It’s two impressive first outings in a row, as we delve into Sagiri’s brutal past as a girl raised in the Yamada clan. She regales us with the time she first saw her father behead a man. It was a storyteller who wanted to be executed while telling his story. Her father’s cut was so swift and clean, he kept telling the story after he was beheaded.
From that point onward, Sagiri vowed to develop that same flawless strike as her dad, but from the first head she separated from a condemned and every one thereafter, she felt the weight of fear and doubt in her swing. This is visualized quite creepily as the tortured ghosts of those she killed not only appearing in the reflection of her blade, but groping her naked body in her mind’s eye.
In other words, the Sagiri we saw last week was the same Sagiri she needed Gabimaru to see: a Sagiri without weaknesses or flaws. The reality is, she was only hiding those things. She, along with nine other Yamada Asaemon executioners, flank the 30-odd condemned prisoners gathered for the trip to “Paradise.” They present the only person who ever returned alive, but he’s changed, flowers sprouted from sores on his body, and he seems locked in a kind of blissful fugue sta
When one of the prisoners says “f— this” and tries to peace out, he’s immediately beheaded, with the implication that anyone else who puts a toe out of line will meet the same fate. The shogun also introduces another wrinkle: the prisoners will have to “reduce their numbers” because there’s only so much room on the boat to the island and only ten Asaemons.
A huge, bloody brawl ensues that enables us to get a glimpse of some of the other prisoners. They’re a colorful bunch, including a svelte, deadly kunoichi, a giant, an a cannibalistic courtesan. But when three of them looking to escape target Sagiri as the weakest of the samurai, she tells her elder colleague that she’s got this.
Back when she was stoned by kids for simply being one of the Yamada clan, she didn’t simply hide and cower; she picked up a rock and prepared to fight back. So too here, she lops the three charging prisoners’ heads off one by one.
The only one to not move throughout all of this may just be the most dangerous of all the prisoners: Gabimaru the Hollow. He approaches the shogun and tells him this is fucked up, but there’s no defying his decision. When other prisoners approach him with the intent to kill, he lets out a big exaggerated sigh, like they are totally putting him out…then he gets to work.
While last week we saw what he’s capable of when he uses ninjutsu, here he simply uses his bare hands and feet to tear through people like they’re made out of papier-mache. Fountains of blood spew from his vicious strikes, and prisoners fall left and right without being able to so much as touch him.
But what really gets to Sagiri is what he said before engaging in combat: he’s not immune to the weight of the lives he’s taking; he’s resolved to carry it. The key to perfecting her swordsmanship isn’t becoming strong enough to eliminate all fear and doubt; that’s impossible. Instead, she has to bear those burdens.
By the time Gabimaru’s rampage is over, he is one of only ten prisoners remaining, equalling the number of Asaemon. They then board the ship, pass through curtains of fog, and eventually their destination emerges. It is hauntingly beautiful, lush and filled with life. Killing a few rowdy prisoners on a beach will clearly be one of the easier things both Gabimaru and Sagiri have had to do compared to what awaits them on that island.
Gabimaru and Sagiri make for a compelling lead duo, and these episodes do a stellar job of giving us their backstories and motivations. Neither are mindless or perfect tools for killing as they appear on the surface, but feel like real people who have simply been through some shit. We’ll see how the island (not to mention the other Asaemon and prisoners) affects their dynamic.