Samurai Champloo, Episode 16 Recap: “Lullabies of the Lost (Verse 1)”

Original Toonami Airdate: April 16th, 2016

You know I saw Shabazz Palaces live last night and met Ishmael Butler after the show? …That has nothing to do with Champloo. I just felt like sharing that.

The episode opens on Mugen observing a man on fire hurling himself off a cliff into the unseen area below. We then cut to our heroes wandering on a path, with Fuu and Jin staring in disbelief as Mugen tries, with no real success, to flirt with a couple of women. At one point they bring up rumors of a monster who’s been haunting and murdering people in the nearby area, and after the women leave, the gang’s approached by an odd trio of rapping lumberjacks who conveniently deliver an explanation of the overheard rumors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much sense, as they conflate the mysterious murders and disappearances with the possible ghost of 12th century samurai warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune.Lullabies of the Lost, Verse 1 - Rapping Lumberjacks 1 Lullabies of the Lost, Verse 1 - Rapping Lumberjacks 2

Not gonna lie: I want these guys to follow me around and rap about everything happening around me.

As they continue to wander the woods, the group gets into a massive fight regarding their mission of finding “the samurai who smells of sunflowers”. Mugen angrily presses Fuu for information about their journey, but Fuu remains stubborn about revealing all the details. After things get too heated, the three split up and go their separate ways. Jin gets ambushed by a surprise attacker, and Fuu is quickly abandoned by Momo, falling off a cliff but just barely grabbing onto something to help pull her up, although sadly Momo causes her to lose her sense of focus and concentration. Eventually she loses her grip and falls into the river below.

While Mugen wanders the woods on his own, he’s unexpectedly shot at by a man (the same one shown in flames at the start) wielding a Chu-Ko-Nu, a kind of rapid-fire crossbow originally developed in China. After dodging the assault of arrows, Mugen is asked by the stranger if he belongs to the Matsumae clan, but he doesn’t give a proper answer, forcing the stranger to leave the area before Mugen can do anything.

Lullabies of the Lost, Verse 1 - Jin and YukimaruMeanwhile, Jin is still dealing with the mystery attacker, whose mask comes loose in the middle of the fight, revealing himself to be a man named Yukimaru, a student who learned underneath the same master that Jin did before he killed him. Yukimaru had been hunting Jin down hoping to kill him and make a reputation for himself, and the two continue to fight despite Jin’s seeming disinterest in continuing. Eventually he manages to escape the battle by jumping off a nearby cliff and into the river below.

Sinking to the bottom of the river with no hope of escape, Fuu suddenly has a vivid hallucination of herself as a child in a massive field of sunflowers, observing a man (no doubt her mental approximation of the samurai she’s looking for) walking through the field. When he gets out of view, Fuu suddenly matures, but the sunflowers around her begin to decay and wither. This scene is complimented by an appropriately unnerving musical piece with many clinking toy-like elements in its sound, feeling like it builds up to a nightmare scenario besetting a poor helpless child.

Lullabies of the Lost, Verse 1 - Fuu and OkuruFuu suddenly wakes up next to an open fire, having been rescued by the stranger that Mugen encountered earlier, and she immediately thanks him before trying to leave, but a bad leg injury prevents her from being able to walk. Luckily the stranger, who later reveals his name to be Okuru, uses some nearby herbs to treat her ailment. While still together, Okuru talks about his past as the only survivor of a village besieged by a plague he refers to as “The Roaming God”, a disease that claimed many lives including his wife and newborn child. Meanwhile, Mugen finds himself being ambushed again, this time by police officers representing the Matsumae who have evidently mistaken him for Okuru, leaving us on a cliffhanger to be resolved next week.

 

This is the first episode in a while that gives us a somewhat substantial perspective on the main MacGuffin that’s been driving the plot up to now: the hunt for the samurai who smells of sunflowers. Despite the vague hints (or lack of them) up to know, it went without saying that he had some kind of connection to Fuu’s past. However, only now are we getting a sunbstantial confirmation of that through Fuu’s near-death hallucination, and it finds a visually clever way to telegraph important details for the eventual payoff. Starting off with Fuu as a kid basically confirms the samurai as being an important adult figure in her life (note: since this is my first time watching Champloo, keep in mind I know NOTHING of how it ends, but I’m going to take a guess and say the Samurai is her father? This is just a guess; no need to provide an answer if you’ve seen the show before) who abandoned her at a young age. As Fuu grows older in the sequence, the sunflowers around her wither and die, perhaps suggesting that once this Samurai left her, her life began to fall apart in a significant way, clearly marking this as a tale of revenge. Through this cleverly constructed visual sequence, we establish a possible identity AND a motivation for pursuing the Samurai Who Smells Of Sunflowers without the need for overly wordy exposition, a showcase of some absolutely stellar direction and storytelling.

Aside from those plot developments, there is also the conflict between Jin and his former fellow student Yukimaru, and while the two clearly have a substantial history with each other, it’s clear that Jin is either disinterested in confrontation, looking to fully escape his past, or both.  There’s also Mugen’s encounter with Okuru and the case of mistaken identity that leads into the cliffhanger ending, but those will all sadly have to wait in order to resolve themselves more fully. A good set-up for this two-parter, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it resolves next week. I give this episode 8 rapping lumberjacks/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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