In Baby Cart at the River Styx, the concept of a warrior’s-honor is what drives the conflict between good and bad that is implicit in the genre. Unlike the social-based honor of Five Fingers of Death, the honor of Baby Cart at the River Styx, is based on the honorable qualities of a warrior, such as fighting to defend oneself and treating enemies with respect. Those who fight to defend, strike only when provoked, and treat their enemies with honor are considered “good guys”; on the other hand, those who rely on underhanded surprise tactics, attack without provocation, and do not treat their opponents with honor are considered the “bad guys.” The protagonist, Ogami Itto, is considered to be “good” because he never attacks without provocation, and honors his opponents. Likewise, even though Itto is an assassin for hire, an occupation portrayed negatively in Five Fingers of Death, he is not necessarily a bad person; his profession is irrelevant in determining whether he is “good” or “bad”. When watching combat scenes involving Itto, his evident respect for opponents and refusal to use underhanded sneak attacks, ultimately demonstrate that, despite his status as an assassin, he is a “good guy”.
Unlike Itto, the antagonists of Baby Cart at the River Styx, such as the leaders of the Akashi Yagyu clan, the Kurokura clan, and the Hidari brothers, are defined as either truly “good” or “bad” based on how they fight. The Akashi Yagyu clanswomen, when fighting Itto, attack preemptively and without honor for him as an opponent; when they are cut down the viewer can tell that they are “bad” based on their un-honorable fighting style. The same can be said for the Kurokawa clansmen, whose leader kidnaps Itto’s son, Daigoro, in an attempt to defeat him without having to face him. These underhanded tactics in combat signify that these characters are truly “bad” in comparison to the honorable Ogami Itto. For other characters, such as the head of the Akashi Yagyu clan and the Hidari brother, their combat styles are especially important in determining whether or not they are truly “good” or “bad”. The head of the Akashi Yagyu clan, unlike her subordinates, directly approaches Itto when challenging him to combat. In addition, while she has several chances to slay him while he is helpless, she refrains from doing so. Examining her honor as a warrior, the viewer sees that she is not “bad” just because she is an antagonist; rather, her honor in combat with Itto suggests that she is misunderstood. Similarly, the conflict between Itto and the Hidari brothers, externalizes the inner struggle between good and bad that is present in the martial arts genre. When Itto initially encounters the brothers, they are on a ship and being attacked by a multitude of men. Waiting to be attacked, the brothers act in self defense and only attack because they are provoked. No matter how gruesome their style on conflict is, they are clearly not without honor. Similarly, when they are in the hull of the ship with Itto and his son, they know who he is but refrain from attacking, showing that they honor him as an opponent. These characteristics also reveal that while the brothers are antagonists, they may not entirely be “bad”. Ultimately, the warrior-based code of honor found in Baby Cart at the River Styx, when coupled with the dramatized and externalized conflict of the Martial Arts genre, can reveal whether or not a character is “good” or “bad.”
Unable to defeat Itto in direct combat, the Kurokawa clan attempt to force Itto to submit by luring his son Daigoro away from him and using him as collateral. Itto appears to initially submit to the clan’s demands and meets the leader face to face, who has Daigoro dangling above a well. When the leader threatens to release Daigoro into the well, Itto calmly responds that he and his son have prepared for this day, and that he will not submit to their demands. Itto says that he will submit to fate if necessary, but he will not bow down and will fight to the best of his ability to save his son. This is a very personal battle, a battle of opposing moral sides as much as one of clashing steel. The lack of intense and flashy choreography allows more focus on the people, the dueling emotions and morals; it forgoes any other distractions. Despite the distance between the opposing sides, most of this scene is shot with close-ups, also allowing for a very personal scene. Perhaps the most interesting part of this scene is the way that it depicts power. One would assume that in a kidnapping situation, the kidnappers would have control and power over the kidnapped, but here it doesn’t work like that; the power balance is inverted with Itto and Daigoro in power despite the circumstances. The leader of the ninja clan threatens to drop Daigoro in a well, but Daigoro bites him and treats it like a joke. Itto also proclaims that he and his son have long prepared for the day when Daigoro might be used as bait, thus stripping any power away from the ninja clan’s ruse. Having Daigoro test the depth of the well also gives Itto the upper hand.