Original Toonami Airdate: May 14th, 2016
During a dark rainy night, our heroes seek shelter within a bar/restaurant where they eat and observe a beautiful performance by a woman with a shamisen: a goze’, a blind traveling musician, according to Jin. While the gang fills up on food, the woman sits next to them and Fuu tries to strike up a conversation. However, two thugs interrupt and begin to harass the woman before Mugen quickly chases them out. The group continue their conversation, learning that the woman’s name is Sara and she’s journeying to Hyuga. She asks for the group to accompany her on her journey in exchange for covering their food and rooming expenses.
The group makes their way to Hyuga, keeping Sara safe as she gives her performances where she can, and eventually the group make a stop where Jin asks about the charm on her shamisen. She reveals that she has a son that she hasn’t seen in an extremely long time, believing that a blind woman can’t take care of children properly. The group eventually finds a place to stay at for the night, with Sara deciding to take bath, eventually being joined by Mugen for a bit until Fuu chews him out, forcing him out of the bath. Fuu joins Sara as she asks about what Mugen looks like, hoping to confirm her mental image of our obnoxious samurai, but Fuu tells her to just forget about it. After some further conversation, Fuu leaves the bath and offers a begrudging apology to Mugen for earlier. As Fuu and Sara lie awake in their beds that night, Sara begins probing Fuu about her journey, suspecting she has some kind of emotional attachment to her two bodyguards in general as well as one of them specifically.
The next morning they continue on their way, and as the day proceeds, Sara asks a favor of all our heroes: helping her find her son. She makes this clear as they roam through a festival, with a brief flashback going into more detail of her request: she wants either Mugen or Jin (not both) to accompany her, much to Fuu’s seeming displeasure. She eventually runs off to a bridge where Jin tries to comfort her, but Fuu tries to play it off like everything’s fine. While this is going on, Sara receives an ominous warning/reminder from a masked figure in the festival. Eventually, the four reach a forked path where Jin and Sara part ways with Mugen and Fuu. As soon as they do, Fuu breaks down in tears, deeply saddened that Jin actually agreed to her request.
Later on in the night, Jin is suddenly attacked… by Sara. As it turns out, she was evidently hired by some mysterious entity to take out our heroes, leading the two to fight on a bridge, as Sara holds her own with ease. The episode ends on a cliffhanger in the middle of this fight scene.
The focus of the episode is very clearly Sara herself. She’s the first character glimpsed in the episode as she performs her song, a recording of a traditional Japanese folk song called “Kuzunoha no Kowakare”, performed in this episode by Tsukioka Yukiko. The song conveys a Japanese folk legend about the titular Kuzunoha, a fox spirit who, after being saved from a hunter by Abe no Yasuna, takes human form to greet him, and eventually the two marry and have a child. Kuzunoha eventually abandons her family after her son discovers her secret, and she escapes to the woods only to be tracked down by her husband and son, to whom she gives the ability to communicate with beasts. The song is framed in the episode as a parallel to Sara’s own life: she’s been separate from her son for a long time, believing herself to be unfit to care for a child, but the fight with Jin at the end (along with the masked stranger’s warning) reveal that she’s got some kind of a secret that she’s trying to hide from her son, despite wanting to see him again. This is a clever bit of symbolic representation on top of just being a beautifully-performed song. Notably, unlike some of the previous non-soundtrack-exclusive pieces of music shown in the series, this one is subtitled with the lyrics, with the actual sung performance preserved in the original Japanese. I think this is a great move on the part of the anime, allowing the symbolic nature of the song to shine through while preserving the saddening beauty of the native language performance.
There’s also another level of symbolism present in the charm on Sara’s shamisen that Jin is curious about. The figure is identified as Kishimojin, a deity originating within Buddhist mythology known for her significance in relation to children. She is often portrayed as both a benevolent and malevolent entity in her treatment of children, as while she is willing to save and protect children in need of help, she is thought to be malicious and cruel towards children of unruly behavior. Sara is someone who more than likely embodies both ends of this dichotomy, as she wants to meet with her son once again and is willing to savagely fight through everyone who gets in her way. We will have to wait another week to see how this ultimately concludes, but the interesting deep symbolism and complex emotions at play already have me invested heavily in this two-parter. I give this episode 9 shamisens/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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