Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo
Episode 23--Baseball Blues

(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.)

Episode 23--Baseball Blues
This is my annotated character list for episode 23. 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.

Japanese Baseball Players in the American Major Leagues-—I don’t know enough about baseball to identify any of the players shown during the opening narration, but they appear to have been drawn from actual photographs.

[boznia_85 wrote:
"Those were real baseball players {shown} in the beginning. All four are major baseball players from Japan who came to play Major League Baseball in the United States.

1) Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners Uniform)
2) Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees Uniform)
3) Hideo Nomo (Los Angeles Dodgers Uniform; Now with the Yankees)
4) Kaz Matsui (New York Mets Uniform)]

Manzou “The Saw”-—The police detective (a parody of the “hard boiled” genre) we met in #5, again investigating illegal foreign trade, but now in the south very near Nagasaki. He gives a brief voice-over of what he’s doing here just after the title screen. His next appearance is about halfway through the episode, when he decides to sneak onto the American ship to get a better idea of what they’re doing—disguised as one of the sailors. He looks ridiculous, his attempts at English are worse (“Amerika-jin! Amerika-jin!”), and the sentries have brains enough to fire on him [even though their English is the worst in the episode—incomprehensible without subtitles!]. Manzou gets spotted by Kagemaru watching the ballgame on the sly, and agrees to play. He adopts Babe Ruth’s famous “I predict a home run” stance before batting, and fails to recognize Kagemaru’s “BUNT” signals. After two strikes, he elects to hit the ball with his police truncheon and gets on base. He is smushed to death by Cartwright’s fat ass—the bloated pig has to sit on him twice to kill him. He seems to be the one giving the closing narration about Mugen thinking about the Black Ships and the country they had returned to. [Mugen sure sets him right on THAT…]
Fuu--[A fanboy favorite among Fuu's costumes in the series. She strikes out in her only turn at bat, and is then warned to stay out of harm's --i.e, his own--way by Mugen.]
Jin--[It may be Mugen’s skills that shine in this ep, but Jin’s utterly graceful and a joy to watch in both his at-bats.]
Sta-Puft (TM) Fuu
Kagemaru-—A former ninja, a member of a hereditary elite guard that got shut down when the isolation order went into effect (that’s how he’s had enough contact with foreigners to know how to play baseball). He wears distinctive snazzy sunglasses. We first see him sitting in a tree, balancing a baseball on his head. When Mugen runs past, fleeing from the restaurant staff, he jumps down and slugs him with the baseball. Mugen’s return pitch is forceful enough to knock over a pagoda, and earn the trio a chance to get out of trouble by playing on Kagemaru’s baseball team. They’re in a tight spot, so they take the offer. Mugen wants to know why it matters so much, and Kagemaru tells him it’s a battle for the fate of the country. The American sailors have promised to go home, but only if the locals can beat them at their own game— literally! After scaring all his other potential players away, Kagemaru needs all three of them on his [seriously Amateur Night, folks] team, and drills them through the night in pitching, hitting, and sprinting. (He also makes them haul the roller to level the diamond…) When the game finally starts, he’s the first one up to bat—he bunts and gets on base by throwing a smoke bomb, which leads the Americans to mutter mutinously about "ninja baseball". He convinces Manzou to join the game, but regrets it when the detective understands none of his signals and nearly strikes out. In his at-bat, Kagemaru has to dodge hostile pitches, and is then squashed by one of the American players. When Jin gets "killed" and the inning is over, he gets back up to return to the pitcher’s mound. He strikes the first batter out with Mugen’s help, and takes a pyrrhic victory over Cartwright, falling dead on the mound. As he falls he says he has no regrets. [Series character designer and artist Kazuto Nakazawa says, in the Champloo Roman Album, that he based Kagemaru's appearance on actor Sho Aikawa.]
Machidoshiyori—A very frail 80-year old village elder. When the Americans make their demands, he is the one who protests that the shogunate forbids all such action. Kagemaru ropes him into playing on the baseball team, despite his obvious fragility. This turns out about as one might expect: he cracks his spine just walking up to the plate to bat, and delivers a very moving inspirational speech before expiring.
Alexander Joy Cartwright-—The overweight American admiral, who, unsurprisingly, swears like a sailor. [His seiyuu’s English is understandable, but the intonation is very, very odd.] His name is taken from one of the founders of the Knickerbocker Club, the first organized baseball league. Cartwright was erroneously known as the “Father of Baseball”. The naval uniforms worn by the Americans are wrong for the time period of Champloo (when “America” as a political entity did not even exist) but correct for the period of Commodore Matthew Perry, who forced the shogunate to repeal the Dutch trade monopoly. [This episode, like #22, is far more about social commentary and the broad view of Japanese history than character development or plot. In fact, the characterizations seen in the two episodes are rather cursory and ignore some significant development that has occurred along the way.] When his ship makes landfall in this tiny village, Cartwright demands to speak to the leader, and then threatens to attack (with his big, nasty, phallic cannons…) if the country is not immediately opened to foreign trade. He scoffs at Kagemaru with his baseball until Kage challenges him and his crew to a game to settle the dispute. After the first few at-bats show the Japanese consistently getting on base, the Americans decide to get nasty [and the way they word the decision is nearly unprintable]: they use their (HUGE) girth, some very nasty pitching, and a crooked deal with the ump to try and cheat their way to a trade agreement. When Cartwright comes up to bat against Kagemaru, he deliberately cracks his bat into pieces that go flying off towards the pitcher, killing him (he gets his revenge by catching the ball and striking Cartwright out). He goes down after taking one of Mugen’s lethal pitches in his jowly cheek. [FINALLY!]
Abner Doubleday—The admiral’s tall, lanky translator. [His Japanese SUCKS. Although his English is the best of any of the American characters, so I wonder if he wasn’t actually a native English speaker.] Named for the man who actually created the game we know as baseball, although Cartwright often gets the credit. He is always present to translate Cartwright’s statements, and when the village tell him, perfectly gently and reasonably, why they cannot comply he informs them primly that these are not requests but orders. When he sees Kagemaru, Doubleday remarks on the irony of seeing “the sport of gentlemen in the land of savages”[—yeah, I hate him, too, people. But I gotta finish this Guide sometime, so I chronicle his cruelty here for all to see…] He’s pitcher for the Americans. After they vow no mercy, he starts deliberately pitching to injure the players. He gets on base due to Mugen’s pitching being too unorthodox, but then has to face him down one-on-one after all the other Americans have been eliminated. He throws his bat at Mugen, takes the pitch in the face…and loses because Mugen still gets to his feet afterward.
Other Baseball Players-—A bunch of guys who look even skeevier than Mugen. They all ran off when they realized what they were getting into.
Ichiemon Ochiburi-—The eating-contest announcer from #6, back to give patriotic commentary on the climactic baseball game—complete with newspaper hat.
Da Dog—Yeah, Kagemaru’s team is pretty damn short of players, so he hauls in a friendly dog [it's an Akita, which is a Japanese breed, & does date to the Edo Period] and makes lemonade by rationalizing that on an animal that short the strike zone is miniscule. [Momo-san’s on the team, too--think what that strike zone would be like…] The Americans laugh their asses off, until the (Japanese) umpire decides that there’s nothing in the rule book to prevent this, so they’re legitimate players. The “impossible strike zone” strategy almost works, until the dog gets hit by the last ball and runs away.
Umpire—He’s Japanese, but apparently switches allegiances to help the Americans partway through the game (probably bribed or threatened). Got this odd little habit of kind of dancing around the plate while issuing his calls… Mugen takes him down in his little killing spree.
Restaurant waiters-—A surprisingly numerous and heavily-armed bunch, they chase after Mugen when he tries to scarper, and surround Jin and Fuu where they stand.
American Sailors-—A bunch of rather thuggish and bloated-looking Westerners. Their seiyuus SUCK ASS. They get taken out en masse by Mugen’s lethal pitching—one guy ends up with broken ribs [we’re treated to an X-ray view of this…lovely…].

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--Go on to Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo--Episodes 24-26.