Sagiri awakens following the battle against the creatures of the island as Gabimaru, Yuzuriha, Senta, and Genji make camp and share the knowledge they’ve acquired so far. Genji admonishes Sagiri for her weakness, saying that she should return to the mainland and fulfill her role as a woman – to bear children to carry on her family’s legacy.
Elsewhere, Asaemon Tenza attempts to escape the island on a boat with his charge; the young Nurugai. When confronted by a graveyard of ships and vicious sea monsters, the pair retreat to the island, hoping to find another way to survive.
This episode was a real treat for me, giving a deeper look into Sagiri and introducing more complex members of our cast. It keeps up the tension while allowing for more introspection, and acknowledges some of the issues that have been nagging at me for the last few episodes. Considering how quickly death can come for seemingly core characters, I’ll take every opportunity to learn more about these desperate souls.
Sagiri takes center stage for the first half, when Asaemon Genji calls out her failure to act effectively in the last battle. This was something that had been on my mind as well, since we’d seen her be far more deadly and focused when she first met Gabimaru. The person we’ve seen since their departure from the mainland has been far more meek and ineffectual, so it’s not surprising that she would be singled out as a weak link. Genji acknowledges her skills as a swordswoman, but only as an executioner, not a warrior on the battlefield.
While Genji couches his criticism in valid concerns, his real issue with Sagiri is her gender. As a woman, she’s expected to marry and bear children to continue her family’s legacy, and being a samurai runs in opposition to that. She’s borne the resentment of her father and the cutting remarks of her compatriots, and despite her mastery, nothing will convince them that she can be a true warrior. Her desire to avoid suffering causes hesitation, which fuels the skepticism of those around her and her own self-doubt. It’s a vicious cycle she’s struggled with her whole life, and with that life now on the line, her ‘duty as a woman’ and her duty as a samurai are truly at odds.
In the face of all of this, Sagiri pulls herself together and vows that she will fulfill her orders as a samurai first and foremost. It’s great to see the show acknowledge the disconnect between how she was introduced and how she’s behaved since then; as someone constantly struggling against society’s expectations of them and their own will. It’s satisfying to see Sagiri stand up to the sexism she’s faced, and she’s ready to defy her family in order to live as she desires. Hopefully she survives long enough to rub it in their faces.
The other story we focus on in episode 5 is that of Tenza and Nurugai. Unlike the other criminals on the island, Nurugai is innocent who’s consumed by guilt for the role she inadvertently played in the slaughter of her people. Tenza’s thinking seems to be that if he could safeguard Nurugai long enough to secure the elixir, she could be pardoned and have a new chance at life.
Nurugai is one of the Sanka mountain folk; a group persecuted by the shogunate for not fitting within the bounds of feudal society. The Sanka appear to be among the Emishi (so-called barbarians), who were a collection of tribes and ethnic minorities with a complex, often adversarial relationship towards the Japanese majority.
In Nurugai’s case, the shogunate annihilated her village and condemned her as a criminal. Her survivor’s guilt makes the island a dangerous temptation. She could struggle and claim the elixir and start a new life, but her regret tempts her towards simply letting the island end it for her.
Luckily for Nurugai, Tenza seems to be a genuinely good person who wants to help her. He’s a refreshingly straightforward character who acts before he thinks, but knows his limitations and is glad to work with Nurugai to find allies and a safe way off the island. With death lurking all around, I’m not confident that both of them will make it, but I’ll hold out hope for now.
Thanks to its strong characterization and continued thrills, episode 5 was excellent all around. It built on everything we’ve learned about the cast and gaveus something of a breather before things get even more dangerous. There are new threats coming for everyone, so we’ll soon see how that plays out now that we’ve formed a party with such dysfunctional and dangerous members!
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