A/N - 5/15/2018: I'm still alive, and this story is too. I've been on a break from writing for a LONG time, but now I'm trying to get my brain back into the groove. Wish me luck!
No Roads Where Weʼre Going
Chapter 1: Resonance
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Samurai Champloo or its characters!
Part 1: Trial by Fire
Definition: A test in which a person is exposed to flames in order to assess his/her truthfulness, commitment, courage, etc.; (Idiomatic, by extension) Any ordeal which tests oneʼs strength, endurance, or resolve.
Mugen stood on a familiar rocky beach, in front of a small, decimated church. A chill wind whipped off the ocean, ruffling his red haori and blowing his shaggy mop of dark hair in every direction. A strong gust hit him in the back, nudging him toward the ruined building.
He still remembered every detail of this place... details he wished he could forget.
For months, the vagrant had nightmares about the day he nearly died fighting the three brothers who captured Fuu and held her hostage in this church. He kept seeing her face over and over again, bruised and bloody, her brown eyes wide with terror. Each night he awoke from his dreams filled with a burning tangle of emotions that he simply wasnʼt equipped to process. He was a churning maelstrom of loathing, fury, remorse, and so many other turbulent feelings snarled together that he couldnʼt distinguish them.
Above all, he wanted to keep her safe, but he failed. It didnʼt matter that he ultimately succeeded in setting her free. She was hurt. He couldnʼt forgive himself for that. It tormented him every night and there was no escape.
After nearly three years of drifting on endless dusty pathways from one town to the next, he unwittingly found himself traveling on familiar roads, making his way back to the island where it all took place. When he finally arrived, he questioned why he'd come. What steered him in this direction? He honestly didnʼt know. His feet carried him to this place without his fully understanding why.
Now that he was here, staring at this shattered little chapel, he didnʼt know what to do next. Should he go inside?
Most of the building had already collapsed into a heap of tumbled beams and rafters, but the back portion of it was still standing, begging to be inspected.
The rogue was driven forward by a gale at his back.
He carefully stepped through splintered blocks to reach the remaining structure. He placed a calloused hand against a precariously leaning post, and lowered his head to peer under a hanging rafter. A few rays of sunlight streamed down, casting ominous shadows in the rotted wood that littered the ground. He cautiously entered.
Beneath a large fractured window, an over-sized, red wooden cross was still perched crookedly atop a pile of rubble. Compelled to approach it, he crept in closer until he was standing right underneath it.
Visions of his nightmares began to cloud his consciousness.
This is where it happened. She had been tied to that cross. He could still see the horror in her eyes.
He was relieved to find her alive that day, but his heart plummeted when he saw that she was badly beaten. The girlʼs face was marked with fresh cuts and bruises. She would've been doubled over in pain if not for the rope that secured her trembling body to the cross.
She looked so small... so fragile.
He hated himself for allowing this to happen.
His enemies, whose faces he couldnʼt even recall, used Fuu as bait to lure him into their trap. He never remembered the faces of his victims, and that infuriated the brothers all the more. They sought revenge for a deed so distant that Mugen couldnʼt differentiate it from the many acts of violence he routinely committed during his days of piracy.
It was him they wanted, not Fuu. She was put in this situation because he couldn't protect her from the consequences of his own actions.
This was my fuckinʼ fault, dammit. I shoulda seen it cominʼ. I shouldnʼa hesitated when she left without us. If I got here sooner...
He felt sorrow and rage mounting inside him. The painful memories made his stomach lurch. The world was spinning around him, and for a moment, he thought he might be sick. Ugh... I canʼt handle this. I gotta get out... now.
Mugen could handle anything, anything but this. The knowledge that Fuu was injured because of his failure was too much to bear.
As he hastily retreated through the cluttered debris, a flash of reflected light caught the corner of his eye. He climbed over rotted blocks of wood to find what appeared to be a familiar object embedded in a thick, fallen beam.
Is that...? Nah, it canʼt be...
The vagrant reached for the maroon lacquered handle and with some effort, jostled it free. When he lifted it up to examine it, he froze in disbelief.
My tanto... Never thought Iʼd see this thing again. He ran his fingers along the edge of the blade, and a tiny trickle of blood emerged from the tip of his index finger. Still sharp...
A new wave of memories washed over him. To procure Fuuʼs release, Mugen relinquished his sword. He tossed it across the room, lodging it into the wooden cross and cutting the rope that bound Fuuʼs tiny frame. His tanto, still concealed in the sheath strapped to his back, was his last chance. Iʼve always thought of it as my ace in the hole.
He threw the smaller blade at his enemy, narrowly missing his target. The diversion gave him enough time to retrieve his sword, and then he put up one hell of a fight.
The rogue snapped himself out of his daze with a shake of his head and a hard blink. He tucked the tanto securely into his waistband and turned to exit the ruins.
Outside, Mugen faced the sea and the setting sun, quiet for several minutes while his thoughts dwelled on anger and regret.
She got hurt and it was my fault. She coulda fuckinʼ died! Iʼm the one to blame, and there ainʼt nothinʼ I can do to make it right.
His chest constricted in a painful knot as he spoke aloud, "How can I make it right? There ainʼt nothinʼ..."
Then he howled his rage at the ocean.
"DAMMIT! WHY THE FUCK DID I EVEN COME HERE?!"
His body shuddered against the frigid wind and he squeezed his eyes closed, trying to block everything out. When he opened them, his vision blurred and his mind went blank. He completely shut down.
Without conscious thought, he went through the motions of lighting a small driftwood fire. He crouched down and stared vacantly into the flames. He lingered there for a long while, entranced by the flickering light as it danced in his stormy eyes, until the emotions he'd tried to suppress boiled back to the surface, igniting his turmoil once more. His face contorted into fury and wrath, and his shaking fists clenched so tight that his fingernails drew blood from his palms.
He stood suddenly and yanked two burning pieces of wood from the fire. With a guttural yell, he hurled them, one after the other, into what remained of the broken church. He took a few steps back as the dry, rotted beams and rafters were set ablaze. The flames spread easily and soon engulfed the entire mass of shambled tinder.
He stumbled backward and fell to his knees, dropping his face into his hands. The intense heat emanating from the inferno caused beads of sweat to form on his brow. He rubbed the moisture away with bloodstained palms, and lifted his eyes to witness the last remnants of the small church violently collapsing into a heap of blazing sparks and swirling ash. A column of thick black smoke billowed high into the twilight sky.
All he could do was stare, mesmerized, into the blinding red-hot glow of destruction that lay before him, until all of his hatred, shame, and sorrow burned to the ground.
The crows encircled Mugenʼs motionless form and began to carry him up, into a bleak sky devoid of color. The black birds merged with his spirit, and they flew as one being.
A female voice echoed... it was so familiar... "Mugen? Mugen! MUGEN!"
The crows scattered and he was released. His spirit returned to his physical body and everything faded to white.
Then he saw her face. She was there... She was always there...
Mugenʼs eyes snapped open.
Where the hell am I?
The Ryukyuan sat up to observe his surroundings, realizing immediately that this was the hut where he awoke three years ago. He had lain here incapacitated for days when his body was too broken to move. It was a miracle that he'd walked away.
No... she was the miracle. She pulled him back from the brink of death and filled him with a new breath of life. She had a strange gift for resurrecting lost souls.
Mugen wasnʼt quite sure how he found his way into the cabin. The last thing he recalled was fire... the raging inferno that consumed all that remained of the little chapel on the beach.
Itʼs all gone now. Ainʼt nothinʼ to go back to.
Whether he meant the church, or his own tortured guilt, he didnʼt know. Perhaps they were one in the same.
He lay on a musty futon, flat on his back, watching particles of dust slowly dancing in the sunbeams that spilled through fissures in the roof. There was only one question on his mind.
Now what the fuck am I gonna do?
Part 2: Closest Point of Approach
Definition: (Nautical, Navigation) An estimated point in which the distance between two objects, of which at least one is in motion, will reach its minimum value. The estimate is used to evaluate the risk of a collision of e.g. two ships.
The young woman arrived in the early morning. The sun was bright and warm, but the ocean wind chilled her to the bone. Loose strands of chestnut hair whipped across her rosy cheeks.
It had taken an enormous amount of effort and courage to get here. Fuu considered it an achievement to have made it this far, but the real challenge would be the final walk to her fatherʼs abandoned cabin.
I came all this way. I canʼt turn back now. If I can just get to my fatherʼs house... I can figure out the rest later.
She always intended to come back to Ikitsuki Island to visit her fatherʼs final resting place, but every time she thought about it, she was overwhelmed by painful memories. The very idea of returning to this island resurfaced old traumas that she didnʼt know how to face. Even now, as she regarded the path in front of her, she was having doubts.
She couldnʼt shake the vivid mental imagery of the field of wilting sunflowers, the ruined church, her sickly father, the assassin sent to murder him, and her two best friends lying unconscious with injuries so severe that they might not wake up.
The once free-spirited girl was hindered by feelings of trembling fear, uncontrollable panic, and utter helplessness. It was so unsettling that she physically ached with despair.
She tried to keep it hidden in the back of her mind, but it couldn't be tamed. Some nights it would visit her while she slept, and she would wake up thrashing and crying out for help. Occasionally it manifested during the day as a paranoid anxiety attack. And once in a while, on her worst days, she felt a sudden, irrational urge to run for her life... run, run, run... until her legs burned and quivered with exhaustion. She really thought she was going crazy.
She wanted to believe that these lingering fears would subside over time. She spent nearly two years traveling, hoping to replace old dark memories with bright new ones. Then she tried settling down for a while in a nice small town, thinking stability would bring peace of mind. She found enjoyment and even a little excitement along the way, but it was always temporary.
Eventually, it became apparent that no matter where she went, or what she did, these feelings wouldnʼt just disappear. They would always be with her, and no amount of wishful thinking could erase them. In fact, the longer this went on, the more she felt like she was losing herself, little by little.
Fuu desperately wanted to be free of this torment. She wanted to find solace and peace, and she wanted to be herself again. Somehow she had to let go of these memories, or she would never escape from the cycle of emotional suffering that had plagued her for almost three years. Deep down she knew she had to confront her fears to move past them. That meant being brave enough to go back to the island and face her demons.
After months of putting it off, she finally mustered all the courage and determination she could find within herself, and she made the journey. She didnʼt know what to expect once she arrived, but she convinced herself that she could stand up to anything.
From the base of the hill, she gazed up the dirt path that led to her fatherʼs cabin. Her resolve threatened to crumble, but she refused to give in.
Just get to the house. Thatʼs all I need to do for now.
She took in a few deep breaths to prepare herself.
You can do this, Fuu.
With the wind at her back, she marched up the grassy incline.
In a short time, she would reach the forest of yellow sunflowers. In her memories, they towered over her, forming thick green walls on either side of the path, but there was nothing sunny about them. Their heads were wilted and drooping sadly, with shriveled petals and loose seeds spilling into the dirt. She hoped this time the entire field would be in full bloom, bright and beautiful.
But there were no sunflowers. Instead, it was a graveyard of dried, sun-bleached stocks, haphazardly bent and crushed to the ground. Nothing else grew here, not even weeds. She was surrounded by a bleak and barren landscape.
I donʼt know why I thought there would still be sunflowers here. Itʼs not like thereʼs anyone around who cares enough to tend to them. How could I be so stupid?
She was disappointed to see the land in such an ugly state, but in a way she also felt relieved. Thoughts of being kidnapped from among the sunflowers still horrified her. At least this way, it felt like a different place, and the memory was a little more distant. Even so, she didnʼt want to linger here.
Knowing she would reach her fatherʼs cabin soon, she began to fill with anxiety.
What am I expecting to find there? What if Iʼm not ready to see it? What if—?
Finally, the wooden hut came into view. Fuu stopped and stared at it from afar. She had planned to use it for refuge, to rest and pull herself together before venturing out to face whatever she would find on this island, but now she hesitated. So much had happened in that little dwelling. Could she actually handle staying there?
She held back tears while she wrestled with herself. Maybe this was a bad idea. But what was the alternative?
Thereʼs no choice. Iʼm sure as hell not turning back now. This is what I have to do.
She wiped her eyes and continued on until she reached the small structure. She inhaled a long, deep breath and exhaled slowly.
Just open the door and walk through it. You can do this, Fuu.
When she slid the door open, she was shocked to find an unexpected surprise.
"AH!" she shouted with a startled jump.
There was a strange man inside!
Her eyes hadn't adjusted to the darkness; she could only see the vague impression of a male form without a face. She didn't know whether to confront him or back away.
Her trembling hands tightened at her sides as she cautiously stepped one toe over the threshold. "Who... whoʼs there?"
The man lazily lifted his head off the futon to look at her, holding up a spindly bronzed arm to shield his face. "Girlie?"
Fuu was stunned.
Part 3: Turn of the Tide
Definition: (Idiom) Cause a complete reversal of the circumstances.
For most of his life, Jin lived for his sword and the purity of his craft, and nothing else. He felt truly alive only during the fleeting moments of battle when he fought to dominate his opponents and uphold his honor. But something was always missing... something intangible that he couldn't identify. He searched for it constantly, never knowing what he was looking for, or where to find it.
Then, completely by chance, he met the waitress and the ex-pirate, and they embarked on a journey that would take them half way across Japan. During the year that they traveled together, they forged an unbreakabale bond of friendship that none of them expected to find. In the two most unlikely companions, Jin discovered what heʼd been searching for: a reason to fight... a cause worth protecting and people worth dying for. That was the strongest motivation heʼd ever had.
When their quest was completed, the trio parted ways. It left a gap in his life. The taciturn ronin had traveled alone since then, for three years, wandering without any sense of direction or purpose. His existence consisted of using his sword in whatever capacity was necessary to earn enough coin for food, lodging, and the next leg of his journey, wherever that might lead. It was exceedingly tedious.
Although he had no set destination in mind, he still frequented tea shops in every town he passed through, hoping to hear the delicate voice of a familiar brunette in pink. He listened for rumblings on the streets that might reveal the whereabouts of a certain vagrant in red. He relied solely on fate, never planning ahead, only wishing their paths would cross again by chance. When that didnʼt happen, he started to forget what it felt like to live with meaning.
Truth be told, Jin was lonely.
One afternoon he passed through an ordinary town, just like any other he had seen during his travels. They all looked the same. However, in this town, a crowd was forming around a bulletin board in the town square, and there was quite a commotion.
Under normal circumstances this would be of no interest to the ronin, but he stopped dead in his tracks when he overheard a group of people discussing a tattooed man with a strange sword who'd been seen here several months ago. Could this be a clue? Perhaps fate would finally steer him toward his friends.
He leaned in to eavesdrop on the conversation.
"Isnʼt that him in the picture?"
"Yeah, I recognize him. He had a wild look in his eyes, like a feral mutt. He scared away most of my customers."
"I saw him at the market. He stole from the fruit stand, but I was too afraid to tell the owner. The guy looked like he could turn violent any minute."
"My buddy told me he was at the gambling house. He won a bunch of money, then skipped town."
"I hope they catch the guy."
"Yeah, if they can find him. Heʼs probably long gone by now."
An amused smile crept onto Jinʼs face. It figures... typical Mugen. What is he wanted for this time?
The gossip continued, and Jin listened carefully.
"What about these other two criminals? Iʼve never seen them before."
"That ronin looks like he could be dangerous, but this girl? Sheʼs so young."
"She mustʼa really pissed off the shogunate with a bounty like that. They donʼt offer that kind of money for just any common criminal."
Jinʼs curiosity was piqued by these last remarks. He had a sinking feeling in his gut, but he just couldnʼt believe that this was what it sounded like.
He moved swiftly through the crowd to get a better view of the bulletin board. To his horror, he recognized all three of the people in the images. He was one of them.
Each poster contained a detailed sketch and description of the wanted criminals and their infractions against the shogunate. The bounties were outrageous. Jinʼs tall frame went rigid as he stood glued to the spot, carefully taking in every bit of information in front of him.
Age: 18 - 19
Height: 5'2" - 5'4"
Weight: 90 - 100 lbs
Brown hair, brown eyes
Last seen wearing a pink flowered kimono
Kakure Christian, European sympathizer
Daughter of Kasumi Seizo, instigator in the Shimabara Rebellion
Plotting with Kakure Christians to incite an uprising
Concealing the locations of Kakure Christian communities
Conspiring with European nationals to illegally smuggle foreign goods into Japan
REWARD: 50,000 RYO
The sketch of Fuuʼs face and messy ponytail bun were eerily accurate, right down to her two beaded hair pins. Jinʼs eyes nearly bulged out of his sockets. Oh, no... no, no, no. She is in grave danger. This is terrible news.
The charges against Fuu were clearly contrived. She hadnʼt done any of these things. The exorbitant bounty was obviously designed to secure her capture as quickly as possible. But the shogunate would never actually pay that much money. Surely they would kill whomever brought Fuu to "justice".
It was bewildering to Jin that anyone could look at Fuuʼs innocent face and her young age and believe that she was capable of such treasonous acts.
Catching sight of his own likeness, Jin hastily removed his new spectacles and hid them in the sleeve of his kimono. He hoped no one had noticed them under the brim of his straw hat.
WANTED ALIVE OR DEAD
Age: 24 - 25
Height: 5'10" - 6'0"
Weight: 130 - 140 lbs
Long black hair pulled back, brown eyes, wears glasses
Last seen wearing black hakama and an indigo blue kimono marked with the Takeda mon
Ronin, sword for hire, bodyguard to Kasumi Fuu
Aiding and abetting the known criminal Kasumi Fuu
The murders of Mujushin Kenjutsu Master Mariya Enchiro,
Shogunate Guard Captain Kariya Kagetoki,
and government officials in multiple provinces.
CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
REWARD: 30,000 RYO
His drawing was quite accurate as well, including a side sketch of the four diamonds that made up the Takeda mon. Fortunately for Jin, this information was out of date. He no longer wore the indigo blue kimono; it was shredded during his battle with Kariya. He now wore a plain gray kimono with no identifiable markings. His straw hat concealed much of his porcelain face and obsidian hair, and he could easily keep his glasses hidden.
Perhaps I can still move about freely if I use caution.
The so-called "murders" of Mariya Enchiro and Kariya Kagetoki were committed in self-defense. Of course nobody knew that, so it was of little consequence.
Jin was already hunted by Mariyaʼs disciples. Some of them sought revenge, while others sought to make a name for themselves by killing the man who killed the great master. The bounty would provide them with added incentive to carry out the roninʼs demise.
Mugenʼs bulletin was the most detailed, and the most damning of all three. No wonder he was the hot topic of conversation among the townspeople.
WANTED ALIVE OR DEAD
Age: 23 - 25
Height: 5'9" - 5'11"
Weight: 130 - 140 lbs
Ryukyuan, dark complexion, unkempt black hair, brown eyes
Marked with blue prison tattoos on the wrists and ankles
Last seen wearing a red haori
Carries an illegal Ryukyuan sword
Pirate, thief, smuggler, convicted felon, bodyguard to Kasumi Fuu
Aiding and abetting the known criminal Kasumi Fuu
Illegal immigration, piracy, smuggling, thievery, destroying shogunate property
The murders of government officials and innocent civilians in multiple provinces
CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
REWARD: 30,000 RYO
The charges against Mugen were all true. Really, it was shocking that he had gotten away with so many criminal acts in his young lifetime.
There was a side sketch detailing the cobalt blue tattoos that encircled his wrists and ankles, markings that plainly identified him as a violent felon. Even if the ex-pirate completely changed his attire, those tattoos would give him away. The fact that he now carried the European sword that once belonged to Fuuʼs father probably wouldnʼt help his case.
Jin wondered what it must be like for Mugen to be permanently branded. He had never considered this before. Sure, Mugen carried a rough exterior and he had definitely committed evil deeds in his past, but to his credit, he had put most of that behavior behind him (except for the stealing). Despite what he might say about the matter (he would vehemently deny it), Mugen was actually maturing and working toward becoming a better human being. Regrettably, it would be difficult for him to prove that to society when those tattoos were a flashing warning sign to anyone who so much as glanced in his direction.
When Jinʼs attention finally broke away from the bulletins, he scanned around to observe the crowd. Already, several mercenaries in the vicinity were preparing to engage in the hunt. This was truly a dire situation.
Jin thought for a moment about his next move.
What will be my course of action? Perhaps I can pose as a bounty hunter to gain information. That might allow me to find Mugen and Fuu before they are captured or killed. The question is, how many cities have already posted these bulletins, and in which of those cities have Mugen and Fuu already been identified?
These were certainly not the circumstances under which the ronin hoped to reunite with his friends, but perhaps they were fated to come together out of mutual need rather than by random chance. Perhaps thatʼs what really brought them together in the first place.
Jin once again remembered what it felt like to have a meaningful purpose. Mugen and Fuu were the closest thing to family he had ever known, and he would die to protect them. He knew they would do the same for him.
It would be a race against time, but Jin was determined to reach his friends and warn them of this imminent threat. Wherever they were, he would find them.
To be continued…
A/N: Coming up next - Mugen and Fuu have an awkward reunion, but together they confront their pasts. Meanwhile, Jinʼs search for his friends comes to an end. Will he arrive in time to warn them before bounty hunters reach them first? H/C, angst, action.
Please review! :)
Thank you so much for reading!
Additional Authorʼs Notes
You might be asking yourself: "What in the heck was this author thinking?"
Here are some insights.
Japanese words used in this chapter
Daisho, hakama, haori, kimono, kakure, mon/kamon, ronin, ryo, Ryukyu, samurai, tanto, tsurugi
You can find definitions of these words on my Tumblr (username Drealyn22) in a post called "No Roads Where We're Going Glossary."
As a side note, there is no difference between singular and plural words in Japanese. The plural of samurai is samurai. The plural of kimono is kimono. So when you see something like, "their katana," or "three samurai," it's not an accident. I didn't leave off the "s" by mistake. In Japanese it's grammatically correct. If you notice any place where I did add an "s" when I shouldn't have, please let me know.
There was a lot of angst in this first chapter. Yes, weʼre off to a rocky start. But I promise you, these three tortured souls will heal. They will rediscover themselves through each other. Theyʼll fight battles, laugh and find joy in life, become strong, and grow as people.
She is experiencing symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). In the last three episodes of the series, she endures a multitude of extreme events, all of which are very emotional, and they all happen in a single day. My story begins with the assumption that nobody could go through that amount of trauma and come out unscathed. Something like that would linger, and you couldnʼt just push it aside. It has to bubble up to the surface eventually.
Fuu has come to the realization that her latent fear and stress are so prevalent that theyʼve taken over her life. Sheʼs not in control of herself, and sheʼs simply tired of living that way. She finally finds it within herself to do something about it. There will be more about this in the next chapter.
Heʼs a little more difficult to explain. I think maybe heʼs going through his own version of PTSD, but the scope is different, and obviously, his experience with it is very different from Fuuʼs. No two people experience it in the same way.
The thing about Mugen is, heʼs not exactly competent when it comes to understanding emotions, his or anyone elseʼs. My assumption is that, if he were experiencing hurt, guilt, hatred, sorrow, or whatever else, it would manifest itself as anger, because thatʼs the only strong emotion he knows and can readily identify. I believe that if he couldnʼt pinpoint or understand the source of that anger, he would just feel all-around angry and not know why. But despite his emotional ineptitude, heʼs got pretty good instincts. In this story, his instincts carry him to the island, and he takes out his anger in the only way he knows how - violence.
But one thing is certain. If you look at his facial expression in the last shot of the series when he and Jin are watching Fuu walk away, it's a very soft expression. I believe it conveys a sense of relaxed fondness, which is very different from anything we've seen in the series prior. That fondness comes out in my story. I'm basically building from that expression and exploring the emotion further as this story develops.
There's also the scene at the end of Elegy of Entrapment Part 2, after Mugen kills Sara. It's really the first time he shows genuine emotion and a sense of injustice after killing someone. The government used Sara as a tool, and she wasn't able to fight back. He knows that what happened to her wasn't right, and he has some guilt over his part in it. In my story, his feelings about what happened to Fuu are similar to this, but he feels a different sense of guilt because the men who hurt Fuu did so as a direct result of Mugen's own past mistakes. It really was his fault. He knows it wasn't right, but he has no way to make amends, and it's been eating away at him.
So from my perspective, Mugen isn't as OOC in this chapter as some people might think. But that's all based on my personal head canon. :)
His biggest revelation at the end of the series is that heʼs not alone, he has human connections, actual friends, and itʼs the first time in his life that heʼs found a worthy reason to fight. His new purpose is to protect the people he cares about. If you were Jin, wouldnʼt it be odd to make such a profound discovery, and then leave it all behind? What would that be like?
I also think itʼs fair to say that Jin has a tendency to get depressed sometimes. For all his impassive indifference, he does show signs of feeling down at different points in the series. For me, one of the saddest moments for Jin is when he and Yukimaru have their swords pointed at one another, and he says, "You can say you killed me if you like. I might as well be dead already." Then he jumps into a waterfall. *sniff* Poor Jin. (Those episodes are two of the most emotional for me, for a lot of reasons.)
So hereʼs Jin. He makes friends whom he cares deeply about. These are the only people whose lives he has ever put before his own, and the only people he can truly trust. He leaves them behind. He wanders alone. Even though wandering alone was fine for him prior to his meeting Mugen and Fuu, things are different now. He feels their absence, and it leaves a hole in his life. The longer this goes on, the more down he feels about it, until eventually he just starts to feel numb and apathetic. Whatever purpose he found with them is sort of meaningless now. What difference does it make if theyʼre not around?
But those bulletins are cause for him to get off his brooding, sulky ass and protect the thing he loves most - his friendship with Fuu and Mugen.
Mugenʼs Sword: Not a longsword
I believe Mugenʼs sword is actually a "hand-and-a-half" sword, not a longsword, even though I used the term "longsword" here. A "hand-and-a-half" sword could be wielded either one-handed or two-handed. The term "bastard sword" became associated with this type of weapon in early the 20th century.
The Scottish claymore and other types of European longswords were, in general, exclusively two-handed weapons. Mugenʼs fighting style necessitates versatility, and I just canʼt imagine him being limited to a two-handed style of wielding his weapon.
Why didnʼt I call it a bastard sword in my story? Well... Mugen likes to call people bastards... a lot. So it felt kind of weird to use that term for his sword. "Hand-and-a-half" sword is just too clunky. But for the record, Iʼm pretty sure thatʼs what his sword actually is.
Jinʼs and Mugenʼs Swords: Symbolic Hand-me-downs
My head canon says that both Jinʼs and Mugenʼs swords belonged to Fuuʼs father. A lot of fans share this theory. It would make sense. Fuu's father was a samurai with ties to the west, so he would have owned daisho, and itʼs totally conceivable that he could have owned a European sword as well. I like the idea that their swords were gifts from Fuu, something reminiscent from their journey that theyʼll always carry with them. Not only that, but these swords are likely to save their lives over and over again in the future.
The swords are also symbolic of the character development that each of them experienced throughout the series. Mugen and Jin's old swords (one aspect of the people they used to be) were shattered, and now theyʼre starting again with something new and different. In other words, the experiences of this journey brought out a new side of Mugen and Jin, or perhaps a side of them that was always there, but buried deep within. It's Fuu's influence that serves as the catalyst for this development in each of them, symbolized by the swords she gives them.
Jinʼs and Mugenʼs Clothing: Also symbolic hand-me-downs?
I think Jin might even be wearing Fuuʼs fatherʼs clothing. Fuuʼs memories show Seizo as a tall man wearing a gray kimono and black hakama. I'm not sure where Mugen got his clothes. I canʼt see Seizo wearing shorts, but maybe theyʼre cut-offs of some kind. However, they are not cut-off hakama. Hakama are very different.
I always thought that Mugen and Jin looked more similar to one another at the end of the series. Jin still wears a cool color, and Mugen still wears a warm color, but both are more muted, neutral colors than before. Both men appear to be more relaxed. I've already mentioned Mugen's facial expression at the end of the series. Jin's expression is one of fondness as well. It's pretty clear that they're actually happy. Jin is a little less serious (heʼs actually smiling), and Mugenʼs wildness is toned down (heʼs smiling too - without sarcasm). Jin is no longer marked with any kind of symbol of his heritage or nobility, so heʼs left that part of himself behind. Mugenʼs top is more traditional, more similar to Jinʼs, with the v-neckline and long, wide sleeves. When he has his hands in his pockets, his sleeves partially cover his tattoos.
For me, their appearances, as well as their swords, were symbolic. It hasnʼt changed who they are. Theyʼre still the same guys, but maybe they came from opposite ends of the spectrum and settled somewhere a little bit closer to the middle. Just a little bit though. :)
Based on my head canon over-analysis, I think it makes sense that their clothes would have come from the same source. Besides, where would they have gotten the money to buy new clothes? Or swords, for that matter?
The Wanted Posters
Bulletins like this really did exist in the Edo period, and were generally tacked to some kind of sign board. I've posted a few pictures of some reproductions on my Tumblr (drealyn22). The drawings were fairly detailed. This is similar to the episode of the series with the street killer. There were people gathered around the townʼs bulletin board talking about the mysterious street killer and the enormous price on his head.
The posters show estimates of age, height, and weight, but I do have exact numbers, in case you're curious.
In the beginning of the series, Fuu is 15, and Mugen and Jin are each estimated to be 20. By my calculations, it would take a year or more to walk from Edo to Ikitsuki Island, with all of the stops they made, so by the end of the series, Fuu is 16, and Mugen and Jin are 21. My story starts three years after the end of the series, so Fuu is now 19, and Mugen and Jin are 24.
These are the characters' heights, shown in the concept art by Manglobe, and the guys' weights, from a scan of a Japanese magazine which listed all of their vitals. (I've posted images of both of these on my Tumblr)
Height: 177cm (~ 5'10"), plus 3cm for his geta, making him 180cm overall
Weight: 59kg (~ 130 lbs)
Height: 180cm (~ 5'11")
Weight: 56kg (~ 123.5 lbs) - This boy is way too thin.
Height: 158cm (~ 5'2") - In my story, she's grown by a couple of inches. I would put her at 5'4".
A note about Japanese names
In the Japanese culture, the family name comes first, and the individual's name comes second. That's why, on the wanted posters, Fuu and Jin are shown as Kasumi Fuu and Takeda Jin. You'll often see this turned around in English translations. If you watch SC in the original Japanese with English subtitles, listen carefully and you'll notice the reversal.
As you've already seen, Jin is the one who brings them back together and moves them forward as a group, but the reason why they come together is really about Fuu.
Fuu has always been the nucleus of this little group. It was always her strength and determination that held them together. That wonʼt change. In the beginning of this story, sheʼs broken... but she doesnʼt stay that way. It takes her some time and some help from Mugen, but she will take her life back.
Mugen and Fuu will help each other process their emotions, but they may continue to be confused about their feelings toward one another. Particularly Mugen. Something new awakens in him that he doesnʼt know how to deal with.
Jin will provide stability for Fuu, and he will be a keen observer and facilitator, nudging his friends in the right direction. The relationship between Jin and Mugen will also get more attention. (Not romantic, folks, in case anyone was hoping for that. The romance here is all Fuugen. Consider Mugen and Jin as more of a "bromance.")
You're going to see a lot of H/C and fluff, with humor sprinkled in all over the place, and increasing action as the story progresses.
I'm also making an effort to incorporate some elements that are true to Japanese culture and history, while also bending the rules like the series does. You'll see a lot of historical references and real place names, and some little things like I mentioned earlier with the names and plural words.
So there you have it
Lots more detail in the next chapters.
Thanks for reading!