Character Analysis – Jun/ko

So, the review for book 3 of the Samurai of Hyuga series is still under work, and should hopefully be finished next week. But in the meantime, I wanted to sort of take some time to look at everyone’s favourite sociopath, Jun/ko. This whole analysis started off as a tangent on why the golden-eyed Ronin makes an interesting foil to the main character, but I realized there’s a quite a bit to talk about, and thus we’d probably all be better off if I separated it from the main article.

I’ll warn right off the bat that this will contain spoilers for book 3 (which kind of feels like we’re doing these uploads out of order, but whatever), so I’d advised that you clear the latest entry in the series before going on ahead.

Also, we will (briefly) touch on some pretty distressing stuff, namely non-consensual sexual stuff between a parent and child. Reader discretion is advised.

With that out of the way, hug your kid mages close, fear for the life of your friends, try to not lose your katana, and let’s take a look at Jun/ko.

[For simplicity sake, we’ll refer to Jun/ko with ‘they/them/their/etc.’ since their gender is determined by the player’s input. Also, any time we refer to the main character/player character of the games, we’ll use a capitalised Ronin to make that clear.]

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Jun/ko’s past isn’t immediately revealed in the series, and indeed it’ll be a while before the player gets the full picture, but their back story is certainly tied tight with our Ronin’s. Jun/ko was the only other student that learned the Jigoku Itto-Ryo from the old sword-master Gensai, and was by far the more eager student. However, between the rigorous training both pupil’s received, Jun/ko started to form a attachment to everyone’s favourite Ronin, one that quickly became pretty…physical. While the exact details of the relationship is ambiguous, it’s clear that even at this early stage that Jun/ko’s relationship with the Ronin has elements of their possessive nature, though at the time the Ronin didn’t really mind the extra attention. It’s around this time that Jun/ko begins to really master the Jigoku Itto-Ryo, though oddly enough the Ronin is actually the current candidate to become Gensai’s heir, not Jun/ko. Even more oddly is that Jun/ko doesn’t seem to mind, or at least their obsession with the Ronin isn’t affected by it. Regardless of how it was progressing, however, the relationship had no chance of surviving when the Ronin stabbed Gensai (almost literally) in the back and disappeared into the night with the old man’s katana. It’s implied that this betrayal was what finally caused Jun/ko to snap, and the years of abusing the Jigoku Itto-Ryo’s power since then has done little to help matters.

There is another, far more grim part of Jun/ko’s backstory that’s important to talk about, but we’ll hold off for now, since there’s points of about the connection between Jun/ko and the Ronin that’s interesting enough to look at first. For example, the fact that the bond between the two is one of the few things about the Ronin that can’t be changed is a pretty intriguing. While how your Ronin feels about the whole thing does have some degree of customisation, it’s interesting that the fact that they had a relationship is absolutely set in stone. While this ties into the overall theme that you can’t change the past, merely try and make up for it (a pretty massive part of the Ronin’s character arch), the fact that it’s explicitly a romantic* relationship seems like a very deliberate choice. For one, it creates an immediate connection between the two characters; while there are other ways that you could create a scenario similar to this, saying they’re ex-lovers is often going to be enough to give most players a good idea of what they’re in for. For another, it might explain why both the Ronin and Jun/ko seem to be so fixated on each other. While both clearly have a lot of experience on the physical side of a relationship (this is especially true of a perverted Ronin), it seems to be implied that this is the one and only relationship either side with a person of their own age. Considering said relationship was defined by Jun/ko’s controlling nature and that it clearly relied heavily on sexual contact, it’s no wonder that the Ronin kind of struggles to connect to others: they only really have the experience of this one instance to fall back, and thus has some trouble opening up to the party of misfits that they gather around them.

* Well, we’re stretching the definition of “romantic,” but you get my point.

Of course, it’s not just the relationship with the Ronin that affected Jun/ko’s character, unfortunately for poor sod. Now we get to the uncomfortable stuff, namely Jun/ko’s past before they learned the Jigoku Itto-Ryo. Namely, their past of being sexually abused by their father. Bear with me as we go forward, because I’m stepping as lightly as I’m physically able.

The fact that Jun/ko suffered such a horrible stage in their life might actually do a lot to explain why they’ve allowed themselves to be swallowed so completely by the Jigoku Itto-Ryo, and why they could even learn it in the first place. While the exact nature of the style is still pretty enigmatic (it’s still pretty muddied if the style is supernatural in origin, or it merely ‘awakens’ something in the user), there are a couple of clear facts that we can make out:
1: Using the style causes the wielder to enter a state where they’re nearly unstoppable in combat, but at the cost of having a nearly constant blood-thirst, even when not using the style.
2: There are differing levels of the style; Jun/ko has mastered the “true” form of the style, and thus can single-handled destroy an entire battalion of elite samurai.
3: (And most importantly) To even learn the style to begin with, the pupil must have experienced some kind of deeply affecting trauma. The why of this rule isn’t clear, but since the Jigoku Itto-Ryo requires a person to “forget” themselves, it’s likely that the trauma helps to create a state of mind where one would want to forget themselves.

The third fact is what I’m focusing on. Jun/ko, after suffering under their father, experienced the kind of trauma that allows one to learn the style, and took to the teachings with gusto. Their enthusiasm might have been born out of the same trauma, now that I think of it. To a person that’s been put into a position that so completely robs them of power and control, it would be highly attractive to learn a fighting style that makes them completely unstoppable. In Jun/ko’s mind, it would have seemed like any cost would have been worthwhile if it meant they would never be put into such a position again. This might also be a contributing factor to why Jun/ko clings to the Ronin so much: to Jun/ko, the Ronin represents a stage in their life when they had complete control, and thus a time when they were safe and content. This is also likely why, now insane thanks to repeatedly using the Jigoku Itto-Ryo, they’ve become murderously possessive of the Ronin  during the present timeline of the games.

This also ties into another point, namely that Jun/ko’s relationship with the swordsmaster Gensai was probably defined by their past relationship to their father. Gensai, the old warrior that taught the Jigoku Itto-Ryo to both Jun/ko and the Ronin, was a strict teacher and clearly displayed few outwards signs of affection for his pupils. Despite that, Jun/ko came to love the man like a father, most likely since they had little to no love for their actual father. To Jun/ko, it must have seemed like Gensai had swooped in to help them for one of the bleakest moments of their life, and to teach them a fighting style that would stop them from being put into such a position in the future. Jun/ko’s devotion to the old man extends even beyond the guy’s own life, since they seems enraged that the Ronin is ‘wasting’ the teachings they both received. Though, I imagine that’s not the only thing about the Ronin’s past with Gensai that enrages Jun/ko, considering the Ronin was the one who actually killed their master. Considering that both the Ronin and Gensai were the two most important people in their life, it’s no wonder that Jun/ko seems to be caught between wanting the Ronin alive and wanting the Ronin dead, though I imagine the years of over-using the Jigoku Itto-Ryo hasn’t helped in that regard.

Of course, it’s not just Jun/ko’s past that’s important, since their actions in the present are a huge part of the overall narrative of the entire series. Thankfully, the way Jun/ko is used in the Samurai of Hyuga story is pretty much pitch perfect. In a practical sense, they form a HUGE continuous threat: each book comes with its own demon that acts as, for lack of a better word, the ‘boss’ of that book. They are the challenge that needs to be overcome to get to the next leg of the journey, and each comes with their own set of challenges and themes. The only problem with such a set up is that we don’t really get to spend too much time with each demon, since they only have the shelf life for one (maybe one and quarter) book each. Jun/ko provides the reader with a threat they are much more familiar with, since they’ve been making stalking the main characters since the very first leg of the journey, and thus we have a lot of time to learn about their character. This also creates a huge amount of threat, since it’s clear in every instance that Jun/ko is one thing that the main character fears, and for good reason. Jun/ko seems to be the better fighter between the two, uses the Jigoku Itto-Ryo far too frequently, and has made clear that they won’t stop hunting the main character until the Ronin is either once again in love with them or dead (which ever comes first). To put it simply, Jun/ko is an end-boss that is actively hunting you, and has no qualms about threatening and maiming your friends to get to you.

One particular action that Jun/ko takes against the Ronin that actually speaks volumes about the two of them is their choice to steal the katana that the Ronin themselves stole from Gensai. It’s already a pretty symbolic kick to the teeth because, even to a wandering ronin, a sword in this period is something a status symbol and fairly important to the wielder. Admittedly, to a washed up, half-drunk sword-for-hire the only status it’s displaying is a strong “don’t screw with me,” but even then it’s definitely a pretty insulting action. However, the real importance lies in two points: A) the fact that the sword used to the personal weapon of the Ronin and Jun/ko’s teacher means this is a very personal course of action. The sword was something that connected the Ronin to their past, something they feel pretty testy about, and Jun/ko stealing it away shows how overmatched the Ronin is compared to their old lover. B) The fact that Jun/ko purposely leaves their own sword behind is an exceptionally cruel mercy. Since swords aren’t easy to come by, the Ronin is forced to used Jun/ko’s super worn and partly bust katana, though the practical concerns aren’t as bad the symbolic ones. When asked why the hell Jun/ko would leave behind a relatively functioning sword in a day where getting one is extremely difficult, the Ronin already has a good idea: Jun/ko wants the Ronin to think about them every time that blade is pulled out of its sheath. And unfortunately the Ronin proves the theory right; unless it’s in the heat of battle or after the Ronin loses their memories, the narration of the books almost exclusively refers to the sword as “Jun/ko’s katana.” It’s this subtle, almost constant reminder that the Ronin got their ass handed pretty squarely to them that connects to the pretty looming threat that Jun/ko represents.

As one final note on the manner, there is a kind of…sexual connotation to the swords as well. Jun/ko cradles the stolen katana as close to their body as possible, practically shivering at the fact they can smell the Ronin on the blade’s handle. It’s interesting that Jun/ko seems to identify the sword as belonging to the Ronin more than an artefact that used to belong to their teacher; perhaps shows the depths of their obsession. Even the Ronin can get into the swing of things, if sufficiently perverted enough. What at first starts as just teasing Toshie/o kind of gets out of hand when they actually start getting lost in their own memories of Jun/ko, though thankfully they refrain from practically making out with the sword. In any case, it’s clear that the effect of stealing the Ronin’s sword goes beyond just leaving them a slightly less good sword as their only weapon, and that getting the sword back is going to be a trail that the Ronin can’t put off forever.

More than just the physical threat, though, Jun/ko serves an important role, namely as a direct foil to the main character. Jun/ko shares more than just a past with the Ronin, they also share a good number of character traits. Both are masterful fighters, but waste their talents on selfish pursuits. Both have wills of iron, and yet both have bad vices that they cling to (alcohol for the Ronin, smoking for Jun/ko). Both have traumatic pasts, and such events have followed them to present, causing them to fall into disastrous emotional ruts that have hampered them almost every step of the way. For all these similarities, however, it’s the differences that stand out so much more clearly: the Ronin holds at least some regret over how much blood they’ve spilled over the years, and doesn’t hide away the fact that they genuinely feel beyond redemption. Jun/ko couldn’t care any less about the people they’ve hurt, and indeed don’t care how many have to die just to satisfy their own goals. The Ronin is not only willing to at least try and make up for their past, but is also already making great strides towards it by helping the Emperor and by trying to protecting the party’s own kid mage. Jun/ko is clinging to the past so tightly that they feel like they’re perfectly justified in “punishing” the Ronin for daring to deviate from Jun/ko’s own perfect vision for how the world should be. Most tellingly of all, the Ronin has (almost by accident) surrounded themselves with friends and people they come to care about, a fact that proves there’s more to the poor git than just their own bloody past and their inner turmoil. Jun/ko, meanwhile, remains completely and utter obsessed with just one person: the Ronin. Jun/ko is otherwise completely alone in the world, and depressingly doesn’t even seem to realise it. As far as Jun/ko is concerned, as long as there’s a chance the Ronin will come back, then life is worth living, a fact that is as tragic as it is disturbing.

The Ronin is already a pretty compelling character, since they’re a genuinely flawed individual that’s just hoping that that even they aren’t beyond making up for their own mistakes. However, putting Jun/ko right next to them to act as a foil causes such a sharp contrast that it makes an already engaging character much more so. Jun/ko represents everything the Ronin once was, and indeed could still be, and the fact that Ronin can’t escape Jun/ko and their own attraction to Jun/ko creates a practical situation where we can see the conflict that still raging in our main character.

It’s important to note that Jun/ko’s role in the story is far from over. Like we said before, they’re practically an end-boss character that is actively hunting the main party, and has made their cruel designs pretty clear at this point. In addition, Jun/ko is connected to the theme that you can’t simply run from your past forever, and indeed is the last surviving person from the Ronin’s past. Until they’re conflict is settled once and for all, no one is going put this era of their lives to rest. No matter how else the story plays out, and no matter what else happens, it’s clear that the Ronin isn’t walking away from this journey without one final showdown with Jun/ko.

It’s kind of hard to predicate exactly where Jun/ko’s character will eventually end, however, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the player had to ultimately decide their fate. Does the Ronin, likely themselves a changed person compared to the start of their journey, eventually decide that even a person as twisted as Jun/ko can be saved? Or is Jun/ko like all the other demons they’ve encountered: ultimately too poisonous and destructive to those around them, and the only fate that awaits them is at the edge of a blade?

Until the final books are released, Jun/ko will remain the series most prominent antagonist, and considering what a fascinating character they are, we can be glad for it. I’m sure the Ronin would really prefer they weren’t, but ehhh….

Thanks for stopping by! Join us next week, as we cover the next leg of the journey in book 3. I sure hope you guys are up for a murder mystery…

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