Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo
Episodes 16 & 17--Lullabies of the Lost (verses 1 & 2)

(all text written by and property of Neko-san.
Any note you see in italics--like this one--is by me, Kyuketsuki/Paula, the proprietor of this site.)

Episodes 16 & 17--Lullabies of the Lost (verses 1 and 2)
This is my annotated character list for episodes 16 & 17. People are listed in order of appearance, with names (where given), first appearance, and significant details. Main characters are referred to as J, M, and F. I note their first appearance in the episode, but don't bother to gloss them. Unnamed flunkies are grouped together at the bottom.

Okuru--Ainu [not explcitly stated, but it's a good guess based on his appearance, accoutrements and biography] villager turned fugitive; the rest of his village (including his wife and child, glimpsed briefly in the flashback) was wiped out in an epidemic caused by the incursion of the Japanese. He was traveling at the time and escaped death, but returned to find the place being burnt to the ground by a Matsumae-Han official. Killed the official, and was possibly sent to a prison camp. Eluded the authorities somewhere along the line, and came south. Has been hiding out on the mountains, his mysterious presence adding to the rumors about the place. ---First appears in the opening flashforward, engulfed in flame and walking off a cliff (M murmurs, "This guy is definitely alive", with a very grim irony.). Then seen shooting at M (who is trying to find J) in the forest, having mistaken him for the Matsumae-Han. Returns to his hideout by the river, and finds F floating downstream unconscious after her fall from the cliff. Gives her food, shelter, and treatment for her wounds, and gives Momo-san sunflower seeds [Significance?] He's heading west and she wants to go with him, but he says it's too risky. Leaves in the night as she sleeps, then sits up in a tree playing the tonkori. M hears him and wants to finish their fight, because Okuru is a worthy opponent and his eyes are like a severed head's (causing M to wonder if he's in fact alive or dead). [Their conversation touches on the cultural similarities between the far north and far south of Japan--my inner geek is melting with delight.] Fight they do, but the Matsumae-Han catch up. Okuru decides he wants to see whether he really did die back in the village, and they shoot him with burning arrows, despite his explanation of his innocence. Stabs Tobata with one of the fatal arrows, and takes a plunge off the cliff. [Note that M and Okuru are worthy opponents for each other, and fight willingly. This is a foil for the forced, unequal fight between J and Yukimaru.]
Matsumae-Han (See also Tobata.)--Agents for the real-life Japanese noble clan that lead the incursion into Ainu territory, looking for Okuru, who they believe to be a dangerous criminal. [In reality, he is dangerous only in that he knows potentially damaging things about them.] First glimpsed in the flashforward, Okuru mentions them to M, thinking he is working for them. Appear in person after F meets up with Okuru, mistake M for Okuru (because his strange clothing marks him as non-Japanese) and attack him. When they realize the mistake they leave, but M grabs one of them and forces him to reveal their goal. He rejoins the group and they track down the (now abandoned) campsite by the river, and catch up with Okuru as he fights M. Show no mercy when Okuru surrenders, shooting him with burning arrows. [Note: this is the same way his village was destroyed, another bit of painful irony.] Most of them get taken out by M and J in retribution for killing Okuru.
Tobata--Leader of the Matsumae-Han officials, wears a distinctive straw hat, seems to enjoy spreading lies about Okuru. First recognizeably appears in the attack on M, seen again in the meeting at the temple, when he gives permission for M to be killed for interfering with their mission. He is killed by Okuru (after refusing to listen to the extenuating circumstances about the murder of the official), who rips one of the burning arrows out of his own body to plunge into Tobata.
Arm Candy--Two young women traveling through the forest (One is exceptionally well endowed, if you get my drift), both are carrying sticks of yakimanju. Appear only in the first scene after the flashback, walking with M, flirting, and discussing the monster sightings. Get offended and leave after M tries to steal their yakimanju.
Homeboys--Three foresters carrying wooden boxes on their shoulders. [Looking for all the world like boomboxes..] Appear only in the first scene after the flashback. After the Arm Candy has left in a huff, the Homeboys walk up rapping about the monster the girls mentioned. Their description is a muddle of information about Yoshitsune's ghost, Okuru, and Yukimaru. [They specifically mention the "1000-Man-Killer", J's epithet, and I wouldn't put it past Yuki to have deliberately seeded that rumor in the hopes of drawing J to him.] (...if that's the case, and I don't doubt it, then it would also be Yuki-chan who included the note about the TMK's striking good looks. Poor kid, he carried that torch right down to the last.) --They also do a rather amusing little dance in time with the beat. [Their voices are provided by Japanese rap trio Torikabuto.]
Yukimaru--Handsome, feline former student of Enshiro, had a close but unspecified relationship with J, who describes him as being "like a little brother". [They'd make a very nice slash pairing, IMHO.](Not only yours, shimai...) His fighting skills are considerably less than J's. After the dissolution of the dojo, he became sick of the ubiquitous rumors of J, and set out to kill him and become famous himself. First appears (with a ninja hood obscuring his face) after the Homeboys have left, watching the trio from a roadside café. Reappears attacking J from behind after the argument at the crossroads. J manages to remove the hood and recognizes him, and they spar verbally and physically, J reluctant and Yuki wildly determined. Their duel is intercut with flashbacks to their dojo days. (See Younger! Entries below.) They end up on the edge of a cliff, swords at each other's throats, and J jumps off to avoid having to kill Yuki. Yuki does not, however, take the hint there, and attacks J again on the riverbank. J once again offers him the chance to walk away, but he still charges him and is run through. Dies on J's shoulder, saying that what he really wanted was not to be famous, but just to be like J. F and J pray over his body, something they have not done for any other opponent. One of the images during the end credits appears to be Yuki's cairn (another thing J has done for no one else), with his sword stuck in the top. (--see frame, bottom of page.)
Momo-san....just wanted to use this cute picture =)
Younger!Jin--Teenage version (My best guess would be about 16 or so.) of the-one-and-only, wearing indigo blue but no glasses. [He may have adopted those later, or simply taken them off to prevent accidents.] Appears only in flashback, sparring with Yuki in the dojo, in a scene intercut with their duel in the forest.
Younger!Yuki--Teenage version of Yukimaru, appears only in the flashback sparring with J. His appearance has changed less in the intervening years than has J's.
Chibi!Fuu--F as the tiny girl of the closing credits. Appears only in her drowning dream, standing in an endless field of sunflowers, then running after the departing figure from the credits, then morphing into F as she appears now.
Sunflower Samurai--The same shadowy figure seen holding her hand and walking out the gate in the closing credits. [Note how similar the profile is to that of the firefly assassin from ep. 2!] Appears only in the dream, walking away from F through the sunflower field.
Observation --You know, I was struck by Yuki's line about the mountain being a place of death and rebirth. It really is appropriate, given that the trio splits up, then reforms, Okuru finally ends his limbo between death and life, Fuu has a near- death experience and sees herself young again, and Jin's past comes back to haunt him, but he overcomes it. I'm not sure how Mugen fits into that overall theme, except that he's pulled the same coming-back-from- certain-death stunt twice before, and he serves as a catalyst for Okuru.

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--Go on to Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo--Episode 18.