Original Toonami Airdate: March 5th, 2016
I don’t have a witty opening line for this week.
The episode opens at night on a samurai being challenged to a fight by a mysterious stranger who manages to kill him with one quick strike.
The next morning, our heroes are wandering and starving as always when they encounter a priest who generously offers them food and housing… in exchange for doing chores and busywork around his place of residence. While Fuu is out running errands, she encounters a group of people discussing a string of mysterious killings where the victims are all skilled samurai, with a bounty of 10 ryō being offered for his capture.
And now, for a poor attempt at conversion math: 1 ryō, from what little I can gather from the internet, would be equal to about 120,000 yen, or roughly $1054.50 in U.S. currency. So 10 ryō would equal roughly 1,200,000 yen, or about $105,452.76 in U.S. currency. That’s quite a lot of money.
Fuu brings the news to Mugen and Jin, but only Mugen seems interested in the offer, so the two of them leave to find more information as Jin is left to finish the chores. The two ask around town and eventually pick up a possible lead, with Mugen tracking down the strongest samurai in the area to assure that he’ll eventually run into the mystery killer. Mugen’s lead turns up a dead end as the samurai he tracks down turns out to be a total wimp. Meanwhile, Fuu receives some peculiar details about the mystery killings: namely, the victims bleed excessively from their orifices despite the apparent absence of any sword cuts on their body. When sunset rolls around, a group of samurai encounter the mystery killer on a bridge looking for a fight, but he refuses. When confronted further, he’s given no choice but to kill one of the men, scaring off the rest as Mugen happens upon the trail of blood left behind.
At night, Mugen hits up a small place to get a drink, and the mystery killer is sitting right next to him, with Mugen being completely unaware. The man shares his sake with Mugen as Mugen recounts the details of the mysterious killings. The two leave the bar as the mystery killer recites a story about a mountain climber who became a demon, and as the two are about to part ways, Mugen finally catches on to his identity. The two get into a brief fight as Mugen manages to narrowly dodge his attacks before the killer escapes to avoid capture, but not before promising that the two will meet again on the next full moon.
Back at the priest’s house, he’s relaxing in a hot tub as Jin and Fuu observe, and Jin, suspecting something is up with him, takes an opportunity to attack the man who narrowly dodges the sword strike. Mugen shows up as everyone observes the cut marks on his hands, and while reciting the story, the priest (named Zuikō) chimes in and names the man as Shōryū, apparently once a student of his. He begins reciting the backstory of Shōryū to our heroes.
He was originally named Ukon, one of Zuikō’s top students, and was sent on a mission overseas which went awry after a storm destroyed the boat and killed nearly everyone except for him. Ukon washed up on the shores of China and was rescued by a group of Shaolin monks who took him in and trained him to learn a martial art style called Hakkei. 10 years later, he returned to Zuikō’s dojo, now a changed man because of his experiences in China. Choosing to go by Shōryū, he became a ruthless intimidating individual who cared more about using his newfound skill for killing than anything else, even going so far as to murder a fellow student in cold blood during a training session. Getting banned from the dojo, he went on to seek mentorship from other dojos, but he got rejected from each one. Growing spiteful at the world’s inability to recognize his perceived greatness, he began murdering dojo masters to assert his own power.
The next day, Mugen, seeming uncharacteristically disciplined, begins training in a multitude of ways to prepare himself for his next showdown with Shōryū. When nightfall comes, Mugen goes out for a walk, meeting up with Shōryū on the bridge from earlier. The two begin to fight, with Mugen proving himself a worthy challenger for Shōryū as they eventually manage to knock each other’s swords out of their hands. Mugen, feeling weak from Shōryū’s attack, is just about to receive the death blow, but as soon as Shōryū gets up close and personal, Mugen pulls out a small blade and uses it to stab Shōryū in the chest, killing him and ending the episode.
This week’s episode was… okay. The biggest compliments that can be paid to the episode is in its framing of shots, the animation quality, and the editing. The level of detail conveyed in the way Shōryū attacks and fights is quite impressive, capturing each movement and portraying it rather elegantly. In addition, the flashback sequence to his backstory is impressively well-presented with its black-and-white 1930s film style. The episode also includes one of the most visually distinct and well-edited scene transitions in the show, as a moment at the end where Zuikō breaks a necklace uses one of the broken beads to segue into an ending shot of the full moon. Once again, the series proves itself to be a visual and technical powerhouse.
What kind of drags the episode down a bit is Shōryū himself. To be fair, he’s not a bad character, per se. He’s a legitimately terrifying presence as a villain that’s mainly accentuated by Jeffrey Stackhouse’s voice acting, giving him a commanding deep voice that’s guaranteed to strike fear into all who hear it. The issue I have with him is his backstory, which feels kind of generic when you look at it closely. He basically just goes over to the dark side and starts killing everyone who never recognized his skill or talents in martial arts. It’s a pretty basic backstory and not really all that interesting, and it kind of drags down what otherwise would have been a perfectly good villain. That makes it probably the “weakest” episode of the series so far, but it was still solidly entertaining, and the impressive visual presentation definitely made things more interesting. I give it 7 chopped wood logs/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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