Samurai Champloo, Episode 17 Recap: “Lullabies of the Lost (Verse 2)”

Original Toonami Airdate: April 23rd, 2016

Picking up from last week, Mugen finds himself in the middle of fighting off the Matsumae who are pursuing Okuru. The fight stops long enough for them to explain the broad strokes of their objective, but Mugen isn’t satisfied and holds up one of the officers with his blade for more information. He reveals the extent of Okuru’s crimes, including murdering an entire village, members of the Matsumae clan, and even his own wife and daughter, and Mugen lets the officer go but not before telling him to stay away.

Meanwhile, Fuu’s request to journey with Okuru is denied, citing his criminal actions as why he chooses to travel alone. After she falls asleep for the night, he leaves her a couple of fish and departs the cave, but Momo decides to abandon Fuu and tag along.

Jin is taking a break after his encounter with Yukimaru when he catches sight of someone running through the forest. He follows in quick pursuit and finds the metting spot of the Matsumae officers as they discuss their encounter with Mugen as well as confirming that Okuru is indeed roaming around the forest area.

Mugen proceeds to track down Okuru in the forest, coming across him playing a tonkori, a native instrument of the Ainu people of northern Japan, while experiencing a flashback to his past. This flashback is set to a posthumously-released song titled “Pekambe Uk (Wheat Harvesting Song” by Ainu singer Umeko Ando, who passed away in July of 2004, approximately two months before the episode’s original Japanese airdate in September. During this flashback, we see the wandering Okuru come across his home village, witnessing most of the buildings on fire and much of the population dead, including having to see his own wife and child crawling out of their house dying, clearly scarring Okuru for his entire life since then. Mugen recognizes the song he’s playing and strikes up a conversation with Okuru, warning him of the Matsumae’s pursuits as Okuru sticks with his story about a disease brought about by the Matsumae being responsible for his village’s death. The two eventually begin to fight as Mugen chases Okuru through the woods while he’s barraged with arrows. Eventually, Okuru’s ammo runs out which forces him to rely on his blade for self-defense.

Meanwhile, Jin hears the frightened screams of Fuu and manages to track down, as she’s worried that an ogre or demon of some kind has found her. It turns out the figure in question is actually Yukimaru, who leaps down from above to attack Jin and finish their fight from earlier as he goes on about the concepts of death and revival. The two proceed to battle, ultimately culminating in Jin stabbing Yukimaru through the chest. With his dying words, he confesses that all he really wanted was to be exactly like Jin. He and Fuu lay Yukimaru’s body to rest when they’re suddenly interrupted by distant noises. As it turns out, the Matsumae have tracked down Mugen and Okuru, forcing them to hide behind a rock from these pursuers. After some deliberation, Okuru decides to finally give himself up to settle his business with them. As he comes out to surrender, he speaks of the day his village died and his conflict with the Matsumae: a disease did in fact infest the village, but instead of trying to help the villagers or save them, a small set of Matsumae officials decided to burn the place down and kill everyone there, driving Okuru to murder the officials as revenge. Jin and Fuu show up in time to witness the Matsumae fire at and hit Okuru with multiple flaming arrows. Mugen, enraged, attacks them for interfering with his fight, and Jin eventually makes his presence known to provide assistance. Okuru, still alive somehow, takes one of the flaming arrows and kills one of the attackers as he stumbles to the edge of the nearby cliff. Our heroes look on as he hurls himself off the edge, never to be seen again.

The next day, our heroes continue their journey, but not before Mugen asks once again about Fuu’s desire to pursue the Sunflower Samurai. She finally gives him something of a straight answer: “Revenge. For my mother”.

 

The overriding theme of this two-part episode is pretty immediately obvious, namely the nature of death and rebirth. This is most evident in the backstory of Okuru, who witnessed his entire village, and even his loved ones, die in front of him, an event which permanently changed him. While they all suffered a literal death due to disease and fire, Okuru also died that day but in a more metaphorical sense, as glimpsed in the flashback when his eyes change to pure black. His soul, the pure essence of a happier time within him, has died with the death of his family, leaving him as nothing more than an emotionally hollow shell wandering around until his physical being dies off as well. This theme also ties back to Mugen, as his past on the Ryukyu Islands is brought up during his encounter with Okuru. While it’s only in a passing line of dialogue, it evokes the emotionally taxing “Misguided Miscreants” two-parter and Mugen’s own various brushes with death, all being tied to the dark incidents of his past.

It’s worth noting that how Okuru exits the episode is nearly identical to Mugen’s cliff jump in the aforementioned episodes, which would explain why he still thinks Okuru’s alive after the attack. Jin also has to confront this theme during his encounter with Yukimaru, already claiming to be dead and feeling no need for Yukimaru to kill him. The conflicting relationship between these two characters reflects Okuru’s story in a sense as Jin is forced to confront the deaths of those close to him, with the key difference being those deaths came by Jin’s own hand. While Okuru’s spiritual death was out of his own control, Jin’s internal death was purely due to the result of his own actions and choices, perhaps killing him inside to a greater degree than Okuru. The amount of thematic complexity at play across these various plotlines makes it yet another excellent two-parter and a great conclusion to the first season of Samurai Champloo. Season 2 starts next week, and as always, I’m greatly intrigued to see where our heroes head next. I give this episode 10 flaming arrows/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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