Episode 1--"Tempestuous Temperaments"

[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.]

We open at dusk of a summer evening in Edo, Japan, late in the 17th Century. Two young men, "the vagabond Mugen and the vagrant swordsman [or 'rogue samurai'] Jin," are kneeling at the execution block, about to be beheaded. Do they want to beg for their lives?–-taunts the magistrate. Mugen defiantly replies that if bastards like this one are going to be in charge, he’d just as soon die. Dry chuckle; Jin calmly adds that that sounds fine, and he agrees. The furious magistrate orders the executioners to proceed, the swords swish up, the guys look around for any exit–

cut to the flashback. 24 hours earlier....

It’s a busy day in the teahouse where teenager Fuu works, and she’s not happy: a gang of bullies, led by the son of the local magistrate–a spoiled-rotten bleach-blond with fancy earrings--is hanging around the place, yelling at the staff and harassing customers. One of them, Ryujiro, is just itching to find something to test his new sword on. Fuu’s steamed at the guys’ rudeness, but her boss tells her to have patience.

Meanwhile, the magistrate himself is doing the rounds, nice guy, collecting taxes from overburdened townsfolk and threatening the lives of those who can’t pay. (His name's never given in the episode, but it's Shibui Matsunosuke.) Backing him up with ferocious scowls are three large swordsmen. A tall, lean fellow in indigo-blue is among the crowd watching the magistrate at work. (Please see footnote.)-- He takes a step forward; a local stops him and explains in a whisper that it’s not a good idea, because the magistrate’s guards are the cream of the crop of Edo’s famous Yagyu fighters, and even a group of samurai wouldn’t stand much chance against them.

A shaggy young guy with a fancy sword enters the teahouse: Mugen, who we met in the flash-forward. He asks for water; Fuu says they don’t serve water to anyone who’s not buying food; Mugen beckons her closer and tells her that for 50 dumplings he’ll take care of the bullies. She’s tempted, but asks if he’ll take 20; he’s insulted. As she turns to go, she trips, and spills hot tea all over, you guessed it, the magistrate’s son–- who says he’ll let Ryujiro test the new sword on her. They pin her down and Ryujiro draws the sword, considers. Should she lose some fingers? Her nose? An ear? --Mugen, meanwhile, is lounging on the table coolly waiting for her to make up her mind.

Back with the tax-collecting magistrate: he’s just ordered the Yagyu to execute a man too broke to pay. (Note, BTW, that what the man offered is a mixture of old Chinese coinage--the center-pierced round ones--and the new oblong Japanese gold, which was just coming into circulation at the time. Hence the Daikan's snide comment that "this (the Chinese coinage) isn't money".) The tall guy in blue walks straight up to the swordsmen and asks if they really honed their skills all this time just to do the will of an irksome master (or: "even if that master is trash?") and kill innocent men. That, he says, is just stupid. He takes off his big straw hat, which has been hiding his face all this time, and we see it’s our vagrant swordsman Jin. The Yagyu are outraged by his insolence, and charge as one. Jin stands there...

Back to the teahouse. The sword point gets very close, and terrified Fuu yells, “One hundred dumplings!” Mugen, satisfied, stands up and comments that the guys’ shitty lives are being bought pretty cheaply, at about five dumplings a head. [No, there are not 20 of them–I think Mugen just didn’t count.] Ryujiru decides to test the sword on him instead, and Mugen lops off his hand. Brawl commences, with Mugen putting on a pyrotechnic display of acrobatics while spraying blood in all directions.

(At the same time, Jin draws his katana and slices up all three Yagyu in two fast strokes.)

The blond kid --whose name is Shibui Tomonoshin--sneers. You don’t get it, do you, he says; my father is the local magistrate and no one gives me any trouble without paying for it. Mugen swings and cuts off the topknot of his hair, a huge insult. What do I care about your society, he says: I was born in Ryukyu. [A prison-colony island; as tough as they come.]

Jin whips the blood off his blade, silently sheathes it and turns to go. The quaking magistrate asks what does he want, is it money or what...Jin just leaves, scooping up, in passing, some of the coins the magistrate refused as payment of the man’s taxes (note he takes only the Japanese coinage). The magistrate yells for someone to stop him, but none dare budge.

Tomonoshin, sweating in fear, tells Mugen that right now daddy’s in the company of three amazing Yagyu swordsmen, thinking that should scare him at least a little. Uh-huh, right. Mugen, grinning ferally, grabs the kid’s hand, tells his remaining flunkies to bring those swordsmen here right away, and he’ll just break a few fingers while he’s waiting,. Crack. They scurry. Crack...

He’s up to the fourth finger and getting bored when someone steps into the tearoom. Jin. “Would you happen to be a Yagyu master?” blurts out blondie, hoping rescue has come. Jin sizes up the situation and excuses himself. So, purrs Mugen, are you one of those amazing swordsmen? And charges him without further ado. A terrific, off the walls-ceiling-and-furniture fight ensues, with a great dialogue passage included:
“Those amazing swordsmen died a short while ago.”
“I killed them.”
“That’s great!”

Ryujiro, who seems to have lost his mind along with his hand, pours oil on the tearoom floor and sets it on fire, howling “Burn in hell!” Jin and Mugen, still fighting, are nearly caught in the blaze but escape (and Mugen has a momentary, very strange hallucination in which his sword catches fire and he sees Jin sitting in a bathtub...) --Everyone scatters...

As it turns out, the magistrate’s son died in the fire, so he’s now without his heir and his Yagyu masters because of these two, and he’s not the forgiving type. He sentences them both to beheading and adds they’ll be tortured while they wait.

The tearoom is now just so much steaming debris, leaving Fuu both homeless and jobless. The tearoom owners, who know she has no family, offer to let her live with them, but she says no, this has caused her to make up her mind. She smiles.

Jin and Mugen, badly battered, converse briefly in their cell. Jin is very critical of Mugen’s fighting style, but grudgingly admits Mugen is the first opponent he wasn’t able to even wound, let alone kill. They introduce themselves to each other. Fuu visits them--having gotten in by first telling the guard “Please! I’ll do anything!” and then knocking him cold to prove she didn’t mean that kind of anything. She says she’ll help them escape if they’ll promise her something: she needs to find a samurai who smells like sunflowers. Sunflowers? --they puzzle. (Note: they do not promise her anything.) Fuu tries to pick their lock, but the pick breaks, and hearing approaching voices, she bolts.

Sunset; they’re marched to the execution block, and we’ve caught up with the opening scene. Jin asks Mugen, have you made your peace; are you ready to die? Mugen grins and says he does that with every sunrise. Fuu is scrambling to come up with a plan B, and finds it in some firework bombs and a ladder. As the executioners' swords swish down, Mugen bursts loose and disarms the guards with a feet-flying backspin; Mugen’s own sword flies and lands in the ground behind Jin, who leans back, slices the ropes off his wrists with it, uses it to slash two guards, then chops Mugen’s ropes and tosses him his blade. Hey, Mugen says, our fight is on hold till we’re outta here. They prepare to hack their way out. Blood flies in every direction...

Fuu covers their tracks by tossing the fireworks off a roof, and they make their escape. Now can we fight? Fuu comes running up, saying hey, I saved you, you have to keep your promise to me. After I kill this guy, they say. No, insists Fuu, you have to come with me, and suggests they toss a coin: heads they can kill each other now, tails they have to come with her on her quest. Mugen pitches the coin straight up so hard it nearly vanishes from sight (“You’re a guy who doesn’t know his limits,” observes Jin) and when it comes down it’s nearly embedded in Fuu’s forehead. Tails! And voices yell “There they are!” As one they take to their heels...


--Note Jin's kasa hat here. Straw hats of this sort--with a broad brim to hide the face and an open "window" for the wearer to see through-- were the samurai's standard disguise when he wanted to travel incognito and unrecognized, whether on a secret mission for his lord or visiting the pleasure quarters. Here Jin is wearing one because the crime for which he was driven from his dojo is still quite recent--within two months past. (He would probably go on wearing it had it not been spoiled by bloodstains in this ep.) We will see him in a similar hat in episode eleven, when he mistakenly thinks he's been hired as an assassin.

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

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