where the river meets the sea
--about Jin and Mugen


About Jin and Mugen...how long I've waited to reach this spot. A relationship that begins as pure, scornful, competitive rivalry, two skilled fighters with styles so different they might have come from the ends of the earth instead of a mere archipelago apart; that proceeds--as they travel together, and come to know each other--through grudging accomodation to regard and respect, and finally reaches a degree of trust and friendship so deep that I don't at all think it's too much to call it love. Not romantic love, of course; that's for us fangirls to imagine (and oh yes, we do. =); but comrades' love, the kind that comes of seeing someone's strength and suffering, living, fighting, traveling with them. And that's what I do believe we have here.

They're set up as parallel opposites in every way possible: "samurai and pirate, water and fire, past and future, tradition and innovation, economy and extravagance, controlled purpose and chaotic energy" as I said awhile back.=) == Jin, the cultured aristocrat, the highly-trained purebred, scholarly, polished, introverted and isolated. The last, purest product of a purist school, the exquisite Mujuushin kenjutsu, so refined and focused that it admonished its students to forget not only their opponents' existence but even their own. He's full of bitter anger when he meets Mugen, betrayed by everything he'd been raised to serve, a perfect weapon with no battle to join. Jin is old Japan, a world that was on the edge of attack and collapse in Champloo's century: old-school from his traditional dress to his martial skill, samurai to the bone, a perfect example of a class once ruling its world and now about to be obsolete. The quartered-diamond emblem on his kimono is a clan mon, the crest of a noble family. Dressed in indigo blue (a dye used for thousands of years in the east), his element is water, flowing, intuitive, downward, subconscious; its direction is the west, the end of the day.

[The river is a creature of the country it flows through, locked inside its banks, but the sea touches all lands, open and wide;
and where the river meets the sea, it finds freedom for the first time.]

Mugen, the street dog, the outcast foreigner, belongs nowhere and to no school. He trained himself; he lost his family so long ago he barely remembers it; it's even been speculated that he made his own sword. An emigre' from Chinese Ryukyuu at a time when foreigners in Japan had less status than roaches, he's a creature of pure invention, improvisation, the element of surprise, the shock of the new. He's the modern world getting right up in Japan's face whether it likes it or not. He stands for no clan, no tradition, nothing except himself. He's pure appetite--he wants food, sex, a challenge, someone to fight, somewhere to go: he wants to burn energy till he falls, and he's always prepared to die. He's rude and fearless, respects nothing, and absolutely refuses to do what he's told. Dressed in red, his element is fire: courage, violence, loyalty and pride, ever rising; its direction is the east, dawn, a new day.

And yet the only man who's ever able to give Mugen an order he obeys is Jin (he respects Okuru, but when the archer tells him to get lost and let him die, he doesn't budge); and the only person Jin ever directly calls a friend is Mugen, unlikely as both seem when we meet them.

They could only have begun as enemies; they could only have ended as comrades or corpses; they are that exactly in opposing balance, the way the full moon rises exactly at sunset. Each is everything the other isn't, but at the end of the road, they're just a little bit alike.

And one of my favorite takes on that is the way they shift in status: how they begin at polar-opposite ends of the social scale and gradually drift to center. Jin's upbringing, though we don't see it, would have assured him at every turn of his worth and value. Proud, beautiful, the only son of a noble family, a child of the ruling class and gifted with exceptional skill, he would have had a gentleman's education to accompany his elite training. He was groomed to succeed Enshirou Mariya as Master of the Mujuu, and with the age of wars all but over, he had every reason to expect a life of serene and secure prosperity. But his future was lost in an instant, and the young heir with the fine prospects became a penniless ronin, a hunted man. His sense of place, grounded in status and tradition, was stripped away; he had a lot to lose, and he lost it all.
While Mugen not only had nothing, but grew up in an environment determined to keep him from even hoping for anything; and hope, though he'd never say so himself, is the core of Mugen's personality. Against all odds, he's always known--you can just tell--that he was worth something, that his life just had to be more than fighting the other tattooed dogs for the last bone. Imaginative and creative, full of hunger for better things, he refused to be crushed down (even by that jealous and poisonous snake of despair, Mukuro), and took the crazy risk of seeking his fortune in a foreign land. He's got nothing to lose, and everything to gain. All he needs is a chance.
And the beauty of it is that Jin, and Fuu too, give him that chance. Though they're both of the samurai class, they don't judge him: they take him as he seems and cut him the same length of rope they cut each other, to get along and make the best of each other's company that they can. Right from episode 2, when Mugen makes his rude proposition to the out-cold Fuu and Jin doesn't even react, you can see it; Jin takes as granted that of course he wouldn't really do such a thing to a helpless girl. It's probably the first time Mugen hasn't automatically had the worst assumed of him, and you can feel how it sinks in. He wants to be respected, but unlike your modern thug he knows that means being worthy of respect; he sees that this kickass fighter is willing to take that step, and from then on he tries so hard to earn it. He risks his neck to rescue Fuu, time and again; he comes to Jin's defense when he busts Shino out of the brothel; he's willing to be responsible, even conscientious. And Jin begins to take him seriously: looking on impressed while he trains single-mindedly for his match with Shoryuu, reading Fuu's diary to him without a word of reproof for his illiteracy (and later, impressed again when he learns to read and write almost overnight); trusting him to realize when it's best not to shed blood; finally, at the end, trusting him with their most precious charge.
It draws Jin out of his dark shell, I think, traveling with this wanderer from another world, seeing life through such different eyes. Even Japan is a much bigger country than he could have known in his tightly contained life, and I think that freedom to see differently --to see that his real worth, like Mugen's, is what's within him--is the true gift Mugen gives him in return. (And begins giving him the moment he descends from the rafters, a minute after they meet.)

What are their great moments?

Their meeting and first duel. ==The way they introduce themselves to each other.==Mugen cutting through a wall of yakuza to make sure none of them kill Jin (before he can).==Their second duel.==When Mugen casually grabs Jin's swords to pay their eating contest fee, knowing damn well he's just hocked a samurai's soul.==The way Mugen grins when Jin lays Ogura out in the dust and stares down the blade at him like cold death incarnate.==Seeing Mugen off to duel Shoryuu.==Mugen listening while Fuu and Jin quarrel over Shino. ==Mugen going with Fuu to rescue Jin from the brothel thugs.==Jin's reaction to the pirate ship explosion.==Jin's revenge on Mukuro.==Jin catching sight of Mugen alive on the beach, and Mugen's reaction.== Jin learning that Mugen couldn't read, and not telling Fuu about it.==Sharing a little joke about Mugen's Ryukyu dialect.==Their guys'-night-out in Kyoto.==Mugen actually stopping when Jin holds him back from charging the phony Xavier. ==Mugen patiently searching that river pool for any sign that Jin was alive, or dead.== Jin knowing that Mugen is going out to duel Sara, and letting him go.==The way they listen to each other's campfire stories.== Mugen listening to Jin and Fuu talk by the river.== Jin telling Mugen to abandon his duel with Mariya and go to Fuu's rescue, and Mugen doing as told.==Their final duel.== And, of course, their conversation on the floor of that hut on Ikitsuki Island.


Go back to Where the River Meets the Sea mainpage.

We are approved by TheAnimeFanlistings.org