Episode 10–“Lethal Lunacy”

[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.]

A man pays for his meal and leaves the restaurant, walking toward the bridge. Suddenly there’s someone barring his way. Who are you? –asks our man. Are you aware that I am Tajima Munetada, master of the Wind Strike? Of course I know that, says the one blocking the road. Very well, says Tajima, I’ll fight you for dessert, and they draw and charge. Close in on Tajima; he seems unharmed; abruptly his eyes bulge from their sockets, blood pours from his eyes, nose and mouth, and he pitches into the river, dead. His assailant smiles.

Here are Fuu, Mugen and Jin, starving as usual, on their way into town. They encounter a monk, ringing his bell for alms. Jin apologizes, saying they have nothing to give, they haven’t even enough money for a place to stay. Well, that’s very fortunate, smiles the monk, and next thing we see, our trio has been put to work cleaning up the temple in exchange for food and lodging there. Jin and Fuu are good at it, Mugen somewhat less so...

Trudging to the market, Fuu overhears townspeople talking about the latest killing by a Tsujigiri--a swordsman who openly kills people in the street (it literally means “to kill just to test out a new sword”). This Tsujigiri has killed three men this month, all skilled samurai. A bounty of 10 ryo has been placed on his head.

Fuu takes this news home and tells the guys that with that kind of money they could easily pay their way to Nagasaki. [10 ryo equalled 600 silver monme, or 1 gold O-ban/Koban, the largest issued currency of the era]. Jin’s not interested. Is this guy really strong?–asks Mugen hopefully. Of course he is, he only kills the best swordsmen, replies Fuu. Mugen stands up and slings his sword over his shoulder: OK, I’m going out for awhile. Wait for me!–cries Fuu. And off they dash, leaving patient Jin with all the housework. Ah well, he sighs...

They scour the town for leads. Mugen decides they should find the best remaining fighter, since he’ll be the next target, and begins to follow the guy, getting into a fast brawl when someone gets the idea Mugen himself is the Tsujigiri. Fuu talks to a man who saw the corpse of the last victim. It was strange, he wasn’t cut anywhere, but he was bleeding from every opening in his body.

Mugen, walking back to the temple, hears an altercation on the bridge. Three guys run past him, yelling about a monster, and Mugen sees a trail of blood across the bridge and a departing figure.

Jin is chopping firewood. No more is needed tonight, calls the monk; I’m going to prepare a meal. Fine, this will be the last one, Jin says, and chops, but half of the log flies off at an angle and sails after the departing monk. (His name is never given in the episode, but it's Zuikou.) Who without hesitation raises a hand and catches it as it whizzes past his ear. Well, he laughs, this wood has a lot of energy; I’ll use it in my bath fire. Jin gives a long hard stare to this display of un-monk-like fast reflexes...

Mugen stops for a cup of sake and meets a stranger, also drinking. Mugen can only afford one shot--though maybe that’s best for you, says the proprietor; it’s not safe around here now. You mean the Tsujigiri? Yeah, business is bad because of him. The stranger offers him the rest of his pot of sake, saying he’s already had more than enough. He drops the pot, which Mugen easily catches, and apologizes, saying he really must have drunk too much. (He seems perfectly sober and did not miss Mugen’s quick move.) Mugen wonders aloud why the Tsujigiri only chooses the strongest fighters. The stranger replies with a story: Once, he says, there was a man who was a great mountain climber, and he climbed a very tall mountain that had never been climbed before, just to see how tall it was. But no one else had seen such a mountain, so they didn’t understand his accomplishment. He went on climbing the tallest mountains he could find, to convince people of his skill and make them see what he had done, but only ended up living in the mountains, becoming a terrible creature, a monster.

They’ve left the bar and are approaching the bridge; Mugen says he doesn’t see the point; the stranger apologizes for boring him. Watch out for the Tsujigiri, says Mugen. And you, says the man, but as soon as he’s turned away Mugen’s swordpoint is in the back of his neck. It’s you, isn’t it?--asks Mugen. The stranger smiles..

They draw. Mugen’s never seen such an odd stance--it’s wide open. [Note: it's a Chinese style. Everyone see "Hero", right now.]-- The Tsujigiri makes an odd hissing noise, a soft whoosh of air. Mugen charges him, but something weird happens; when the stranger swings his sword a blast of wind seems to sweep out of it, knocking Mugen off balance and disarming him. Mugen reels back, clutching his shoulder in pain, and doubles over. The guy dives in and bends Mugen backward, laying the sword under his chin. Mugen’s eyes widen in horror; he can’t believe it’s happening. Oh, this will be fun, chuckles the Tsujigiri-–but just as Mugen collects himself there’s the blast of a police whistle and cops race toward them, yelling that they’ve caught the killer. The Tsujigiri drops Mugen and bolts, pausing only to tell him that he will meet Mugen at this bridge on the next full moon.

Mugen gets to his feet, badly shaken. He winces and looks at his hands. They’re slashed across the palms, bleeding, yet he was never actually struck by the man’s sword. What is this?-- he mutters...

Jin is sitting in the bathhouse while Zuikou bathes. [All we see of the fellow in the deep tub is his shaven head and very muscular arms and shoulders; he seems awfully buff for a monk.] Jin has that suspicious/thoughtful expression on, but the monk seems unaware of it, chatting on casually about the lovely view of the moon he has from his bathtub. Fuu shows up and reports to Jin what she’s learned about the condition of the Tsujigiri’s victims. Jin makes up his mind, stands up, draws and strikes at Zuikou’s head; he dodges the blow easily. Fuu’s appalled, but Jin is satisfied. Forgive me, he says calmly--carefully wiping the bath steam off his katana with his sleeve before putting it up--but with your moves, I can’t believe you’re an ordinary monk. The man closes his eyes but says nothing.

Mugen appears behind Fuu in the doorway. Fuu starts to speak to him and is cut off by Jin: "Hey, your hands--" He’s still dripping blood. What happened?!–cries startled Fuu. It’s nothing, says Mugen curtly, pulling his hand away from her. That’s not nothing!–insists Fuu.

Jin looks very stern. --You met the Tsujigiri, didn’t you? [I swear, he sounds like he’s Mugen’s big brother.]

And Mugen just says "...yeah." His voice is totally subdued, no cockiness, no yeah-so-what.

He looks at Jin. He had a weird sword, he says; a strong wind came from it. A wind?–says Jin. Yeah. And when that wind hits you... Mugen opens his bloody hands, holds them out and looks at them. His friends are silent.

Zuikou sighs. I knew it, he says. It must be the one called Shouryuu.
Our trio startles in unison–-you know this guy? And it’s storytime....
(--while he talks, Mugen sits quietly flexing his bandaged hands, looking as if he doesn’t get how they could have let him down so...)

Once, as Jin’s already guessed, our monk was a warrior and the master of a dojo. Shouryuu, whose name was then Ukon, was a student of his and a very good one, skilled and dedicated, diligent at his practice. Then the government ordered him to go to sea [he was drafted? I don’t quite get this...]. His ship was lost in a storm and the whole crew presumed dead, but he managed to survive and made his way to land. He found himself in China, where he learned a strange new martial art and became its disciple. Ten years later he returned to Japan, but he was a changed man. He spoke passionately to his old master about the new art he had learned (called hakkei or hatske**), saying it showed him how weak and useless were the arts he had been trained in before–it allows you to defeat your opponents by the power of your mind, not your mere physical strength. He now scorns these lazy slackers called samurai and yearns to teach everyone the One True Way. Zuikou is dubious, but lets Shoryuu–-as he says his new name is–-return to the dojo.

Where in very short order he kills a fellow student, to the shock of all, and defends his action, saying the martial arts are ultimately just killing tools. Zuikou is furious and expels him from the dojo. [gee, this story must be making Jin feel great...] ...The monk says that he’s heard Shouryuu traveled to many provinces and schools trying to teach his new skill, but was expelled and shunned everywhere, and finally condemned society and withdrew from it. Hearing of Shouryuu’s travels, he’d grieved that he had not been able to rescue his student from his delusions (“...save the heart of my student that had been dyed in darkness”) and eventually withdrew from teaching the sword to became a monk. I don’t want him to go on with his killing spree, he says, but he’s now so fearless that I don’t know who can stop him...

Mugen, his balance recovered, steps out smiling onto the balcony. He measures the phase of the moon with his fingers, guessing how long he has to train for the battle. What a joy, he says contentedly, to have such a person to fight with.

And train he does, chopping wood, racing on the stairs, doing calisthenics, even bungee jumping, working out more singlemindedly than we would’ve thought possible. I’ve never seen Mugen like this, says Fuu. That’s because he’s fighting someone he knows he may not defeat, replies Jin somberly. Fuu looks worried...

Zuikou tells Mugen that what Shoryuu uses is internal Ki, directing it so that it destroys the internal organs without cutting the skin. (He says that in Japan this is called kacchuu kudaki, but I can't find any reference to this term.) Can’t hurt you if it never touches you, replies Mugen airily.

The night of the full moon arrives. Mugen heads for the stairs, shouldering his sword. “I’ll be out for a little while,” he says, too casually. Fuu and Jin are hanging around the door... Fuu reminds him he has to help her find the sunflower samurai. Yes, he knows. Jin reminds him that he, Jin, is the one who gets to kill Mugen. Right. Fuu strikes a spark with flint–-a good luck gesture. You think you’re my wife or something? ...grumbles Mugen. And he’s off. [And you just know they stand on the balcony and wait.]

Zuikou is sitting by the waterfall silently praying his beads.

Mugen reaches the bridge. Shouryuu is there, happy to see him. He brags about how everyone fears him, how he’s better than all those who call themselves masters and has taught them who the true master is....Skip the introductions, says Mugen. Let’s go.

About the sweetest 90 seconds of pure Mugen ingenuity yet, as he turns his off-the-ground skills against the guy, leaping clear over his wind-scar attack, holding off his sword. You’re much better than I expected, says Shouryuu, striking a blow that drops them clear through the bridge into the river. Another volley. Why are you fighting me? is it to collect the price on my head?...asks Shouryuu. No, it’s because I’m having too much fun to stop now, says Mugen. So am I, smiles the killer, but let’s end this now.

He draws back and extends the open palm of his killing blast, and whooshes—-but Mugen does exactly the same thing—-and when the cutting wind fires from his sword it ricochets off Mugen’s raised blade (or does Mugen's blade also fire? I have watched it over and over and still can't tell...), and Shouryuu is the one who gets cut. Mugen’s sword flies clear of him, and he coughs blood, but Shoryuu’s staring at his own dripping hands in disbelief. Mugen, whose whole style is cut-and-paste of everything he’s ever faced, whose modus operandi is amalgam, seemingly picked up in one duel enough hakkei to give this guy the fright of his life. Impossible!–-he cries. Mugen slumps against the pier of the bridge, looking semi-conscious. Death strike!..hisses Shouryuu, making the gesture he killed his fellow student with, and charges him–-but as he closes in, Mugen’s eyes snap open in triumph, and he grabs the tanto out of the end of his scabbard and punches it straight through Shouryuu.

The monk’s prayer beads break and spill into the waterfall. He quietly speaks his old student’s name.

Mugen washes the blood off his knife, sheathes it, leans back against the bridge...

**I can only find one reference to this: "Power generation requires a combination of correct posture, stability, fluid movement, an interplay of muscle tension and relaxation, breathing, extension and intention. These individual disciplines are developed and integrated so that over time they become more efficient. The practice of Sanchin helps develop the explosive power which can be refined to generate a strike over a very short distance known as Hakkei in Japanese or Fa Jing in Chinese."

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

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