Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo
Episodes 24-25-26--Evanescent Encounter


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


Episodes 24-25-26--Evanescent Encounter
As always, characters are listed in order of first appearance. Fuu, Mugen, and Jin's names are abbreviated throughout as F, M, and J, and while their first appearance is noted, no write-up accompanies it. [Note: Some supporting characters' names are never given in the episode, but have been posted to the show's official website, samuraichamploo.com, thanks to which they appear here.]




Kariya Kagetoki—An older shogunate assassin known as the "Hand of God"; knows of Sara's existence and her skill. Apparently has not drawn his sword in recent memory, for lack of a worthy opponent. He seems to take an intellectual pleasure in killing that few of the other swordsmen in Champloo share--rather like the assassin from #2, in fact. ["Kage-toki" literally means "shadow time"/"shadow hour"; "dark times", one might say.]
Appears in the first scene of #24, engaged in his OTHER favorite pursuit: gardening. In fact, when the counselor appears to beg his help, he offers only a gruesome horticultural analogy until it is revealed that the fugitives defeated Sara. After agreeing to pursue them personally, he appears again on the wharf as F leaves for Ikitsuki Island--and for a moment she takes him for her father. Just a moment, but long enough that he knows exactly who to target. He's still there on the docks when J and M arrive, murmuring philosophically about hope and despair. He reveals that the shogunate has known about F for a long time, but let her alone so that she would lead them right to Seizou. And then of course makes the obligatory death-threats against J and M.

Their duel begins #25, with M rushing to attack while J hangs back, watching intently. Kariya seems to move so fast on the attack that he leaves M's perception for a split second. As M throws every move he can think of (and a couple crates of beans, to boot) at him, Kariya makes an analysis very similar to J's in #1: M relies on being completely unpredictable, and his approach is unstrategic and undisciplined. He quite easily tosses M off the dock, and turns his attention to J. Kariya's sweeps along the dock in pursuit of J kick up huge sprays of water, suggesting that he has telekinetic skills to rival, or even surpass, those of Sara. (During the fight, J's glasses get cracked—which is kind of amazing considering they went over two damn waterfalls without even a scratch…) M and J continue to tag-team against him until Denkibou shows up and announces that they have F, at which point J volunteers to stay and fight Kariya while M goes to the island. Once they are alone, Kariya reveals his identity and that J lost him the Mujuushin dojo. (J seems to be well acquainted with Kariya's name and reputation, but never to have met him face-to-face before.) At his behest, Mariya Enshirou had attacked J--who had killed him in blind self-defense. J and Kariya have a conversation about the place of the samurai in Edo life, agreeing that there are no longer any lords worth serving. They trade blows again, J losing his glasses (and, symbolically, his reserve) and Kariya admitting that J is closer to his level than any opponent he has faced in years. But still the lesser, by a paper-thin margin. A final volley, and then we see a shot of blood on the dock, which is later revealed to be J's. Kariya boards the ferry, and proceeds to the island.

We do not see him again until #26, when he appears on the path to Seizou's house, brushing past F and the old retainer as if they are not even there. He dispatches Seizou with no reaction whatsoever [Although he does reveal his title: captain of the guard.], not even the flashes of annoyance or unholy glee that he showed while fighting M and J, not even when Seizou gives F his moving last words. Killing for the shogunate really is just a JOB for him. Then, (seemingly with more pleasure because she is a moving target) he turns on F, since his orders were to exterminate the entire family line. Kariya pursues F to the edge of the cliff, where she turns to face him—-apparently fulfilling his injunction to die like the samurai's daughter she is. He turns when her focus suddenly shifts over his shoulder--to J, apparently back from the dead [and apparently the dead go around looking half-naked and smokin' hot...][...a perception shared by many. =)]. Kariya [though praising his skill] chides him for not taking the chance to leave with his life. J replies that in this moment his self-centered study of the sword has become something different, and recalls his master's final lesson, as yet unpracticed.

He and Kariya exchange what has to be one of the fastest and prettiest volleys in the history of screen swordfights, and at the critical moment...Kariya makes a fatal strike, yet finds himself skewered. He and J fall simultaneously, impaled on each other's swords...but J gets up again, and Kariya doesn't. DING-DONG THE WICKED WITCH IS DEAD.

[Note that J and Kariya are in agreement about the death of the traditional samurai loyalty system, but in the end choose very different ways to deal with that breakdown--Kariya is a vision of J's future, if he had continued on the path of fighting only for himself.]

Roju (Counselor)--A member of the Shogun's powerful board of advisors. Appears in the first scene of #24, with a young aide in tow, to request Kariya's help in eliminating Kasumi Seizou—and M, J, and F. [This is a good indication of just how disruptive and dangerous the Kasumis--and affiliated bodyguards--are, if the order to destroy them comes from so high in the bureaucracy.] When his aide questions tasking a man who seems to care only for his garden for such an important assignment, the roju replies that the aide is too young to remember Kariya's fearsome reputation as the Hand of God. [We have no name for him besides this title.]
Aide--A young man...young enough to know Kariya only as an old man who obsesses over his garden. Rebuked by the counselor for underestimating Kariya. [He's of about the same age bracket as J, M, and F, and like them has no memory of the Sengoku Jidai or the Shimabara uprisings—a generation gap that appears throughout the series.]
Mugen
Jin
Fuu==[Art note: during F's letter voice-over in #24, M and J walk by three children who look uncannily like a younger version of the trio. The composition in this series is SO deliberate.]
Mito Komon(passim)--The old man M killed on the road (mentioned in his fireside story). As noted in the Episode Guide, Mito Komon was the uncle of the shogun, and a folklore figure used in a long-running Japanese live-action TV show. [This is reason #2 (after F's affiliation with the Hidden Christians) that the trio has been on the wrong side of the law since the beginning of the series. And it also proves just how culturally and politically ignorant M is. Or maybe just how badass.]
Mujuu Students(passim)--J's schoolmates at the dojo (in his story). They seem quite justifiably terrified of him, or maybe that was just J's impression. (And one of them wears some charmingly dorky Harry Potter glasses.)
Kasumi-san (Fuu's mother)(passim)--Fuu describes her death from illness, and her quiet and resigned acceptance of her husband's absence, in her story at the campfire. [Note that isolated shots from this flashback are found in #7, and in the visuals for the ED.] She also features prominently in F's speech to her father. We are treated very briefly to a glimpse of her still healthy and relatively happy, in F's recollection of praying [to the Christian Kami-sama] for the chance to one day meet her father.
Umanosuke (Eyepatch), Denkibou (Blonde Gollum), Toube (Wheels) (AKA, The Three Uglies) [--also called Team Ugly and The Ugly Brothers by online fans. This rather points up their defining visual characteristic.] --A trio of brothers from Satsuma who were maimed and ruined in M and Mukuro's raid on the sugar ship, seen in #13 and #14. [Despite its often episodic nature, this series really, really rewards paying attention.] Their weapon use is pure Champloo wackiness: Umanosuke uses a halberd with a chain that shoots out and retracts as if by magic. Denkibou has gauntlets with Wolverine-style metal claws, and a Darth Maul-esque double-ended pointy thing [No, I CAN'T get any more technical than that...]. Toube hides a gun and a helluva lot of blasting powder in his (Western-style and anachronistic!!) wheelchair. They first appear sniffing the ashes of the trio's abandoned campfire, and they kill the Woodcutter in order to keep him from spreading the news of their arrival. Tracking M, J, and F to the shabu-shabu restaurant, they extort information from the proprietor, and then kill him. (Sensing a theme, here? These are some of the most sadistic and wacked-out villains in the whole series, and that's saying something. Guess the writers went all out for the finale.)

There's a brief shot of Toube among the sunflowers while Fuu is searching for information on her father's whereabouts, proving they must have beat her to the island. He appears again, this time right in her path, as she tries to make her way to her father's house. Functioning, it would seem, to corral her so it's easier for Umanosuke to terrorize her with his halberd, and with his criminally suggestive remarks. When he finally has her demoralized and cornered, he gropes her [Oh bastard you going DOWN] and then knocks her lights out and hauls her into the ruins of the gutted church. Back on the mainland, Denkibou announces to M that they have his woman, and is SO DAMN EAGER to kill M that he attacks him on the ferry ride to the island (against Umanosuke's orders). M is slashed in the face, but manages to capsize the boat, and then to stab Denkibou to death in an excellent underwater scene.

Umanosuke and Toube are waiting back at the church with F as hostage. When she tells Umanosuke that M will not care about saving a hostage, he starts to batter her with his halberd. M, however, proves that what he hates most is being predictable, and gives up his sword so that she can escape up the cliff to find her father's house. Umanosuke is NOT terribly happy to find out that M doesn't give a shit about their story or their grudge against him. [Honestly, who knows MORE about being ostracized, beaten up, and cheated on than M??] Umanosuke's attacks with the halberd are so ranged that even M cannot get close enough to strike...and he tortures M for as long as possible, striking him to make him bleed, and running him in circles. M manages to use his dagger to reclaim his sword and even things out, but is still forced to take the battle out of the church and onto the beach. [Throughout the fight, M is losing things like his jacket and bandolier, until he's fighting Umanosuke with nothing but his sword and his wits, both literally and figuratively.] On the beach, M manages to behead Umanosuke with his own boomeranging halberd through an improbable combination of sword-throwing and crotch-biting.

He then faces Toube, who suddenly proves that he CAN do more than just slump blankly in his wheelchair. By shooting him. [Which is just such TOTAL Champloo WTF.] M appears to have lost enough blood to satisfy several vampires at this point, but still manages to limp over to the wheelchair in time for Toube to blow himself up. And thus, the Three Uglies extinguish themselves, having utterly failed to vanquish their one highly disadvantaged enemy. GOOD RIDDANCE.

[Another note on character contrasts: Unlike the Three Uglies, M has learned over the course of the series not to let resentment about his past fester and limit his view of life. They go to their graves still living in that one moment on the sugar ship where their hopes went sour, while M has at last moved on.]
[It's been pointed out by several--I believe Dayton Wong was first--that each of the brothers has a red, seemingly blind left eye. We don't know why this is, but speculation is welcome.]

Woodcutter--Some poor xenophobic local who really didn't deserve decapitation just for being a hick in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cook--Some poor not-so-xenophobic local who really didn't deserve having to feed the Bottomless Trio, nor getting slashed to death for helping the Ugly Trio.
Boatman--Owns the only ferry to Ikitsuki Island, which is kept in rather constant use throughout #24 and #25. F is the first one we see riding the ferry, although Umanosuke and Toube of the Three Uglies must have caught an earlier run or chartered another boat since they beat her there. When M and Denkibou fight on the boat, he gets tipped into the bay.
Islanders--The inhabitants of Ikitsuki. They seem to be mostly non-Christian peasants, and resent the death and destruction caused by the Christian presence. The islanders refuse to tell F anything about Kasumi Seizou until she helps a little boy recover his sandal, and his wary mother tells her where to find the house. (She warns that there is not much time, meaning either that Seizou's illness is public knowledge, or that the islanders know about the Three Uglies.) [Note the recurrence of one of Champloo's darkest themes: the wholesale destruction of a village. It is echoed again in Kariya's orders to kill not just Seizou, but the whole Kasumi family and their allies. Throughout the series, the shogunate has been portrayed as knowing only one way to deal with nonconformist ideologies: wiping them out completely--although it almost always fails to do so.]
Mariya Enshirou (passim)--J's former master, an authoritative-looking middle-aged man. We see him in J's two flashbacks, in the first being rebuked by his pupil for turning the dojo into a breeding ground for assassins, and replying that this is the only way for the school to survive. [For a detailed analysis on the decline of Mujuushin and other esoteric kenjutsu schools, visit Kyu's Jin shrine, “Ice Blue”, and read her wonderful essay on the subject.] As he recalls this, J realizes for the first time that Mariya's attempt on his life (rendered in a heartbreaking Kurosawa-esque scene) was ordered by Kariya, in an attempt to rid himself of the Mujuushin's troublesome heir-apparent. [This is the third and final answer as to why the trio is in such deep shit with the shogunate: J destroyed a potentially very valuable business deal for the government. The circumstances of the murder scene also demonstrate why J maintains his innocence of betrayal, but no one believes him.] He appears in a second flashback sequence that seems to directly follow his conversation with J about the future of the dojo, explaining the final, secret technique of the Mujuu. It is a suicide strike, where the duelist (faced with an opponent he cannot best) creates an opening by sacrificing his own defense. [As noted in the essay on “Ice Blue”, this is a perfect realization of the Mujuu precept of moving beyond the simplistic win/lose mindset to make kendo an expression of belief, not a tool for killing.]
Kasumi Seizou--F's father, a major figure in the Shimabara Christian uprising. His hair, dress, and calm acceptance of death (and the fact that even in poverty he still has a household attendant) are all signs of samurai rank. His first appearance (in F's dream sequence in #25) is tall and imposing, but in person he is terminally ill, and not at all prepossessing, although he does retain a certain dignity and force of character. He cannot see F when she stands beside him, and does not realize who she is until she tells him about her journey, and that she meant to take revenge for his abandonment…but seeing him dying did in her resolve. Kariya comes for him only a few minutes later. While he meets his death with perfect samurai stoicism, he also makes a deeply sincere apology to F for all the years of pain caused by his absence. [The search for the father is a very timeless quest theme, dating all the way back to Telemachus and Odysseus in the Odyssey, but it is also very relevant in our modern era of broken and blended families. Pure Champloo mixture of mythic and contemporary, once again.]
Old Retainer--The old man who is Seizou's only company. He is the one who greets F when she arrives at the house, and is reluctant to give her any information until he realizes who she is. He remains outside while F speaks to her father, then is standing with her reassuring her when Kariya appears. The retainer holds her back from interfering when the assassin enters the house, but throws himself in front of Kariya to protect F herself. [This suggests that he allowed Kariya to attack Seizou only because the man was already on the brink of death.] Kariya strikes him down almost casually, and the retainer plays no more role in the decisive battle. Afterwards, we see him speaking to F and reassuring her again that her father loved and missed her. He also seems to have been helping F bury her father and care for J and M during the week they spend recuperating. (Not a task I would envy, considering that both of the guys are twice his size, and more than twice as ornery.)
Ancestor spirits--The spectral figures in shaggy gray cloaks who appeared to M while he was drowning in #14. They surround him again as he lies on the beach, bleeding to death, this time much closer around him. As he drifts off into oblivion, they seem to turn into a flock of what could be either gulls or carrion crows [Crows and their cawing have been associated with death throughout the series, and particularly in relation to M.] to bear him away, but F's voice dispels their presence and brings him back.

[--And that's it. =) Arigato gozaimasu, Neko-san.]

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