Volumes 89-90: Whole Cake Island conclusion and Reverie opening
Whole Cake Island finally ends. I mentioned in my last summary that I felt like Oda did a good job of breaking things up so fatigue didn't set in too much. That feeling has withered by the end of the arc. I've been trying to pinpoint where that switch is, and I think it's roughly the point where Sanji hands the cake off to Bege. At that point, the Strawhat crew has used up all their tricks and has to rely on the help of others to escape. On one hand, it's fitting. The trust and respect Luffy and company have built with their allies stands in contrast to the fear Big Mom rules with. The latter fractures under stress while the former shines, and that proves pivotal in the Strawhats ultimately emerging victorious. On the other hand, it also means the crew becomes significantly more passive as we wait for a chain of timely interventions to save our heros. That series of saves certainly drags things out in a rather exhausting way.
One of those saves comes in the form of Germa 66. Sanji's family kind of gets away without too much comeuppance- they save Sanji and Luffy to avoid being indebted to them, and Niji hands Sanji his Germa capsule between panels. Judge rants about Sanji's worthlessness and Luffy basically laughs it off, but it really doesn't feel like Judge has learned his lesson. One of the moderately well-founded complaints about Whole Cake Island as an arc is that Sanji doesn't get a dedicated fight or really get to show off his abilities that much. That's kind of true and definitely intentional: Sanji's physical abilities certainly aid him in executing plans, but his greatest worth clearly comes from his sincerity winning over Pudding and his skills as a chef saving Tottoland. Both his emotions and his love of cooking were things Judge attempted to beat out of him and thus it's his innate human qualities that save the day, not his Vinsmoke lineage. But that beautiful cake is both had and eaten: Sanji's Vinsmoke genes become a major power-up in Wano, and the Vinsmokes' martial prowess saves Luffy when Sanji can't do it alone. The negative qualities of Germa are rather undercut when we're treated to multiple spreads of each Power Ranger saving the day. Judge gets a less glowing portrayal but Sanji's brothers seem to be treated as cool first and sociopath bullies third or fourth.
I should probably talk about about Big Mom herself. In short, I think she's a fantastic villain and an extremely unique character. At her core, Charlotte Linlin begins as a tragic character who just wants love and acceptance (and food). Because she's so absurdly strong no one can keep her in check, and so the only guidance she gets is from enablers like Caramel and Struessen, who seek to profit off of her strength. In many ways she never really evolves beyond that childish mindset; she's basically a super-powered child who wants everyone to get along only the way she says. Big Mom makes loads of rules but only forces them to her liking. She ridicules those who are different from her, even when they're her own family. And, of course, she throws massive tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants. I'm fairly confident that her hangry rages are something she could actually temper if she ever bothered to learn. There just was never any reason to. And at some point in adolescence, Big Mom loses the excuse of innocence and becomes her own enabler, celebrating her willful villainy.
It leaves her children in abject terror, of course. Even excluding the fear of being eaten or drained of life, it's clear that many of them chafe under Big Mom's mercurial rule. A quick count of those who betray her in some way: Pudding, Chiffon, Praline, Katakuri, Brulee, Opera, Perospero, King Baum, and Zeus. That's a huge number of defectors! A major unifying factor is individuality, as most of the allied Charlottes have some kind of unique physical traits that makes them undesirable to Big Mom and her favored kids. It's the same with the Vinsmokes' too. The individual is outcast from the in-group, and in most cases that individual's unique qualities are what enable the Strawhats' escape.
Meanwhile, Reverie is starting. Frankly, it's a little difficult to recall what exactly is new knowledge and what isn't, but the introduction of Imu and the Revolutionary Commanders certainly sticks out. We get the seeds of Cobra's confrontation with Imu and Sabo's interference, plus several mentions of the doomed Lulusia. We also get the first inaugural meeting of Luffy's Royal Fanclub, and it's an absolute delight to see all these past characters interact with one another and bond over their time with our crew. Gotta say, it is a bit jarring to see the dwarves not bothering to conceal their presence at all. That cat is very much out of the bag.
Lastly, we get the very opening bit of Wano. Not much to say here, except it's still surprising the crew got separated so easily. I love the homages to classic Japanese art, though, but I wish elements of that distinct art style had been more present throughout the duration of Wano. I suppose I'll keep an eye out during the next 14 (gulp) volumes.