Episode 23–"Baseball Blues"


[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. Please read footnotes..]


We see a modern-day baseball stadium, shots of individual players, all Japanese. Voice-over says that currently many Japanese players have found success in the American major leagues, but when baseball first started in Japan, there were few people who knew that this episode had ever happened. This is a story of men who burned their spirits into baseball…

To begin with, says a familiar voice, I came to this land to investigate reports of the sighting of a foreign ship. --It may be late to say this, but my name is "Sokogiri" Manzou. I'm a detective who was recently reassigned. [--we of course remember our old friend Manzou the Saw from episodes 5 and 12.] He's gazing out to sea with a telescope. His assistant comes up and whispers something and he startles: What?!

In a restaurant: Fuu is reading a map. I wonder how much further we have to go, she says; we came by the Nagasaki route, so…Jin replies that they re nearly to Saga and very close now to Ikitsuki Island. [--from #19.] Waiters deliver their meal: it's a lot more than Fuu ordered. It’s OK, I ordered it, says Mugen. He and Fuu wrangle over a fish while having a quick whispered argument: what about the money, she says, do you have savings hidden away or something? Mugen assures her everything's fine and digs into the food. Soon they're all well fed (Fuu has assumed her Big Marshmallow Fuu form) and Jin asks Mugen again if he's sure the restaurant bill is taken care of. Sure, says Mugen; then he drops into a sprinting pose, gets set, and rockets out the door at top speed, leaving Jin and Big Fuu staring in his wake. Get him! He didn't pay the bill! yell restaurant guys and give chase. Jin draws his sword but the two are soon surrounded by angry kitchen staff. No way, says dismayed Fuu…

Damn, he's fast, mutter the restaurant guys pursuing Mugen, who aren't within a block of him. A fellow with glasses and a blue kimono is sitting in a tree doing acrobatic tricks with a baseball. He notices as Tornado Mugen streaks past underneath him, drops from the tree and hurls the ball at Mugen; it conks him on the head and he drops like a rock. He picks the thing up and yells back at the pursuers--who did this?! The guy in blue waves to him. Mugen winds up a huge pitch and throws with all his strength; the ball blazes past them, its shape warping under the massive G-forces, and actually knocks the upper story off a tower at the end of the street! The guy [his name is Kagemaru] smiles. You're pretty good, he says, do you want to play baseball? Baseball?--puzzles Mugen.

Back at the restaurant. Our trio is tied up under the watchful glowers of the angry staff. Kagemaru says Mugen can either join in tomorrow's game--in which case Kagemaru will cover the trio's restaurant bill--or refuse, in which case he'll have to stay and work in the restaurant for a month. Fuu tells Mugen he's responsible; Mugen grumbles that they should have run away too; Jin says they can't spare a month and will have to play. So what is this "baseball" anyway? asks Mugen. A sport from across the ocean; you just throw the ball and hit it with this bat. So it's just playing with a stick? It's not playing, says Kagemaru: the fate of the country depends on this game. Nani? The story begins a week ago, he begins…

We see a Western-style warship, firing off its cannons, armed sailors standing at attention in rows, big macho display mode. Japanese citizens cower in fear on the shore. Who's in charge here?--bellows a big officer, and his aide translates. I'm Machitoshi Fuji, offers an old fellow. This person is the US East Fleet Commander, Admiral Joy Cartwright, says the translator (--Please read footnotes.). We Americans are here to establish a trading relationship. You may say so, but there's an official notice telling us to drive off all foreign ships, quavers Machitochi-san. Fuck them, snarls Cartwright, giving the finger, and there's more cannonfire. Make no mistake, says W.D. (the translator), we aren't here to request this: we demand it. Or do you want to go to war with us?

Then Cartwright catches sight of Kagemaru, tossing and catching his baseball. Son of a gun, he says, baseball on a little island in the Far East? Incredible, laughs W.D., the sport of gentlemen comes to the country of savages. OK, says Kagemaru after they've had their chuckle: this is a peaceful world, we don't need to lose our lives. Let's battle with baseball!

So now, he finishes telling the trio, we have to have a game with the Amekou (Americans). But why would the Americans come to a country so far away and do such a thing? asks Fuu. How annoying… You don't have other players? --asks Jin. Well, they had some, but most didn't want the stress and walked out. Are the Amekou really that strong? --asks Mugen. Of course. Then I'll do it, says Mugen, rising to his feet. Ganbatte, good luck then, says bored Fuu, but Kagemaru says they still won't have enough people--he needs all three of them…

Manzou and his aide watching the ship. It's surprising for them to come to such a small port; we need to report this to Edo at once. I'll sneak aboard the ship, says Manzou; his aide protests that it's too dangerous, but he says he'll skillfully disguise himself as an American and all will be fine.

Fuu's at pitching/catching practice. Kagemaru-san, she asks, how do you know about baseball? I used to be an Oniwaban, he says, and relations with foreign countries were once commonplace in Kyushu. No way, so you’re a ninja? --says Fuu. [She's right. --Please read footnotes.] Yes, we investigated foreign countries for generations, he says, but when this nation became isolated, our group was broken up. Hmm, says Fuu..

(So they learned the rules in one night and practiced all night, says the VO, and we see them swinging bats, reading diagrams, hauling rollers to level the playing field. Meanwhile Manzou tries to sneak onto the ship dressed in an ill-fitting sailor's uniform, but he fools no one and is driven off with gunfire.)

Day of the big game: the Japanese team includes our trio, old Machitochi-san, an akita dog and little Momo. Another old friend, Ichiemon the announcer [episode 6], does the play-by-play for the game, still wearing his newspaper hat. =) They let the dogs play baseball here? That's the Mystical Orient for ya, jeer the Amekou --but the rules don't say dogs can't play so it's permitted. Game begins. First batter, Kagemaru, bunts and gets to a base (ninja baseball, mutter the Amekou ); Jin takes a gedan sword stance with his bat (can this actually be applied to baseball? wonders Ichiemon), and gets a base hit to center, much applauded by Fuu. Mugen applies his newly learned two-bat style, knocks the ball out to sea and charges around the bases so fast he passes the runner ahead of him (Jin, who looks as windblown as if he'd been passed by a train) --it's an out. Fuu gets her turn at bat and strikes out. The next batter is old Machitochi, who hobbles onto the field and is apparently stuck down by a sudden spinal trauma (his back just seems to break down on the spot); he tells them to overcome his death and press on, and apparently dies. (--but there are a lot of apparent deaths in this episode; they don't actually seem to be permanent.)

The next batter is the akita, which sits there with the bat in its mouth while the pitcher throws. An animal's strike zone is so small that just by sitting there you'll naturally get four balls, says Kagemaru; but the fourth ball hits the dog which takes off yelping. Momo-san takes fright at this and likewise deserts. (Meanwhile, Machitoshi's body is lying in state in front of the team bench with incense burning over it.)

Manzou watches from the forest's edge; I can't believe a game like this is going on secretly, he says. Kagemaru slips up behind him and asks who he is. Just a baseball fan who happened to be passing by, says Manzou. We need players so please join in, he's told, and he becomes the team's pinch hitter. He strikes the famous Babe Ruth homerun pose, indicating by pointing the bat that he intends to knock it out of the park (so to speak)--causing Ichiemon to blurt "who is this guy?" His swings are heroic but he doesn't follow any of Kagemaru's signals and strikes out on the first two pitches. His last swing connects--I guess it counts even though he hit it with his jutte (police truncheon) instead of the bat =)

The Amekou call a time out and confer. Time to teach these savages how we do things, they hiss; an eye for an eye, the American way all the way. Game resumes, with the Amekou now using every dirty trick, throwing with intent to hit other players, running into them, actually falling onto them (I hardly need mention several Amekou players are obese) . Kagemaru is beaned with a ball; Manzou is crushed and taken out of play. Fuu yells for the umpire's attention but he's in cahoots with the Amekou . So he's on their side, says Jin, getting up for his turn at bat. He smashes the ball into the ground, takes off at a flying run around the bases (will it be a running home run? --gasps Ichiemon) dodging and knocking aside Amekou players who even pull weapons on him, and streaks for home plate, evading the last two players with a leap that must be 20 feet in the air [hey, if Mugen can knock down buildings with a baseball…] But as he dives to home plate it's yanked away with a rope ("Nani?!") and a huge Amekou player lands on his back. The breath and his glasses are both knocked away from Jin by the impact; he struggles to remain conscious, gasps that he regrets this, passes out.

Three out--change! yells the umpire. (Jin is added to what's now a row of blanket-covered fallen players, his swords and glasses lying by him with a pot of incense, as Manzou has his jutte and Kagemaru his distinctive yellow-lensed shades.) Mugen steps up; you better stay back, he says grimly to Fuu, who promptly gets clear of him. Kagemaru gets up and pushes aside his blanket. I'm not dead yet, he says, putting on his shades, and until this arm is ripped off I won't surrender this mound. He walks unsteadily out: he as pitcher and Mugen at first base are all that's left of the Japanese team, says Ichiemon. [--what about Fuu? I can't tell why she doesn't return to the game.] Cartwright at bat pounds his bat so hard into the ground it cracks; when he hits Kagemaru's pitch it flies into splinters which drive bloodily into Kagemaru's arms and body, and he falls, smiling, saying he has no regrets. This isn’t even a game anymore, snickers the Amekou batter, but Mugen's furious. For weaklings like you, I'm more than enough, he says; he throws himself into one of his trademark breakdancing spins, then winds up and pitches with such force that he blasts through the fence and fells a tree in the forest beyond. This is something no person could hit, says awestruck Ichiemon. The batter trembles, but raises his bat. Mugen pitches and the ball hits the batter so hard we see his ribs crumble. The Amekou stare aghast. Mugen sets about picking them off ("Good heavens! This isn't baseball, this is madness!" gasps one) until there's a heap of bodies and a parade of stretchers leaving the field.

The final batter and Mugen square off. A contest of men, says Ichiemon. I won't lose! We Americans can't lose! --growls the Amekou, and braces himself. Mugen pitches; the guy throws his bat at the same moment; ball and bat pass each other in midair and take their launchers out simultaneously, embedded in their faces. Both fall in slow motion and are out cold. Fuu stares horrified. What will happen to this game!--cries Ichiemon. But Mugen slowly gets to his feet. Jesus, mutter the Americans. You Amekou, he says in a low deadly snarl, hurry and go back to your country. The spectators burst into applause as Mugen looks over the field, littered with gray-uniformed bodies and framed by a shattered fence.

The game finished in one inning, says the VO, and the Americans departed with a fear of the Japanese in their hearts. Until 1853, the arrival of Perry, they never returned to this land. Unknowingly he saved the country…(as the camera tracks toward Mugen gazing out to sea) and now he's having a moment of emotion as he looks forward the country to which the ships return…

Mugen turns and stares into the camera, face still swollen out of shape by the impact of the bat. No I'm not, he snaps; don't decide everything by yourself. Who are you anyway? Just shut up! Hai, says the announcer meekly…

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Footnotes:

From History of Baseball
"Alexander Joy Cartwright (1820-1892) of New York invented the modern baseball field in 1845. Alexander Cartwright and the members of his New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, devised the first rules and regulations for the modern game of baseball. Baseball was based on the English game of rounders. Rounders become popular in the United States in the early 19th century, where the game was called "townball", "base", or "baseball". Cartwright formalized the modern rules of baseball. The first recorded baseball game in 1846 when Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball Club." (It's also been speculated that W.D., his translator, represents Abner Doubleday, the man often erroneously referred to as the founder of baseball.)

from Kenshin: Sword of Justice:
"The Oniwaban was an elite corps of ninja who were guards of the Edo Castle during the Tokugawa Era. With the close of the Sengoku era in 1600, three hundred years of peace and prosperity followed. Up until this time the capital of Japan had been in Kyoto, but Tokugawa moved the capital to Edo (Tokyo today). He took with him three hundred Ninja from the KOGA and IGA groups as personal bodyguards. So the "Oniwaban" group of ninja set, not as an espionage unit, but as an internal security unit. Later these Ninja guarded the castle in Tokyo.



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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