One day, a young girl named Fuu encounters two very different warriors, Mugen and Jin. Mugen is a loud-mouthed, unorthodox fighter from the Ryukyu Islands, whereas Jin is a quiet yet deadly samurai. Despite the fact that they both have sworn to kill one another, the two form an unlikely team to help Fuu track down a mysterious samurai who smells of sunflowers…
summary by Gatts
Highs: Fantastic style; great designs and action
Lows:Underdeveloped characters; nothing really happens
After the smash-hit success of 1998’s Cowboy Bebop, many anime fans had very high hopes for director Watanabe Shinichiro’s next project. Much like his previous work, Samurai Champloo is a very stylish and episodic series that follows the adventures of three unlikely companions as they travel across Japan. While the series succeeds on many levels, there are a few major shortcomings that prevent it from becoming a modern classic.
From a stylistic standpoint, Watanabe has once again managed to create a tremendously unique and stylish world. The series blends modern hip-hop culture with Edo period Japan. Combining graffiti tagging and beatboxing with samurai is certainly an unusual combination, but it works surprisingly well and creates an atmosphere unlike that of any other anime. This atmosphere permeates all aspects of the series from the music to the character designs. Even the beautifully choreographed action scenes feature a hip-hop influence with many fights borrowing elements from breakdancing. The presentation is impeccable with great designs, terrific animation and a fantastic style.
While the series’ style is undeniable, the story and characters fall quite short of the mark. In one of the final episodes, the three protagonists sit around a fire talk about how they don’t really know anything about one another despite having traveled together over the course of the series. This is the main problem with Samurai Champloo; the characters lack any real substance. Sure, they are fun people with cool designs, but there isn’t any reason to care. The last few episodes try to explain a bit more about their pasts, but it was too little and far too late in the series to have any meaningful impact. The entire ending feels rushed and incomplete with the villains showing up to confront the heroes, but since there is no development prior to these conflicts, it ends up being horribly anticlimactic.
Samurai Champloo is one of those series that I really wanted to love, but it unfortunately never lives up to its potential. In many ways this is a terrific anime; the animation, action and overall style are all superb. However, the plot and characters leave a lot to be desired. Still, Samurai Champloo is an enjoyable anime to watch, but its shortcomings keep it from being anything more than just a fun time.
Highs: Lots of entertaining adventures and action scenes; Who’s Theme
Lows: Episodic; lacks much in the way of content
With a name like Watanabe Shinichiro, you would hope it’d be good. I’m beginning to dread anime whose creators rely upon their past accolades rather than the series’ merits in order to sell a particular anime. Samurai Champloo is a prime example: good, yet nowhere near its potential.
The nature of this series allows us to follow Mugen, Jin and Fuu as they travel throughout 19th century Japan. The first episode offers quite a bit of tasty action scenes and fun, but no doubt, the rest of the anime has a lot more fun to offer. Most episodes feature both Mugen and Jin getting into a lot of hair-raising fights, with the best being found in the latter half of the series. However, every episode throws the wandering trio into new situations, and despite a “Bad Guy of the Week” rut, they’re still fun to watch. Additionally, the soundtrack is pretty solid, but I think that Who’s Theme sung by MINMI sticks out. It’s only played at the end of episode 12, but listening to it while watching the credits is simply mesmerizing and melted me no matter how many times I saw it.
Much like Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is episodic. In some anime, that can be good, but it ties in with my second point: not a lot of content. You see, traveling all over Japan could be a very enriching experience if running into certain people and situations gave us a way to learn more about the protagonists and/or history, and there doesn’t have to be a specific storyline which needs to be followed. However, being episodic just gives an excuse for the series to romp around during each episode, thus wasting time and not allowing us any avenues for emotional connection… which would’ve been a bit helpful for the final three episodes. Or to put it another way: when the anime came back from a break in January 2005 with the final nine episodes, Fuu asks Jin to summarize everything that’s happened in the first 17. He says all of the information revealed in episode 1 because nothing else has happened afterwards.
Samurai Champloo‘s unlikely marriage of swordplay and hip hop makes it stand out with ease, but it doesn’t stand above too many action anime. As fun as it may be, it’s still mildly disappointing yet worth checking out at least once.