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.

Advertisements

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.

One Piece: Chapter 863- Review

Chapter 863 was, without a doubt, my hands down favorite chapter of the Whole Cake Island arc thus far. Every single setup is coming together for a massive cluster of a punchline. All of the plot threads established throughout the arc are cleverly oozing together into one big mess. Regardless of the sloppy nature of these events, the tight knit tension that Oda masterfully weaves is still in place, amplifying to even higher levels.

Before reading this post, I would highly recommend checking out Code Provider’s chapter review over on his YouTube channel. As someone who is far more knowledgeable on the medium of manga than I am, he is able to give a fantastic review from a perspective I simply do not have.

Moving right along, I am glad Oda took the time to explain how the Straw Hats were able to get to the top of the cake. It was a detail that could have easily been brushed over, but I appreciate the time being taken to make sure the audience is completely following the situation at hand, especially in such a mess of climax. I feel the same way regarding the clarification that the Luffy clones were made by Brûlée, using animals from the Seducing Woods. I was able to make this prediction in advance, but I do know other readers who were not, so I’m glad Oda made this clear for their sake.

One of the factors that made this chapter so much more exciting to me was Big News Morgans’ presence. I explained in an earlier review why I have become so enamored by this character. As a journalist myself, the fact that he is on the scene actively reporting is just so interesting to me. It provides a stronger sense of scale to the arc climax; these are world-changing events. Even though he didn’t initially plan to, it’s nice to see a news industry tycoon on the scene covering the action himself. This is something you just don’t see in the real world.

One of the strongest traits of Oda’s writing style is heavily reflected in this chapter- his ability to seamlessly integrate comedy into dramatic scenes. Despite being one of the most tense and gut-wrenching chapters to date, I found myself laughing out loud twice- the first being when Nami insulted Caesar to the point of tears, the second when Bege is shocked by Luffy’s straightforward attack. This integration is one of the defining traits that allows One Piece to stand out from the rest of its Shonen Jump neighbors.

Dogtooth has been proving his bounty to be worthwhile over the past few chapters. Not only does he have future sight via immensely strong Observation Haki, but he is a Logia-type Devil Fruit user. Through his attack on Luffy, it is revealed that he is the bearer of the Mochi Mochi no Mi. When observing his ability, I couldn’t help be reminded of both Luffy and Trebol’s fruits; Dogtooth’s is essentially a hybrid of the both. I’m not one to harp on abilities and power levels in manga, but I thought this comparison was interesting to point out.

His use of this ability on Luffy also brought out an interesting point via Big Mom. Her anger towards Dogtooth for what she perceived as protecting her is very indicative of her personality. She is so confident in her own ability as a Yonko that she takes any form of assistance as an insult. I feel this immense narcissism will play an important role in her eventual downfall.

Enough beating around the bush- we all know who the true star of this chapter was. Chapter 863 served as Jinbe’s official induction into the primary Straw Hat crew. In an unforgettable scene that gave me literal chills, Jinbe declares mutiny towards the Big Mom Pirates and joins the Straw Hats.

As the narrative of this arc was built up, there were two possible paths that Jinbe’s character would take. He would either officially join the Straw Hats, or sacrifice himself to save them. Although the latter is still a possibility, the first has come to fruition. We have our tenth Straw Hat everyone.

This brings up the issue as to what will happen to the crew Jinbe currently captains, the Fishman Pirates. I can feasibly see the second in command, Aladine, assuming the captain position, and the crew will continue on as independent allies. Equally plausible is the assimilation of the crew into the greater Straw Hat Grand Fleet. Either would leave Aladine in a newfound position of power, as Jinbe would most likely live aboard the Sunny with the rest of the primary crew.

The reason this chapter was so special to me was not just the induction of a new crew member, but the manner in which it is conducted. Jinbe gives his generic, but always immensely satisfying, Luffy is going to be the Pirate King speech. This declaration has become a rite of passage over the course the series; it seems that every incoming Straw Hat makes some form of the monologue.

Jinbe’s, however, might be the most satisfying yet. The manner in which he directly confronts Big Mom sent shivers down my spine. His lack of fear towards death in the face of Big Mom’s fear reliant ability was an added bonus. His gentlemanly nature is only amplified through his symbolic gesture of a sake offering, one that Big Mom promptly refuses via smashing the cup.

In perfect narrative rhythm, this heel smash gives Brook the opportunity to destroy the photo of Mother Caramel. Big Mom was already at rage point, about to strike Jinbe. I’m sure we’ll find out if this move will put her in the catatonic state of rage Bege expected at the start of the next chapter.

Chapter 863 was one of those chapters that perfectly captures the spirit of One Piece. Oda manages to pack laugh-out-loud humor within the same pages as spine-tingling drama, unintentionally creating a microcosmic reflection of the series as a whole. Obviously any chapter that involves the inauguration of a new crew member is unforgettable. However, this was handled so beautifully that it may be one of the best inductions yet.