So, following the recent reviews we put out for both book 2 and book 3 of the Samurai of Hyuga series, I thought it’d only be proper to follow up with our usual spoiler talks. Normally, we’d only do a spoiler talk for something that we’d fully and definitely completed, but seeing as the series isn’t going to be finished for a while, I thought it would be best to do an interim spoiler talk for the first three books, and then we’ll probably do a second one for the next set of books.
As the name implies we be talking openly about any and all spoilers, in particular a lot of specific stuff from book 3. Due to the nature of an interactive adventure, having even a few spoilers can be kind of detrimental to the enjoyment of the work, so I’d once again advise that if you’re interested in it that you pick up the series before reading through this.
In any case, let’s get ready to teach some hopeless numptys, say goodbye to old friends, abandon the party, and talk some spoilers.
Right, so let’s talk about book 3’s ending, because god damn. It feels like every major event of that ending was made specifically to resemble a hardy punch straight to my heart:
We manage to succeed in our ultimate goal, and slay the demon-warlord, thus saving both the surrounding villages and uncountable lives from the inevitable war he was brewing up. The only problem is that this came at great cost to the party, and particularly the Ronin. Masashi/mi and Toshie/io’s plans to soften the Ronin’s inner turmoil fails and the sword-for-hire grows infinitely more distant, nearly all the students suffer in some way (Ige straight up dies no matter what), and Hatch has to pull an act to control the army proving himself once and for all the biggest bro around. The Ronin suffers the worst: they now realize that, no matter how they want it, Junk/ko is clearly an integral part of them, and that Jigoku Itto-Ryo is something that they define themselves with much more than realized.
This ending is god-damn heartbreaking. While the previous books definitely didn’t end cleanly (both left the party at a cliff-hanger that threatened to kill at least one of the main characters), we find ourselves in an odd situation where even a secure victory feels like it had a high cost. While we are fulfilling the prophecy and making the land a much safer place to live, it’s caused a lot of internal pain on the part of the Ronin, mostly because the adventure is doing a lot to hurt the party. To the Ronin, who’s spent years avoiding forming close bonds with people, this whole adventure must feel like one big moment of being proven right: despite doing everything in their power, the Ronin’s friends and loved ones continue to suffer for simply being around them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break down all these points, bit by bit.
In particular, let’s talk about the whole ‘loss my memory,’ and more specifically the implications. The clearest part of it is that, ultimately, the Ronin would be a hell of a lot happier if Jun/ko didn’t have an influence on their life. Toshie/io directly states that after the memory loss, they stood much more relaxed, smiling both more often and with much kinder eyes. While they still have the kind of bitterness and issues with relationships that their years as a hired killer would expect, the fact that simply forgetting Jun/ko existed made their much more at peace is telling. It does mean that their relationship with Jun/ko is even more complicated, however: despite it being pretty clear how much of negative impact their ex-lover had, the Ronin admits in book 2 that it’s hard to let that relationship go. Even after all the years and all the time to process just how damaging that dependence on Jun/ko has made them, the Ronin is clearly still dealing with that part of their life. It does imply that the two must have been really dependent on each other to get through the early parts of their lives.
The most important part, however, is the fact that the Ronin became completely unable to use the Jigoku Itto-Ryo. Note that I say ‘use;’ the memory wipe didn’t get rid of the fighting style itself, since the Ronin can remember enough to be distressed when they can’t fight to their capacity anymore. Somehow, removing the memory of Jun/ko rendered the style ineffective, which opens up a lot of questions and worrying implications. For one, does that mean that it’s not enough to just experience a horrible trauma to activate the style? The conversation with the “ghost” of Gensai might have been because of a tricky fox-spirit, but it seems to be implied that the info was accurate: the style requires the user to experience some kind of traumatic event in order to even begin learning the style. But the fact that the Ronin became completely unable to use the style after they lose the memory of Jun/ko might indicate that maybe there has to be some other component to the Jigoku Itto-Ryo. Or alternatively the Ronin so heavily relates Jun/ko with what they learned when training in the style that just by removing their ex-lover from the equation, it completely cripples the Ronin’s fighting ability? That, if anything, is an even grimmer implication.
Next up, let’s take a look Hatch. The guy kind of goes through something of a soul-searching episode in book 3: it starts off as mainly straightening up his act, but ends with the poor guy doing a kind of non-fatal sacrificing of himself in order to cover for the Ronin. It begins really, really small, and almost innocently. He simply takes a little time to reflect on his past place in the group (mostly focusing on the Ronin and Momoko), and how he’s been contributing the group. Oh, and grows a beard, which is always good. However, his thinking starts to go beyond just the group. He begins to think of where exactly he is in a wider context, basically pondering where the hell he’s going with all this: he keeps needing to be rescued, and his fighting prowess feels pretty useless when the Ronin clearly outclasses any need for an additional fighter. Just as he’s pondering this, his spirit animal appears, and tells him he needs to learn “how to use a sword,” and that the Ronin must teach him. We’ll learn later that this is kind of tricky wording, but right now he just wants to make himself useful, and thus asks to be taught. During all this, they make their way to the village, and Hatch runs into a rather fetching beauty who seems to reciprocate his feelings, which I’m sure makes a nice change. Unfortunately, life, and completely amoral samurai, are not kind.
Hatch, after the horrible crap that happens that village girl, comes to question what exactly is a samurai? It can’t be these thugs that make up this warlords army, but he likewise can’t see himself becoming one, since he can no longer wield a blade or fight properly. The Ronin gives him an answer, and not matter which you pick, the overall message is the same: a samurai isn’t defined by the armour they wear, the sword they wield, or even their status. A real samurai is someone who can protect the innocent who can’t protect themselves, whether this means drawing a sword or not. Indeed, this is where his spirit animal’s words come in: Hatch doesn’t need to be taught how to wield a sword, just to how to ‘use’ a sheathed one. And thus Hatch makes the ultimate sacrifice. He takes the place of the now fallen warlord, and ensures that that the sword sheathed at both his and his new armies’ side never has to be drawn. Obviously this isn’t the only thing that defines a samurai, but it is the one part that Hatch needed to be told of, since this would inspire the courage that leads to him taking the place of the now dead warlord. It’s interesting that the Ronin is the one to tell him this, since the whole series is kind of a drawn out exercise in moulding the Ronin into a warrior that more closely resembles a samurai as defined by bushido, but maybe that’s good indicator that even the Ronin has already taken a few steps in the right direction. Indeed, the whole part of the book where the Ronin teaches a few misfits how to fight in order to help an otherwise defenceless town shows that our main lead might have already been starting to take some cues from old samurai ideas. Just makes the fact they throw it all away at end all the worse…
Speaking of throwing precious things to the side, let’s talk about Masashi/mi. In one way, the kid mage’s relationship with the Ronin is exceedingly simple: Masa has something of a crush on their ‘bodyguard,’ but their pride stops them from fully admitting that fact. Likewise, the Ronin feels a protective instinct for their younger charge, but their worry about their bloody past stops them from full admitting that fact. This awkward balance is kept in check by both parties both committing to never being fully honest, but the duo work well as a pair because they offer what the other lacks, in addition to balancing each other out in pure-hearted goodness and more grounded scepticism.
It’s a really entertaining dynamic, and these three books do a lot to sell the relationship the two have. It easy to share the Ronin’s somewhat conflicted desire of keeping their charge safe from both the physical dangers and also from losing the wide-eyed innocence, despite the fact that the Ronin acknowledges that latter will inevitably be lost. Whether this is connected to the accusation that Jun/ko laid into the Ronin of having a “fetish” for innocence is a pretty interesting question: while I doubt the Ronin has any kind of attraction to the kid mage (they legit seem to be completely blind to the fact that the poor girl/boy is really crushing on them), even a “Loner” Ronin has several moments where it’s clear that the Masashi/mi has become important to them. Heartbreakingly, I think the accusation might have some water. The Ronin might indeed be drawn to the naïve innocence that they never got to experience, and that might indeed contribute to how close they feel to Masashi/mi. Of course, all of this might be moot, since the Ronin was actively trying to distance themselves from their charge at the end of the third book. With Masashi/mi reunited with their sister, the Ronin bitter sweetly remarks that Masashi/mi is finally safe, and thus can be safely left behind. For all of their bonding, and for all the times that the mage-in-training has shown just much the Ronin means, the sword-for-hire can’t escape the simple fact that just being around them is a danger. Despite how much it hurts to admit, I can’t deny that the Ronin has a point, and that whatever path their aiming for is likely no place to be dragging their charge with them. I’m sure that the two will probably be reunited in the future, since Masashi/mi is extremely integral to the Ronin’s own character development, but standing here at the end of book 3 and looking out into the uncertainty that is book 4, it definitely feels far away.
As one final point, a really unexpected character that really stole the spotlight in book 3 was the last person I expected to see again, Nishi. After the criminal got sidelined by the Ronin back in book 1 I honestly thought that had been the last we would see of her, or if she did show up it would be as a minor antagonist. Instead, she becomes kind of a secondary party member, and oddly kind of fits pretty well into the party dynamic. Masashi/mi quickly makes friends with her (I’m starting to wonder if they just have a drive to befriend career criminals), she’s got some lust thing going to Hatch, and her rough attitude makes some pretty funny interactions with the wholly un-intimidated Ronin. Hell, she even shows that she has a heart under all that foul language and violence, demanding that the Ronin ensure that that they remain the only kill-crazy duo on the their team. Considering she shares the trait of a bloody past, but is willing to work with the Ronin (after a bit of punch up, naturally), it would be interesting if she showed up again in future instalments.
But that’s thoughts for another time. With the Ronin exiting both the party and kind of the adventure, with the past firmly on their mind, the next couple of steps on this quest are going to be one hell of doozy. Whatever the Ronin is ‘going back’ to, it almost certainly isn’t good, and I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be more than just a physical trial. While they might have the Jigoku Itto-Ryo once again under their control, and their will remains stead fast, I get the feeling that just being the toughest ronin around isn’t going to cut it…
[Thanks for stopping by! Like I warned before, there probably won’t be an update next week due to several elements beyond anyone’s control around that week. With any luck, we’ll be back to normal afterwards, however.]