Samurai Champloo, Episode 19 Recap: “Unholy Union”

Original Toonami Airdate: May 7th, 2016

Unholy Union - Stepping Stone TestFuu’s held up in a cabin waiting for Mugen and Jin to come back when she’s unexpectedly visited by a girl seeking shelter from two thugs who are hunting her down. When they fail to find the girl, the two leave… for the time being. Meanwhile, Mugen and Jin come across a mass of people in line, witnessing an elderly woman praying before being carried off by two government men. At the spot where the woman was captured, Mugen catches sight of an image of Jesus Christ being executed, and the official there tells him to step on it as a way of testing to see whether or not Mugen is a Christian. Despite the fact that Mugen likely has no religious affiliation whatsoever, naturally he refuses to do what he’s told, resulting in a group of government officials surrounding him and Jin on all sides. Suddenly, the fight is interrupted by the arrival of a priest who identifies himself as Xavier III, the grandson of real-life historical figure Saint Francis Xavier, the missionary responsible for introducing Christianity to Japan. He intimidates the officials by firing several rounds from his gun before escaping on his horse.

Unholy Union - Xavier III
He also intimidates them with his terrifying face.

Back at the cabin, Fuu strikes up a conversation with the girl, who introduces herself as Yuri. Yuri points out a hidden secret within the miniature skull that Fuu carries around with her: a cross of Golgotha hidden within its eye, supposedly coming from the Ikitsuki Island (historically known as a safe haven for persecuted Japanese Christians) in Nagasaki. Fuu asks about the samurai who smells of sunflowers, and Yuri brings up the name “Seizo Kasumi”, possibly finally giving her a solid lead in her journey. Before she can learn any more information, the two thugs from earlier break in, knocking Fuu unconscious and taking Yuri with them. Fuu is finally woken up by Mugen and Jin, and the three proceed to wander off aimlessly after she tells them what happened, eventually coming across a small village. They inquire about the thugs, but the man posted at the front claims to have seen nothing of note. He offers them a place to stay in the village for the night, which they quickly take up.

Fuu awakens in the middle of the night and notices a massive trail of people all walking in a line towards… somewhere. She stealthily pursues them and finds the mass of people walking into a cave and follows them in, witnessing the sight of a massive sermon being led by Xavier III, with a plethora of Christians praising his every word. He proclaims to the audience that the key to achieving salvation is… to earn it by helping to manufacture tanegashima, a Japanese form of matchlock gun. Okay, that’s… certainly an original proposal for salvation.

During the sermon, Fuu is cornered and caught by one of the thugs from earlier. Meanwhile, Jin goes out looking for her and comes across a deal being made between the other thug and some government officials to sell them matchlock guns. Back at the cave, we see Yuri questioning the motivations of Xavier III, who as it turns out is just exploiting the faith of the local Christian population for massive profit, using the profits from gun sales to purchase valuable artworks, historical artifacts, and even the love of others as he attempts to force Yuri to marry him. She refuses, which gets her thrown in a jail cell alongside Fuu. Back in the village, Mugen is awakened by Momo delivering a note for him and Jin: a rescue request from Fuu. The two wander around for a lead, tracking down the government officials that Jin was spying on and interrogating them for information.

Unholy Union - Ikitsuki burning downWhile they search for her, Yuri speaks more about her situation: she and her father sought refuge from religious persecution within the Ikitsuki Islands, and one of their fellow refugees was indeed Seizo Kasumi, the samurai who smells of sunflowers. Unfortunately, the refugees eventually fell victim to a massive attack on their safe haven, ending with their refuge being torched and burned down, and Seizo’s whereabouts are still unknown. Later on in her life, she witnessed her father being murdered by Xavier III’s underlings after he learned the truth of his exploitative practices. The two are interrupted by his arrival as he forces Yuri to go through with the wedding ceremony.

As the ceremony is about to get underway, Fuu begs Yuri to not go through with it, giving her the courage she needs to stand up to the priest. This conflict is interrupted by the arrival of Mugen and Jin, who managed to uncover the full scale of Xavier’s exploitative scheme. He starts firing at the two samurai but fails to successfully strike them, accidentally causing the cross behind him to collapse on top of him. When he comes to, Xavier’s beard and nose suddenly come loose, revealing him to be just a normal Japanese man adopting a false identity. He grabs his gun in a fit of rage to take out our heroes, but the gun explodes in his hands, killing him on the spot.

The next morning, our heroes say farewell to Yuri as they head off to the Ikitsuki island in search of the samurai who smells of sunflowers. Before they leave, Fuu casually reveals to Mugen and Jin that the sunflower samurai is… her father!

 

“Unholy Union” is perhaps the most explicit look yet at the historical context that informs the setting of Samurai Champloo. The isolationist mindset of the shogunate during the Edo period was explored quite heavily in “Stranger Searching”, and this episode explores yet another facet of that particular mentality. Persecution of Japanese citizens of Christian faith was at its absolute peak during the 17th century, as the government of the time was extremely paranoid and suspicious of any European influence creeping into their land. These tensions were building ever since the arrival of the aforementioned Saint Francis Xavier as well as other European travelers in Japan during the 16th century, with the government at the time worried about European colonialism and subversion of their cultural norms. When Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to power and created the shogunate in 1603, the persecution and execution of native Christians became one of the government’s top priorities.

The Ikitsuki island played a big role in being a shelter for persecuted Christians to practice their faith without interference from persecution. The fear of persecution is what fuels the behavior of the cult around Xavier III, as he provides a safe haven for them to openly express their faith. However, being the scheming scumbag that he is, he chooses to exploit the people’s fear for his own personal gain, perhaps commenting on the practices engaged by some of the shadier priests and evangelicals of modern Christianity. Think of every overenthusiastic pastor you’ve ever come across on TV who explicitly begged you for massive amounts of cash in exchange for eternal salvation and you’ve got Xavier III in a nutshell, making for the scummiest kind of villain possible in this situation. While I personally am not a man of faith, I do recognize the inherent evil in manipulating religious people *especially* in a time when they’re facing the constant threat of death.

“Unholy Union” also gives more information on the MacGuffin of the series, revealing that the samurai who smells of sunflowers was likely of Christian faith himself, giving a proper name to the enigmatic figure, AND *finally* identifying his relationship to Fuu, which is fairly obvious in retrospect especially given the allusions made in “Lullabies Of The Lost”. I would also like to acknowledge a couple of particularly interesting usages of visuals in the episode, with the first being the death of Xavier III. When the gun explodes in his hands, it cuts to a shot of the Jesus statue illuminated with a bright orange yellow collar, which I like to think is symbolic of the light of God shining on the crowd present, as if to say “You are now free from this heathen’s torment”. The second is during the flashback to the destruction of the Ikitsuki Islands, where there’s a shot of a cross up in flames. While I don’t think it’s meant to be a heavily symbolic shot in any way, I just like the imagery and the way the particular shot is framed. I give this episode 10 crosses of Golgotha/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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