Original Toonami Airdate: January 30th, 2016
You know the director of Michiko & Hatchin directed this episode? I was unaware of that.
A seemingly out-of-place monologue gives us some context for the episode regarding the popular Japanese art style known as ukiyo-e before it segues into the plot proper. In the Awa province, our heroes are trying to catch a ferry but, predictably, they have no money. We then get a film noir-type narration from the same voice in the beginning, a private investigator named Manzo Sakami, also known as “Manzo the Saw” because of his sword and how it cuts through things like, well… a saw. He’s investigating the disappearance of adolescent girls in the area, and he happens to be eating in the same restaurant as Fuu. She’s sitting with an oddly charismatic stranger who offers to buy food for her, so of course she takes him up on it. Mugen and Jin also oblige, putting their meal cost on the stranger’s tab before heading out. As Fuu gets up to let the two of them know to earn some money, the stranger starts framing her with his fingers and admiring her. He then introduces himself as Moronobu Hishikawa, who was actually a real-life person known for being the most popular and influential of all ukiyo-e artists.
While this is happening, Mugen comes across a group of street punks and quickly proceeds to get into a fight. He manages to take them out using only his feet and later shakes them down for all their money. Meanwhile, Hishikawa is showing Fuu some of his artwork while going on about how amateur models will one day be the standard for all ukiyo-e paintings, and Fuu finds herself drawn to a painting of sunflowers. In the ensuing discussion, he offers to pay her to model for his artwork, and Manzo happens to overhear this conversation.
Out by the ocean, Jin curiously observes the ships on the harbor, getting the attention of an elderly man playing shogi who goes on about illegal European goods being highly prized in this province. Jin then suggests a game move before trying to leave, but the elderly man wants him to stick around for a game or two, tempting him by playing for stakes. If Jin wins, he’ll get a bag of money from the man, but if he loses, he has to serve this man for life. Jin decides to humor the man and take him up on the bet.
Mugen spends his earnings on grilled squid as one of the punks from earlier (the green-haired one) goes to see some woman and tell her about what happens, and as it turns out, the punks are actually yakuza. The woman, displeased with the scenario, gives him some more money and demands that he deals with Mugen should the two meet again. Mugen, who just finished his squid and realizes he still needs ferry money, ends up encountering the yakuza punk again and chases him through town. He eventually ends up encountering Fuu and Hishikawa, who was in the middle of introducing her to his studio, and he loses track of the punk.
Later that night, Hishikawa attempts to paint Fuu but finds himself dissatisfied, attempting to disrobe her slightly more to see if it’ll improve his art. He asserts that he’s not a pervert in the most ridiculous moment of the entire episode before she agrees to show just a little bit more skin. Manzo the Saw happens to be just outside investigating and tries to spy on the two but almost gets his cover blown when they hear him outside. Hishikawa finishes his painting, but the situation gets interrupted by the yakuza punks from earlier who quickly proceed to kidnap her and stuff her in a barrel.
Jin and the elderly man’s shogi game continues into the night, and the man agrees to continue in the morning, but he accidentally knocks the board over. Jin, demonstrating remarkable memory, manages to put all the pieces back where they were before, but the man suggests that one piece is out of place.
Hishikawa encounters the woman from earlier who I’m assuming leads the yakuza punks, and she tries to feel up on him and get intimate, but Hishikawa is creeped out and manages to get away. He goes to where Fuu is being held and manages to free her from the barrel, and unsurprisingly she’s pissed off and demands to know what’s up with him. Apparently Hishikawa had to take up assisting in human trafficking as a side job since his ukiyo-e paintings weren’t helping him make ends meet. Unfortunately, the yakuza punks catch him trying to rescue her.
The next morning, Jin continues his shogi match while Mugen investigates where Fuu disappeared to, when the yakuza punks suddenly show up and toss a beaten-up Hashikawa into his modeling studio. He asks about Fuu, and Hishikawa warns him that she’s going to be sold if they don’t do anything. The two of them go to find Fuu while Hishikawa explains that his paintings are used as a slave trade catalogue for selling to the illegally-docked European ships. They go to where the barrels are kept, but there’s no sign of Fuu. Suddenly, the one barrel present suddenly explodes, revealing Manzo the Saw hiding inside, having missed his opportunity to catch the yakuza. Mugen eventually tracks down the small boat where the yakuza are and manages to kick their asses, but the green-haired one gets away with Fuu as Mugen chases him down. He eventually stops him with ease, ending up right at the place where Jin and the old man are (still) playing shogi. Jin finally wins, and Manzo shows up to arrest the woman and the elderly man for slave trafficking, to which he promptly agrees to go in what is a bizarrely abrupt concluding moment to the main conflict. The police take the man away, but not before he tosses the small bag of money to Jin that he was promised for winning. While our heroes relax and contemplate what has recently transpired, a boat with two barrels passes underneath them, and Hishikawa suddenly pops out of one. He confesses his affection for Fuu while also displaying his (rather lewd) finished painting of her, which she promptly tosses back at him. The episode ends with a monologue much like the opening, speaking of Hishikawa’s failed attempt to escape to Holland. His painting of Fuu, however, somehow managed to find its way in the hands of famous artist Vincent Van Gogh, supposedly serving as the inspiration for his various sunflower paintings in Champloo’s timeline.
This episode was… weird. It marked a pretty big tonal shift from the previous four primarily in its tone. While some of the basic plot ideas and story structuring that have shown up in the past four episodes are present (each character going off on their own sub-plot, Jin getting roped into something involving an elderly man, Fuu getting kidnapped, etc.) there are some rather odd digressions mixed throughout, mainly with the characters of the week: Manzo and Hishikawa. They provide a lot of jarring elements to the story with Manzo’s film noir-inspired monologues and observations (because Watanabe) and Hishikawa’s really weird comedy bits where he acts all neurotic and flustered in the presence of any woman he’s around. None of these are meant to put down the episode as it was quite entertaining overall, but it’s kind of jarring to consider that an episode like this is possible given what anyone would expect from the previous four. As I mentioned earlier, Sayo Yamamoto was in the director’s seat for this episode, and it kind of shows with the main story between Hishikawa and Fuu. Much like with some of the characters in Michiko & Hatchin, this one concerns a seemingly nice man romanticizing a woman who proceeds to find out that the man is kind of a sleazy scumbag, which can describe many of the male characters of the week in Michiko & Hatchin. I’m not sure I’d call this my favorite episode I’ve seen so far, but it certainly has enough interesting stuff going on with its alternate history shenanigans and film noir style to call it a decent episode. I give it 7 perverted ukiyo-e paintings/10.
Samurai Champloo airs every Saturday at 1:30 AM, only on Toonami.
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