Last week’s rundown of all ten convicts and all ten Yamada Asaemon executioners was a little intimidating, and had me worried the runtime would be too split between characters, but we got a satisfying ratio – mostly Gabimaru and Sagiri with a nice sprinkling of the other pairs.
No sooner do they leave the boat (never get off the boat) than Gabimaru is kvetching about his binds. Sagiri puts her blade to his throat and makes something nice and sparkling clear: they’re not friends or allies, she’s his executioner, and he will obey the rules. I love his nonhalant sigh of “whatever”.
No sooner are the binds back on him than he’s walloped by a giant ball-and-chain launched from a fellow convict, Twisted Keiun. The former priest collects weapons, and the immortal Gabimaru is the perfect canvas upon which to test them. As for his Asaemon minder Kisho, he couldn’t be bothered to fight with Keiun about keeping his hands bound.
You get the sense that in Sagiri Gabimaru is with the most hardass and rules-obsessed of the executioners, when the rules of society never mattered anyway to the other convicts, on an island where there may be no rules whatsoever. In any case, Gabimaru makes relatively quick work of Keiun, and Kisho is free to head home and take a bath.
Before he does, he identifies Sagiri as the lowest ranked Asaemon, apparently not just due to her age, gender, or inexperience, but because she’s so damn rigid and by-the-book. Their duty isn’t to follow every one of the Shogun’s rules to the letter, but to accomplish their top priority: the Elixir of Life. If they have to bend or break a few rules to get it, it’s better than following them and failing.
Kisho also warns Sagiri both of Gabimaru and the other convicts, which is where the nice sprinkling comes in. The eyepatched Eizen-dono, who I assumed was one of the higher-ranked Asaemon, watches his sword shatter against the arm of his titanic convict Rokurota, and meets a sticky end.
There’s also a nice switcheroo where it seem like the courtesan will successfully seduce and devour her Asaemon, but she ends up losing her head. We got a decent, restrained sampling of these characters, heightening the danger and establishing them people to keep an eye on, without detracting from the Gabimari-Sagiri focus.
Kisho also mentions that nothing is set in stone here: this mission will determine the next leader Yamada clan (and we know it won’t be Eizen), while messengers have already been sent to Iwagakure to recruit more ninja to the cause should this group fail. It’s upon hearing this last piece of news that Gabimaru suddenly pulls a sword on Sagiri as soon as Kisho is gone.
Gabimaru has made clear his priority is to be reunited with his wife. He can’t do that if they fail, or if the Iwagakure arrive on the island, and he believes Sagiri will be a hindrance, so he tries to kill her. She, in turn, tries to kill him too, not just because he’s breaking the rules, but because he’s simply too dangerous to be kept alive.
But here’s the thing: despite numerous opportunities, neither of them are able to kill the other. The source of their hesitation is their emotions. Gabimaru may claim to be hollow, and that’s how he was raised. The village chief killed his parents when they requested to leave the village after Gabimaru was born.
The chief, the first to take the elixir and become immortal, believes emotions to be a weakness that keeps you from protecting that which is most precious to you. For Gabimaru, that’s his wife Yui, who ironically brought Gabimaru’s emotions back out, where he had to face them and be true to them, not deny or reject them as the chief maintained.
Doing so, Yui told him, is true courage—and he believed her. Because she’s 100% correct that Gabimaru can’t possibly be “hollow” when he blushes so much when she kisses him!
Sagiri and Gabimaru have the same issue, as they’ve become weaker not by failing to repress their emotions, but trying to do so. It’s ultimately self-defeating, and it’s why even though Sagiri is on her back and Gabimaru has his blade to her throat, his hand is stayed by an ethereal Yui. While it’s not really Yui, it represents his love for her, and his desire to live by her teachings.
Sagiri can sense Gabimaru won’t kill her, even if she can’t see Yui. She realizes that his harsh upbringing led him astray by insisting he was a hollow monster, when deep down he’s a human being with the same emotions she has. She sees him enduring the weight every time he uses his ridiculous killing skills.
When he starts to tear up and say if he’s this weak he’ll never be able to protect Yui, Sagiri tells him that’s not weakness, but the seed of strength—one that needs to be nurtured and cultivated. She speaks from experience, since observing him help her stop averting her gaze. As she slides the scabbard onto Gabimaru’s sword, she decides she’s willing to help him reclaim his life. If he can do so, it means there’s hope for anybody.
It’s a beautiful, cathartic ending to what felt like the culmination of a 1-2-3 punch of an introductory character arc that established the two of them. They’ve come out the other side still perhaps not quite friends nor allies, but as two people who understand each other, and more importantly who don’t want to kill one another. Whatever comes for them, they’ll face it together.
The episode actually could have ended there, but I’m glad it didn’t, as this “uncanny paradise” immediately rears its ugly head. It starts with a butterfly floats over the hand of Tamiya Gantetsusai, but he notices the insect has a human face and a stinger. He slices off his hand without hesitation, and flowers immediately sprout from it.
From there it’s game on, as swarms of butterflies circle above, creepy giant centipedes with human fingers as manibles twist about the ground, and a gargantuan monster with a priest’s staff rises from the treeline. Gabimaru and Sagiri’s little coming-to-Jesus moment is interrupted by…a fish dude. These creatures are legit weird and unsettling, and now that I’m so firmly on the side of both Gabimaru and Sagiri, I very much want to watch them kick some fish dude ass.