entrance that he plans to make. This boast signifies major red flags with regards to the overall success of the plan. I hope Luffy has matured enough not to jeopardize a major assassination plot with a joke. I have faith in our protagonist, but not complete trust.

Bege makes sure to emphasize that, as soon as each major player makes it to their respective ships, the alliance is over. The prominence placed on this statement is yet another indicator of Bege’s true loyalty- himself. I would not be surprised if Bege were to betray the Straw Hats during their escape, propelling himself away as the crew falls back into the hands of Big Mom.

Next week’s chapter seems as if it will be the official start of the wedding. Just thinking about the structural fragility of their plan makes me nervous. I will, without a doubt, be on the edge of my seat reading chapter 860.