Samurai Champloo, Episode 18 Recap: “War of the Words”

Original Toonami Airdate: April 30th, 2016

Anyone down for some Jet Set Radio?


An opening narration about the birth of street fashions and graffiti art during the Edo period segues into a scene in the Aki province where a group of individuals dressed as demons paint an elaborate graffiti display on the side of a building.


Our heroes are sitting inside of a restaurant ordering some food, and Fuu becomes suspicious of Mugen’s order, observing a pattern of him only ordering what either her or Jin get. After a bit of probing, she learns that he’s completely illiterate outside of only knowing the kanji for “no”. Mugen defends his poor reading skills before he’s interrupted by an obnoxious patron (named Bundai) who puts him in a chokehold, drunk on sake and berating Mugen before ultimately passing out on the floor. Later, the gang observes some graffiti on the walls as it’s being painted over, much to the chagrin of a suspiciously Andy Warhol-looking passerby. Jin heads off to a dojo in Mihara to fulfill a promise from his past. Fuu tries to give Mugen a quick reading lesson before he’s unexpectedly kidnapped by Bundai, being taken to his school where he aggressively attempts to teach Mugen how to read.

Jin sits patiently at the dojo in Mihara (also drenched in graffiti) as a group of West Side Story-esque punks show up to kick him out, but he immediately puts them in their place. He asks about the whereabouts of the dojo’s teacher, Master Niwa, and one of the punks suggests that they might be back in Aki. Coincidentally, Fuu happens to come across two punks getting into a fight on the streets, eventually drawing the attention to her thanks to some snide commentary. The two are immediately enamored by her beauty and proceed to fight over her before being interrupted by Jin, who identifies the two as Tatsunoshin and Kazunosuke, the descendants of his old master.

In case you're wondering: no, they don't say which brother is which.
In case you’re wondering: no, they don’t say which brother is which.

Back at the dojo, the two siblings explain to Jin that ever since Master Niwa killed himself, the two decided to dedicate themselves to the art of graffiti, as it’s the only thing that makes them feel alive anymore. Fuu proposes a competition between the two: whoever tags the most dangerous spots in town without getting caught will win… her, whatever that means specifically. Meanwhile, Mugen continues his lessons with Bundai, taking quite a few beatings for his mistakes.

Referencing Neil Young in an anachronistic hip-hop samurai story? ...Okay then.
Referencing Neil Young in an anachronistic hip-hop samurai story? …Okay then.

Fuu and Jin head up to the grave of Master Niwa as he explains his history with him: when Jin was a student under Niwa, he made a promise upon request from his master. Jin agreed that if some terrible fate were to ever befall his master, he would take care of his two sons. When they reach the grave, the two encounter an elderly priest who knew Niwa and Jin. He fills them in on Master Niwa’s death: since he had the highest profile dojo in the land, the masters of several other dojos got together and planned to take him down with various conspiracy claims to devalue him. Having no other course of action, Niwa committed ritual suicide to ensure his sons would inherit the dojo.

Mugen finally gets his reading skill up to Bundai’s standards and heads back to the room where he and the others are staying. Fuu informs him of the Niwa brothers’ graffiti contest, and Mugen, feeling motivated to practice what he’s learned, is intrigued. The brothers and their gang proceed with their tagging competition, painting over nearly every landmark they can, which once again gets the attention of anime Andy Warhol. They’re unable to determine a winner, so they decide to settle the score by tagging the one place they haven’t touched yet: Hiroshima Castle. They quickly make their way to the castle and start painting all around it (set to a solid DMX-style tune called “Hiji Zuru Style” by Force of Nature), with most members of the gang getting caught by officers. The Niwa brothers are left uncaptured as they almost make it to the top, but in a surprise turn of events, Mugen shows up out of nowhere and tags the top of the castle with an infinity sign before diving into the waters around the castle and escaping.War of the Words - Mugen's graffiti

Later on, the Niwa brothers meet up with Fuu and Jin and explain what happened, and they still expect to cop a feel off Fuu. Fortunately for her, they settle on petting and hugging Momo. The weird Andy Warhol look-alike suddenly makes his presence known, introducing himself as Uohori and asking the brothers to team up with him and become potential fashion icons. Before they can agree, Bundai shows up and drags the brothers away from what I’m sure will be a smooth and not-at-all violent lesson in refining their grammar.War of the Words - Uohori

The next morning, Fuu and Jin wake up to find their clothes and possessions marked with all kinds of writing. They storm outside to find Mugen painting the infinity symbol from the castle on the wall, evidently being the manner in which he chooses to write his name. The narration from earlier, who we can now recognize as Uohori, delivers an epilogue showing the Niwa brothers having successfully brought their graffiti style and fashion sense to Edo.


There’s no mistaking the purpose of this episode as anything other than being gloriously absurd, with the anachronistic focus on graffiti/street art, Uohori’s miscellaneous observations about the events around him, and Bundai’s… “unique” approach to teaching basic literacy. It’s all just pure silly entertainment from start to finish, but it’s not without its clever moments. The personalities of the Niwa brothers are defined by how they dealt with the death of their father: instead of properly upholding his legacy, they turn to punk behaviors, perhaps indicating they always saw themselves as inherently inferior and incapable of being proper samurai. At the same time, as Jin points out during the tagging of the castle, they still hold their father in great reverence, using the graffiti art as a form of revenge against those who drove Master Niwa to kill himself.

Mugen’s plot is yet another instance of exploring his insecurity. Much like when he fought against Shoryu several episodes ago, he’s forced to confront one of his key weaknesses and how it makes him feel, especially in front of our other protagonists. He finds himself driven to prove everyone wrong and not let anyone walk all over him because of his inability to properly read, and it does provide for the most hilarious moments of the episode whenever Bundai beats him silly for making a mistake. While I’m on this tanget, I feel the need to nitpick a little. Fuu claims that they’re only now learning of Mugen’s illiteracy, but in the recap episode “Disorder Diaries”, he makes it clear to Jin that he can’t read. I’m guessing Jin just kept this information to himself since then? It’s difficult to say. This was a fun little story to experience, and I look forward to where our heroes’ journey takes them next. I give this episode 8 graffiti tags/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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