Episode 18–“"War of the Words"

[Important note: This is a complete summary of the episode containing major spoilers. Please be sure you want to know this info before you read; spoilers are not blocked or hidden in any way so this is your only warning. If you aren't 100% sure you want to know who lives, who dies, who gets hurt, who walks away and who's responsible, please pack your katana and walk right now. My feelings will not be hurt. Thank you.]

Prelude: silhouettes of Jin, Fuu & Mugen sitting in an open-topped pink convertible (!), watching clips from their first 17 episodes, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. ("The second season of the Original Samurai Champloo is about to begin!" --"What's with that title? All those samurai-whatever-fake things are going around, right?") Fuu says Jin will give a summary of the story thus far ("What? Me?" he stammers), which he doesn't do at all well ("Ah, the three of us met because of various things…to find the samurai who smells like sunflowers…et cetera, et cetera…" sinking down deeper and deeper in his seat as he speaks, while Mugen and Fuu complain).

There's some opening narration (reminiscent of "Disorder Diaries") with stills of hippie-types, tattooed people, bohemian-looking kids: it says that fashion is always born in idle eras and that the idea of "a design that fuses story and fashion" was born in Edo Period Japan.

--We're in Aki, the old name for Hiroshima Prefecture. We see devil-masked kids running around the city at night with brushes and buckets of paint, graffiti-tagging walls and whatever else they can hit.

We see Jin, Mugen and Fuu ordering in a restaurant (looks like a fast-food counter, one of a jazillion-trillion anachronistic touches in this one.) Mugen has his nose buried in the menu but says he'll just have what Jin's having (oysters). Fuu says he doesn’t have to always order what Jin does, he should get what he likes. Can't be helped, growls Mugen. Is it possible you can't read? --asks Fuu. He tries to bluff by reading part of the wall menu, but can in fact read only one hiragana character, no. It's not like it interferes with living, he says, trying to brush it off but obviously not happy that this has come to light. Isn't it amazing we didn't notice this before now?--whispers Fuu to Jin; Jin just says "Hm," having been aware of it (but tactfully silent) probably since episode 12.

Mugen accuses him of laughing and says letters aren't necessary for a person to survive; but a burly, angry fellow, who was sitting there drinking, takes issue with Mugen's ignorance, berates him, grabs him around the neck and shoves half the sake down his throat as well. You want to stay an idiot?--he rants. Words have a soul and you miss out if you don’t know the letters that convey it. It doesn't bother you that people think you’re an idiot because you can't read? --and he collapses into drunken sleep. Fuu hasn't enough money to pay their bill and Mugen indicates the guy on the floor will cover it, calling it "the price of being annoying". The guy is awakened and shown the bill; he's not pleased.

Outside, daylight: a shaggy-haired fellow wearing bright bohemian stripes and resembling Andy Warhol is carefully studying a wall painted with graffiti. Two annoyed women with big brushes are whitewashing away the characters and grumbling about the vandalism. Warhol guy (his name is Uhori) asks if they know who painted the wall; they retort that if they knew, they'd already have had the painters arrested.

Further up the same wall, Mugen also studies the graffiti. Jin tells Fuu that he's sorry, but there's someone in Mihara who helped him once, and he'd like to pay them a visit. Fuu says Mihara is a long way off and teases him, asking who he'd go so far to see; maybe an ex-girlfriend? Jin disdains this, replying that Mihara is a a place no one who pursues excellence in the martial arts can avoid visiting; it has fifty of the best dojos, and in the past, under Niwa Juunosuke-dono...he's actually rattling, for pete's sake, unheard of for Jin. Fuu loses patience and literally shoves him off, saying he should have a good trip and reminding him to ask about the SS.

She then asks if Mugen wouldn't like to learn to read; she can help him. Shut up, he growls. Fuu, undeterred, starts reading the graffiti helpfully to Mugen, but the angry guy from earlier comes tearing by, grabs Mugen around the neck and gallops off with him, leaving Fuu reading to nothing.

Meanwhile, Jin arrives at the dojo to find it in disarray and plastered with graffiti. A gang of kids saunters in and says this is their team's territory; they flash knives and suggest they should collect a loitering fee. Jin sits motionless, of course, until they charge; then he teaches them a fast lesson, and they at once become lots more polite =). --Students of martial arts gather here, says Jin sternly, it's no place for people like you. But this is our hideout, they protest. Where is Niwa-dono? --asks Jin. Um, the heads? They're on the side, says one kid. Jin doesn't follow this.

Fuu, looking for the vanished Mugen, walks into a confrontation between the local gangs; two teenage boys, identical twins but one close-shaven and dyed blond, are quarreling over which should be the head of the gang. That's no way to talk to your older brother, says one, and the other retorts that the difference is only one minute. No one who can't tell senior from junior could handle being the head! They argue, gesturing and gang-signing energetically. Fuu comments aloud that they both have the same face (they really do), and they both spot her at once and close in. Little Momo on her shoulder actually braces its feet and hisses! They get right into Fuu's face, calling her "honey-bunny" in Japlish and showering her with compliments on her cuteness (or so it sounds), and start to fight over her. Suddenly there's a calm voice: "It's been a long time, Tatsunoshin, Kazunosuke." The kids stop and turn as one, in amazement: "It can't be… Jin-nii (big brother Jin)?" --evidently he's found the missing Niwa brothers.

The angry fellow throws Mugen across a room full of books and clutter. Mugen draws his sword and demands to know who he is. He says they're in a primary school; his name is Bundai, "but you'll call me sensei!" Take a seat, he says, and I'll teach you your letters--hiragana characters, the foundation of learning to read. He reasons with Mugen, saying he can’t solve everything in the world just with strength. Besides, doesn't it bother him that his friends tease him that way? Mugen's memory of the scene in the restaurant is a cruel cartoon of Fuu and Jin laughing at him. I'll do it!--he yells.

Jin asks the twins why they're fighting. As brothers, he says, they should help each other to master the path their father left for them. They say there's nothing to be done; these days there's no path to follow. Their father selfishly up and died and left them only trouble. [This explains the gang member's earlier remark: with their father gone, the twins are now the "heads" of the Niwa clan, which Jin did not know; as well as the heads/leaders of the gang of course.] They argue some more and Jin says, enough, you should settle this with swords, as the successors of Gojuu Hall (their father's dojo) would. They stare in dismay: don't make us do that! Jin sighs, losing patience. Then what has taken the place of the sword for you two? They look at each other, then around the room: letters, they say. Jin's not impressed: that scribbling?--he asks.

The kids explain: it may seem like it's just scribbling, but it's a lot more than that. They risk their lives to paint in spots more dangerous than ever attempted before. Tagging (they actually use the English word) is like proof you're alive, they say, it makes them feel alive; it's no different to them than their dad's path of the sword. Jin says nothing. Fuu suggests that they should settle their battle for leadership with a competition--the winner will be the one who paints in the most dangerous place. They agree, and both seemingly think the prize should be Fuu, who pretends great embarrassment but is obviously much flattered. (After all, this is the most and nicest male attention we've seen her get so far, and from boys her own age at that.)

Mugen and Professor/Sensei Bundai have a knock-down brawl over the difference between ne and re. Desks are overthrown, books thrown in faces, much yelling and shoving; teaching Mugen-chan anything is a full-contact sport. Mugen says the letters all look too similar; Bundai won't hear his complaints until they've finished their drill.

Jin and Fuu walk through a forest at sunset, Fuu carrying flowers. She comments that it's odd for him to intervene in a sibling argument. Jin says that their father helped him in the past. Flashback: an older man --Niwa-dono--and a teenage Jin sparring fiercely in a dojo, then sitting formally, talking. I have nothing more to teach you, says Niwa-dono; you should go back to your master and walk the path proudly. (This then presumably takes place during Jin's studies with Enshiro.) I have one request; if something should happen to me, please take care of my sons. Outside, silhouetted snowflakes fall, and two little boys run by, calling each other "Kazu" and "Tatsu" --obviously the twins as kids.

Back in the present, we see a gravesite (engraved "Niwa Family") with incense burning and the flowers Fuu brought. Jin stands at the stone in prayer. An elderly fellow approaches and asks if Jin remembers him; it's been a long time, Oshou, says Jin. ["oshou" is a term for a high-ranking Buddhist priest, so this is likely his title not his name.] You've become a fine young man, approves Oshou ("No..." says Jin); he says he's sure Niwa-dono is watching happily. What happened?--asks Jin. Jealousy is the strongest passion humans possess, sighs the old Oshou, and tells Jin the story. Gojuu Hall was the finest dojo in the area, clearly superior to all others. Other dojo owners went to the daimyo (the feudal lord of the area) and complained; Niwa-dono was ordered to either take down his signboard--that is, close the dojo--or cut off his own arm. He killed himself, hoping his sons would inherit the dojo, but they were too young to see the strength their father had displayed or learn from it. Jin listens somberly to this sad tale.

Mugen passes his hiragana drill flawlessly and he and Bundai clasp hands in triumph. Go and use the characters you've learned to write yourself! More magnificently than anyone! --cries Bundai. All right, grins Mugen.

He returns (with a book =) to the trio's lodgings, where Fuu demands to know where he's been and says it's been just terrible, two guys are fighting over her. (Yeah, that's terrible, agrees Mugen dryly.) It's a serious battle called "jogging," I think, she says; they fight it with letters. Mugen lowers his book, interested. "Letters, eh?…"

The graffiti gangs compete, tagging everything in sight (there are police palanquins with **flashing red lights on top** in this scene!!! Whoa!!) --walls, bridges, Buddhas, the police palanquins, even their uniforms. Uhori is in bliss at the beauty of the artwork. But still there's no winner. Fuu suggests they think of a place where neither of them has ever scribbled before. The twins consider and then burst out simultaneously (they do that a lot)--"Hiroshima Castle!"

The gangs converge on the stately edifice, darting about with the police on their heels. A crowd gathers to watch, including Jin and Fuu. Why this place? Fuu asks. It's their own form, says Jin, of the revenge that their father was unable to get on the daimyo. As the gangs and cops chase each other around the tower, we hear a familiar clomp of heavy geta and see a familiar pair of tattooed ankles… Bundai stands seething, yelling at the graffiti crew that they're making their letters wrong. Kazu and Tatsu crawl hand-over-hand up the walls, while someone they don't quite see passes them effortlessly, running up the sloping roof as if it were horizontal. Who’s that? --blurt the twins in disbelief. They throw ropes and climb the last story to the top, hang there panting, but too late: they've been beaten to the summit. And we are treated to the beautiful sight of Mugen Triumphant, perched on the highest statue, the whole roof emblazoned with his newly-invented tag--a huge infinity symbol. (--yup, "mugen-no" means "infinite" or "boundless".) The kids stare, stunned, Mugen grins. I win!--he yells, and throws himself off the roof, poised in flight against the moon, before dropping into the river below. Hoi, bravo! =)

This ends the competition--it can't possibly be topped. The twins take it with good grace: OK, we lost to someone we don't even know; the world's a big place, there's always someone better. It's enough that you understand that, says Jin. Well, guess we’ll go too, says Fuu, somewhat disappointed, and the twins close in on her--let's at least have a hug! Fuu draws back, the kids hold out their hands, and--into their palms hops Momo. They go into squeals of delight as Momo runs around on their arms and shoulders--it's so cute! Poor Fuu is completely nonplussed; Jin stares impassively, his only expression the compulsive twitch of an eyebrow.

Such talent--I'll buy it, says a voice, and it’s Uhori with his entire coterie of artsy types, fawning all over the graffiti kids. He says he'll make them designers and send a fresh breeze through the stagnant fashion industry; everyone in the Edo underground knows the name of dry-goods (fabric) merchant Uhori of Andouya. The twins are trying to make sense of this when Bundai shows up and grabs them--you have something to do before you do that, don't you? your letters are wrong! "Artistic license!" they protest in unison, but he bonks their heads together and says "first you study".

And Mugen is having way too much fun; while Fuu and Jin are in a bathhouse (inn? somewhere?) he paints everything they have, including their shoes, clothes (Jin with yellow graffiti all over his indigo gi is a sight of rare indignation...) and even Momo! You should write your name on your belongings, he explains calmly to their irate glares.

Jin leans closer: what's that letter? Mugen has branded the wall with a big figure-8 infinity. It means 'mugen', he explains proudly, I made it up. It can't be--last night---says Jin, suddenly realizing who won the graffiti battle...

And we see a flashforward about Kazu and Tatsu's rise to superstardom in the design business. Presumably with correctly drawn hiragana. =)

Samurai Champloo characters, visuals and materials (c) 2004-5 manglobe.
Original story synopsis written and (c) 2005 by Paula O'Keefe.

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