Of all the general themes in anime, one of the most thoroughly overdone ones is the “with friends, we shall prevail” motif. In these, the protagonist can only overcome some seemingly insurmountable task with the help of his or her group of friends. Even those who haven’t seen much anime can probably name at least one series that does this; they’re literally everywhere.
One trait that sets Shinichiro Watanabe’s work apart is his refusal to accept this Japanese conformity. In his anime, all of the characters define themselves by their individuality, fighting for themselves and ONLY themselves in a vast and lonely world. In Cowboy Bebop, the characters were thrown together by chance and stayed together only as long as convenience allowed. Although the anime was for the most part an action comedy, even the hilarious moments were subdued by this profoundly forlorn undercurrent of internal solitude.
Samurai Champloo has a very similar feel; in the series, three misfits who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other are thrown together by coincidental events. The characters then proceed to engage in a variety of episodic escapades, finally culminating in a suitably climactic and suspenseful conclusion. This basic plot structure, combined with Watanabe’s trademark freeform style, makes it easy to draw comparisons between the two works, despite the radically different settings. However, something that most people have not mentioned is that the anime are also subtly different. In the end of Cowboy Bebop, the characters all drew even more inward than they were in the beginning, as the ephemeral nature of life swept them into their own personal dreams. As their desire for money became more and more faint, so did their need to interact with the rest of the crew.
In Samurai Champloo, however, the characters are clearly not together for mere convenience; on the contrary, they almost constantly complain about the troubles incurred by staying together. Rather, they travel together for almost no reason at all, and find themselves continuing to do so despite each of them repeatedly threatening to leave. At the end, the reason for continuing to travel together becomes apparent; no matter how individualistic a person is, each and every one can reach out and actually recognize someone as a fellow human being. Each character eventually does exactly this, respecting each other as fellow humans and perhaps even friends.
I first thought that this contradicted the general message in Watanabe’s previous work, but after some thought I’ve decided that Samurai Champloo philosophically builds on the groundwork laid by its predecessor. The characters in SC, even as they gradually begin to trust one another, remain fiercely independent to the bitter end. However, by being forced to interact and actually understand their fellow comrades, they are able to gain a deeper wisdom together than they would ever obtain alone. Where the characters of CB were all trapped in their personal realities, the three travelers of SC are able to look beyond their own lives.
Unfortunately, while SC is more mature than CB in this respect, in many other ways it can be considered a step down from Watanabe’s (admittedly amazing) previous work. The entire series is, for one thing, a lot less tightly wound than CB in terms of storyline. SC uses an ample amount of recap, which is absurd when you consider that each episode is practically self-contained. More importantly, some of the episodes drag a bit, and the wry, sardonic humor that I loved in Bebop has been replaced with slapstick and overblown melodrama.
Even the most hard-nosed critic has to admit that this show has great fight scenes and character designs. The overall look of the series is perhaps even more stylized than CB, and as a whole works awesomely with the story.
Sadly, the soundtrack is vastly inferior to Bebop’s. Like Bebop, Watanabe tries to get the OST to match the soul of the series in a unique and noticeable way, but the overall quality of the work isn’t nearly good enough to pull this off. In particular, the OP is one of the worst that I’ve ever heard, a pathetic attempt to be cool that borders on laughable. The rest of the OST fares better, but is still repetitive and occasionally annoying. My problem is not with the genre of the music (the jazz in CB was every bit as anachronistic as the hip-hop here, and no one complained about that), but with the execution as a whole. Black Eyed Peas this ain’t.
The characters are all drawn in a few broad strokes, and as a result feel somewhat canned and unoriginal. However, theyre still remarkably likeable, and near the end gain more depth than they had in the beginning.
Even if this series is to be considered a step down, a short hop down from such lofty heights isn’t nearly enough to sink the show. Samurai Champloo is a consistently entertaining, awesomely animated and often poignant series, and a worthy follow-up to Watanabe’s original work.
this show is kind of convoluted but no one really gives a damn because its entertainment value is off the chart!
the three main episodes come across many side characters that only appear in their arc and then they do something and then it seems like it has deep meaning but really not
dumb fun with some depth to it
I just skimmed through the reviews for Samurai Champloo and noticed that there are tons of them. I don't think I can say anything that hasn't been already said or add anything worthwhile, so I guess I'm writing this review just for me, to pinpoint my own thoughts on this show. I've watched Samurai Champloo 3 times so far, and it's one of the really few anime which gets better every time I watch it and whose rating has consequently gone up each time - in my personal evaluation scale, that is.
What do I like so much about it? For starters, it's stylish. Secondly, being directed by Watanabe the music cannot be other than great. It's hip hop, and even if you're not into the genre, you have to admit that the music is good. Another thing that I incredibly enjoy is the atmosphere combined with the countless anachronisms - the anime is set during the Edo period in Japan (1603 - 1868 - I looked it up) but this is mixed with the Western hip-hop / punk culture of our days and this blending of apparently absolutely discordant elements gives life to something unique, extremely ironic and entertaining. Animation is, obviously, good. Colours, character designs, backgrounds, fight scenes - nothing to complain about.
The story is predominantly episodic, but there is an overarching plotline that takes completely over at the end. Per se, it isn't an amazing story. But this is, in my view, a character-driven anime so the story is there only as a canvas for the characters to interact and develop. It's really quite simple, three misfits get somehow thrown together and start travelling together for no apparent reason other than it turned out that way. Fuu, the girl, wants to find a mythical samurai who smells of sunflowers but has no clue as to where he is and gives no explanation as to why she needs to find him. So they set off. Each episode adding a further stroke to the character building.
The characters. Fuu, Mugen and Jin. Initially they are quite clichèd characters. And if you stay on a superficial level even after you get to know them and like them with all their flaws and quirks, you could think there's little development. That's what I thought, too. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this, I've seen this anime more than once and I've come to appreciate the subtle way in which the character development is carried out. Each character is fiercely independent and individualistic - they have this in common, even though there's a different hue and undertone to each one. So it's extremely interesting and entertaing to see how their relationship develops, the three separate ones between Fuu and Jin, Fuu and Mugen, and then Mugen and Jin. But there's also the relationship between the three of them, together. Initially nothing other than pure chance and a weird sort of convenience keeps them together, but slowly it turns into something else. Something more profound and meaningful, that makes you smile at the end and look on life with something akin to hope.
I didn't rate the story or characters because I didn't watch the whole series, so I can't comment on them. The animation was pretty rigid but that's what it was going for I'm sure. I mostly couldn't get over the horrendous hip-hop and record scratching playing constantly. I even tried to watch the show without sound so I wouldn't hear that ruckus but it just kept playing in my head. The whole series is ruined by the music. Hip-hop has no place in asian anime. Period. So I can't finish the series, oh well. Was pretty bored watching it anyways. You'll probably like this if you like the hippity-hop and rappedy-rap with their tweed smoking and cap busting like down-low jiggaboos. But if not, you won't enjoy this. You've been warned.