Meet Bat-Man (no, not "Batman"), a subordinate of the Animal Kingdom pirates and wielder of a Smile Fruit, the knockoff brand of Devil Fruits that permanently turn their users into goofy nightmare-fuel chimeras. It's not enough for a man to sprout bat wings, his entire bottom half has to be a bat. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bizarre Smile users, but for now Bat-Man is our immediate antagonist, lobbing arrows at Luffy, Zoro, and Tsuru in an attempt to silence anybody who speaks ill of Shogun Orochi. He's also accompanied by Gazelle-Man, who kidnaps Tama for her rare animal-taming powers. Aesthetically, Kaido's crew seems to adopt a psuedo-BDSM look, with assortments of leather and fishnets, and I find that exceptionally creepy as a top layer to these bonkers designs. They're weird enough as it is!
However, that's all concerning the second half of this episode, and the lead up to Bat-Man's arrival is much less provocative. Tama's feeling better now that she's received first aid, but getting her to eat is another challenge entirely. She's too stubborn to accept a free handout from Tsuru (a bowl of oshiruko, a very important dish to remember for this arc) because she's still committed to that warrior's fast, but she gives in once her new friends ask her to think of it as a birthday present. The emphasis here is on the joy of eating and the emotional nourishment of food in the face of poverty. This is a brief moment of comfort and tenderness before the aforementioned kidnapping. I really wish this could be a snappier episode, because the heart and humor this week feel they're being held down by ankle weights. There are so many unusual pauses between lines of dialogue, and there's evident thought being put into the direction and shot compositions that accidentally highlights the poor pacing instead of distracts from it. Despite the show's best efforts, the stronger material this week feels stilted and unnatural.
The other major focal point of this episode is Kiku, the waitress who works for Tsuru. One of my favorite brief gags in this arc is Zoro nonchalantly commenting on how tall she is, only for Luffy to butt-in with "Yeah, but Big Mom was bigger," like he's bragging. There's a bit of Capital-M Mystery going on with Kiku, starting with her usage of the samurai pronoun "sessha," which Zoro picks up on as being odd. There are a couple of details in this episode that don't translate well into English subtitles—I rather like how Viz translates "sessha" into a Rurouni Kenshin-style "this one"—and there are several layers of nuance and misdirection that are exclusive to the Japanese dialogue. Is "sessha" too old fashioned, even for the samurai country? Or is Zoro simply stuck on the masculine connotation of the word? Perhaps this is our first hint that this sis ain't so cis, but given how casual the manga is in presenting that question I have a feeling there's a secret bonus twist waiting for us beyond what's currently apparent.
We've now officially crossed episode 900! It's a surprisingly underwhelming milestone, simply because you know the big 1,000 is going to hit us soon enough. I wonder if we'll still be in Wano when that happens. This episode sits on a thin line in terms of what this arc can get away with. The pacing really does need to pick up, though there isn't any reason to expect it to in the near future. As far as the basic set-up goes with Wano's themes of poverty and oppression, we're beating a dead horse and the never-ending string of goony henchmen would work better if they could be introduced in rapid machine gun fire. This episode's climactic scene where Luffy and Zoro battle a rainfall of Bat-Man's arrows is pretty spectacular, but the actual core story is in desperate need of some excitement right now.