Samurai Champloo, Episode 6 Recap: “Stranger Searching”

Original Toonami Airdate: February 6th, 2016

(Insert “Guy Love” from Scrubs here).

Episode 6 - Intro screen

Our heroes find themselves in Edo and come across a bit of good luck when they spot the sign-up line for an eating contest. When they get to the front, they find they can’t afford the registration fee, instead having to offer up personal possessions to sign up, much to Jin’s displeasure, especially since he’s forced to give up his sword. The contest starts, and everyone starts plowing through bowls of rice and grilled eel.Episode 6 - eating contest

Also I’d like to point out one of the announcers is apparently known for his catchphrase “to hell with vegetarianism”. I like that guy.

Jin is the first to drop out unfortunately, and one by one the other competitors fall by the wayside. Mugen also eventually stops, leaving the playing field down to four, including Fuu. This goes down to two as the last two years’ champions are unable to keep up. This leaves Fuu and a mysterious giant stranger left in the game. Fuu accidentally surrenders while trying to swat at a fly, leaving the mystery stranger as the winner.

The announcer claims he can't read the name. If only he could break the fourth wall.
The announcer claims he can’t read the name. If only he could break the fourth wall.

As the gang laments their loss, the stranger approaches the group to congratulate them, and they immediately notice some unusual things about him: red hair, blue eyes, and funny accent. The man introduces himself as Joji (bring back J0ji vlogs!!1!) and wants to be given a tour of Edo. In exchange, he promises he’ll give the gang their possessions back. Jin agrees, and the four of them are off. While this is happening, it appears there are a group of police searching for a man of European descent, eventually deducing that it is in fact Joji. The gang takes in the sights and tastes of Japan and eventually end up with the unfortunate luck of being at a restaurant where the police are investigating. Mugen pisses them off because he’s Mugen, and the gang is forced to flee and hide.

After escaping, the gang finds themselves outside of an opera house that Joji is eager to visit, promising it’s his last wish destination and that he’ll hand the group their possessions back afterwards.Episode 6 - Kabuki performance While watching the performance, Joji is enthralled by the beauty of the main star and wants to meet them backstage, but as it turns out, she is actually just a man in a wig. In a surprising twist, Joji finds himself even more attracted to the actor because he’s a man, and he begins to discuss his backstory. Joji is, as expected, from Holland and was looked down upon by society for his homosexuality. One day, he came across a book titled The Great Mirror of Male Love, a real life collection of short stories published in 1687 by Ihara Saikaku. He found himself enamored by the intense homoeroticism on display as well as its similarities to the lifestyle and codes honored by bushido warriors and decided Japan was a fantastic culture worth visiting.

History’s first weeaboo.

The group gets interrupted by the police who have come to arrest them all, but the fight gets interrupted when a group of mysterious clogged men with face-obscuring wicker baskets, who have been wandering around town throughout the episode, reveal themselves as a group of Europeans. As expected a fight breaks out, and Joji finally hands our heroes their swords back. Everyone eventually reaches a performance stage in the middle of a show where a fight is on the verge of breaking out, when it’s interrupted by a representative of the shogunate being followed by the Europeans who presents the police with a Scarlet Seal. As it turns out, Joji is actually named Isaac Titsingh, the Governor General of the Dutch East India Company. He’s been shirking his responsibilities to meet with the Shogun in order to have fun in Japan.

The next day, our heroes say goodbye to Isaac, who expresses his desire for Japan to accept him for who he is one day. Mugen and Jin head off on their way, but Fuu sticks behind to ask him about the sunflower samurai. He doesn’t know much, but is intrigued since the Dutch first brought sunflowers to Japan. She then presents him with a skull trinket she has on her, and this gets Isaac’s attention, giving her a warning to keep it hidden from others, only offering the suggestion of going to Nagasaki. Fuu meets up with Mugen and Jin, and they continue their journey, thus ending the Edo arc and setting up a Nagasaki arc to star next week.

 

“Stranger Searching” is no doubt the most thematically heavy episode of the series so far, mainly delving into the concepts of homosexuality and xenophobia to drive its main narrative. As mentioned earlier, Joji was ecstatic about travelling to Japan because of the book he found that portrayed the civilization as being okay with homosexuality, whereas his home country looked down on him due to their strict Christian views. There’s probably a sliver of historical truth to this, as the shogunate of the Edo period went to great lengths to eliminate the presence of Christianity in Japan in the 17th century. The lack of an overriding Christian presence would no doubt make Japan look quite appealing as a civilization that allows for sexual freedom like that. This is also somewhat reinforced by the narration during Joji’s backstory which draws parallels between the explicit homoeroticism of The Great Mirror of Male Love and the somewhat homoerotic subtext of Bushido warriors and their relationships/philosophy.

However, he also has to contend with yet another form of discrimination as a man of European descent. Ieyasu Tokugawa, the man who established the shogunate and marked the start of the Edo era, exercised a great deal of control in regards to who could and couldn’t engage in trading with Japan. The Dutch East India Company for example, the one Joji commands, were one of only three groups of foreigners allowed to visit Japan for trading purposes only, and their activities were literally limited to one port in the city of Nagasaki. I imagine this must have been extremely disheartening for Joji to experience, given that he was viewed as a degenerate in his home country and this new culture that he idolized also views him as lesser for completely different reasons. No one seems to be capable of accepting him for who he is, which sucks considering that he’s doesn’t seem to be a bad person by any means. Maybe one day he’ll find a culture that accepts him. Aside from that, there were some amusing moments throughout the episode, especially the opening eating contest. Seriously, Fuu puts down so much food in this scene you’d think she was the star of a 600+ episode shonen anime. I also liked the attention-to-detail with the dubbing and how the Europeans talk to each other, using actual Dutch dialogue and voice-work to add to the authenticity of it. This concludes the gang’s journeys in Edo, and I look forward to seeing what they get themselves involved in as they journey to Nagasaki. I give this episode 9 bowls of rice and grilled eel/10.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know down in the comments below.

 

Samurai Champloo airs every Saturday at 1:30 AM, only on Toonami.

 

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