Original Toonami Airdate: June 4th, 2016
… I need a minute.
The episode opens with a narration regarding past beliefs about cosmic bodies, namely the idea that shooting stars were once believed to be an omen of bad fortunes to come, as they show a comet heading through space.
Fuu happens to observe a shooting star and makes a few wishes on it while Mugen comes across a matsutake mushroom and proceeds to eat it. Jin and him find more mushrooms nearby and eat every one they find (seriously, I think they took more shrooms than the audience of a Pink Floyd concert). The gang suddenly falls down an unexpected hole and encounter two strangers who seem just as frightened of our heroes as Fuu is of them. Mugen scares them off by cutting one of their arms off, after which they attempt to find their way out of the caverns. Eventually they come across a massive excavation site, running into the two strangers from earlier. The scene is interrupted by yet another stranger playing a biwa and reciting an excerpt from The Tale of the Heike in a manner similar to the opening narration of “Bogus Booty”. After performing his little song, the man introduces himself as Shige, a supposed descendent of the aforementioned Heike clan, who’s leading the excavation efforts in hopes of finding a long lost treasure. Fuu is incredibly suspicious of everything and tries to leave, but Shige promises them a profitable cut of the treasure if they stay and help dig for it. They reluctantly agree to work and are eventually given lodging and are catered to by the two strangers, who are identified by the names Sabini and Upa.
Later that night, the gang is starving, and Sabini and Upa bring them something to eat. Unfortunately, the only thing they have to eat in the area are sticks of pure wasabi, and if you’ve ever eaten wasabi, you know exactly why this is a bad thing. Anyway, as the gang continues helping the excavation, they grow increasingly weary and light-headed, losing track of time and suspecting that there’s something bizarre going on that Shige isn’t telling them. At one point, Sabini and Upa speak of the Heike’s battle against the Genji clan like it’s the present day, even though the aforementioned Tale of the Heike took place about 500 years before the Edo period. After working further and witnessing another worker’s arm falling off, Fuu is increasingly more suspicious of the excavation, and Shige’s eccentric behavior doesn’t help at all. After she comes across Mugen and Jin still experiencing stomach pains, she suspects something might have been up with the mushrooms they found earlier. While she wanders off on her own, Mugen and Jin examine a scroll that Shige had earlier detailing his Heike lineage, suspecting that he’s not being entirely truthful about it. Fuu eventually comes across Shige in a graveyard where… he summons zombies to help him. Naturally, she morphs into full-on “scream queen” mode as zombies surround her at nearly every twist and turn, eventually getting cornered by Shige and his new crop of undead minions at the shed where Mugen and Jin were.
Mugen begins to fight off the horde as best he can, but since they’re already dead this doesn’t help much, and they quickly overpower him. Fuu tries to get through to Shige (revealed to be a zombie as well) about the present day being the Edo period, but he’s of course resistant to this. Jin eventually finds proof that Shige’s claim is bogus, pointing out that his particular section of the bloodline is missing a line connecting it to the broader Heike lineage. Even though he now realizes his pursuits were pointless, he tries to convince the zombie army to continue digging for treasure, but they decide to attack him instead. He busts out his biwa, declares the episode over, and the comet from earlier crashes into the area and kills them all, leaving behind a giant mushroom cloud.
Yup. Everyone dies. The end…
…or is it?!
I … have no clue what to make of this episode. Sure, absurd and over-the-top episodes have existed in the series before (it’s kind of baked into the anachronistic aesthetic), but this is a wholly different kind of absurd, anchoring itself in horror movie-based surrealism. It’s natural to assume the entire thing was just a shroom-induced head trip, but since Fuu didn’t eat any of the mushrooms, I’m not sure this theory would hold up much. As a display of how far removed this episode is from everything Champloo has done up to now, even the typically expected hip-hop/Japanese folk music is dropped, instead opting for an episode-specific soundtrack mainly reliant on cold, dark, ambient sounds and heavy use of theremin.
The major character for the week, the enigmatic Shige, is supposedly a double reference to two different figures. First and most obvious is the visual design, which is a direct nod to Brian Jones, one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones. Second and more substantial is his name and central goal. Shige’s name is, from what I’ve gathered, a nod to Shigesato Itoi, a Japanese game developer most known for his involvement with the Mother series (Earthbound in the U.S.). In addition, the character’s goal of digging up a fabled treasure is also a reference to Itoi, who has allegedly sunk a lot of money into attempting to dig up a legendary Japanese treasure. As far as other references are concerned, there’s also the two named zombies Sabini and Upa. Sabini is named after Tom Savini, a famous make-up effects artist known for his work with George Romero, particularly on Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, and Upa is a nod to Tobe Hooper, director of the horror classics The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist. The constantly referenced image of the comet heading to Earth is one of the more specific nods in the episode, alluding to a Japanese horror film called Wild Zero, in which a zombie apocalypse is triggered by the arrival of a comet. So at the end of the day, this was a “Watanabe indulges his film nerd boner” episode, taking the series to the weirdest place it’s been across its entire run so far, and I’m not even sure how to parse the ending with the mushroom cloud. I’m not touching that one with a 10 foot pole. I give this episode an ???/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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