Samurai Champloo

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vivafruit's avatar By on Mar 30, 2007

Story

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.


Animation

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.


Sound

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.


Characters

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.


Overall

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.

8/10 story
9/10 animation
5.5/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
Masakari's avatar By on May 7, 2006

Story
This is a very hard show for me to review. After all, it comes from Shinichiro Watanabe, the guy behind Cowboy Bebop, which is quite possibly my favorite anime ever. So I had really high hopes, and consequently really high expectations for this show. Still, I will do my best to review it stand-alone, without factoring expectations into it.

Champloo starts out strong, with an exciting and fast-paced first episode, but soon settles into common stereotypical samurai plots, with the main characters rescuing wronged innocents from various unsavory bad guys, from crooked officials to charlatan cult leaders. Most of these episodes are unfortunately surprisingly predictable, and any real emotional impact the situation could have had is lost because it’s so obvious how everything will turn out. Case in point: the second episode features a really ugly bad guy that turns into a good guy when he realizes that Fuu cares for him even though he’s ugly. Come on here. Isn’t this supposed to be edgy? Is Disney writing the plots for the episodes!? Most aren’t so laughably cliché, but others are.

When the main plot does kick in, towards the end of the show, it's certainly very exciting, and filled with a lot of great fights. However, the actual plot elements seem rather flimsy. We never get any kind of real explanation of what motivates this show’s equivalent of the ‘evil boss’ except that some faceless entity 'ordered' him to do it. The show also plays with our heads multiple times in the final several episodes, having certain characters miraculously recover from injury after injury that really should be fatal, especially in an age where medicine was relatively undeveloped. According to this show, no matter how bad a wound is, if you just wrap it in lots of bandages, you'll recover in a day or two. Even if you lose several buckets of blood. Or are blown up with dynamite.

The best episodes of this show are the ones that blend elements of modern culture into the traditional samurai story, resulting in some very fun sequences, such as when the characters play baseball against a team of unscrupulous Americans, and another in which they deal with a Night-of-the-Living-Dead-esque zombie invasion. This show really needed more episodes like that—episodes where the wonderful style of the show compensates for its other failings. There, I said it. All in all, in the pastry shop that is anime, this show’s substance is only mediocre yellow cake, albeit covered with a wonderful icing of delicious, creamy style.
Animation
The animation is definitely one of the best parts of the show. The characters are backgrounds are all very stylishly drawn, with a lot of attention to detail and tone. This comes across best in episodes like where mood plays a big part (like the zombie episode), as the animation does the brunt of establishing that mood. Color is well-utilized throughout the show, and details like eye movements and body language receive a lot more attention than you’ll see in practically any other anime TV show. Even little touches like the freeze-frame shots in the baseball episode add a lot to the show’s overall feel.

The fighting animation is also great, and when the frequency of battles in the show goes up towards the end, they're very well-executed in general. Except possibly in a few episodes of Peace Maker Kurogane, I haven’t seen samurai fighting animated better than this. It’s the pacing of the fights that’s the most impressive; unlike more traditional samurai shows like Kenshin, where characters will each do one attack and then stand there for a few minutes, talking to their opponent or thinking about their next move, these fights are actually fast-paced! That’s right, enemy samurai don’t stop to allow the main character all the time he needs to plan out his next move and give us a 10 minute flashback to expound on what he’s feeling at the moment. Amazing.

But really, the impact of the animation on this show goes far beyond simply ‘quality’ alone. This is a style show, a show about a certain vision, a merging between two very disparate and historically distant themes, and the visuals accomplish that rather difficult task admirably.
Sound
The sound is clearly a big part of the style here, as this is supposed to be a sort of 'hip-hop' samurai show, and the soundtrack does not disappoint, with tracks ranging from upbeat to sad, all done in a distinct style and flavor that I can’t say I’ve heard in an anime before. They fit the tone of the show well, even if I myself am not a huge fan of the brand of the J-rap often used, and consequently found the OP and similar tracks kind of annoying after a few listens.

The voice acting is quite good, as can be expected from a high budget show like this. And hey, they even brought in real English-speakers for when a few characters speak English! You can tell from the accent that they're probably still Japanese actors that just speak English fluently, but it's still way better than the terrible 'Engrish' I've heard in most other shows that attempt this.
Characters
Champloo primarily deals with three characters: Fuu, a girl out on a quest to find the ‘samurai who smells like sunflowers’ and two samurai who escort her: the rough and rowdy Mugen and the proper and honorable Jin. In general, the characters are pretty well done. Fuu, to my surprise, ends up being the ‘lead’ of the show, as the character that receives the most development, the one whose emotions and thoughts we have the most access to, and the one that ultimately drives the plot towards its climax and conclusion. Jin and Mugen are her opposite (yet similar) super-powerful warrior sidekicks. There are also many side characters introduced throughout the show, both as temporary friends/allies and as ‘bad guys.’ These bad guys range from the overtly silly "Christian" priest—a sort of evil Don Quixote—to the very interesting Sara, whose two episodes are easily the best of the show.

So in the end, we’ve got a mixed bag. Fuu is a good lead, Mugen and Jin are ‘cool’ if undeveloped, and the side characters are very much hit-or-miss. Try as I might, I simply could not find the depth I was hoping for in any characters except Fuu; not in the temporary allies, not in the bad guys, not even in Jin or Mugen. It’s the latter two that are the most disappointing. In the end, they’re skilled swordfighters, they like Fuu and want to protect her... And they fight. With swords. To protect Fuu. That’s about it. By the end, we learn a bit more about their backstories, but they as characters don’t feel any more developed than they were at the end of the very first episode.

If I were this picky about the character development in every anime, I’d end up hating 90% of shows out there. Still, this is Shinichiro Watanabe. This show has about as much visual creativity, flair, and plain old budget as you can hope to find in an anime. So I expect more.
Overall
This is one of those shows where if someone asks you ‘What’s it about,’ you have them watch an episode instead of answering. Because it’s about the style. If you try to answer in words, you’d have to settle on something like, ‘It’s about three friends who travel the land on a quest, fighting bad guys along the way.’ And that sounds pretty much like every other action/adventure anime out there. So watch this show for the animation, for the music, for the great fights, or just for the opportunity to see graffiti artists and human beat boxes in a samurai anime. But don’t watch it for a breakthrough in storytelling or character development—this is the same old tried-and-true samurai show, just in a flashy set of hip-hop clothes.
7/10 story
9.5/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
TridentRPG's avatar By on Jun 24, 2015

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.

?/10 story
7/10 animation
2/10 sound
?/10 characters
2/10 overall
noided's avatar By on Jun 19, 2015

Story - This is a pretty simple episodic adventure anime, with some episodes being funny, and some episodes being dramatic. Each episode has the straightforward story of all of the characters getting into some kind of trouble separately or together, and then the OP samurai Jin and Mugen get them out of trouble. While this may seem predictable, I was thoroughly entertained by the character's exploits throughout the whole series and the people they came across, even if the fact that the two independent-seeming men joined Fuu on her journey didn't make sense to me at all (but then again, this is anime logic). There was only one episode I really hated, which was the zombie episode. It didn't fit in with the rest of the show, was boring and so clearly AU within an already AU universe that it wasn't worth paying too much attention to. The last episode of this show made me cry multiple times which I consider to be a good thing -- *SPOILER* when Jin and Mugen had their death fake-out I was sobbing uncontrollably. I thought that the end, while I was upset that each seemed to go their different ways, was fitting for the series.

Animation - Again, I'm not very qualified to talk about animation, but at some points it looked pretty sloppy, but I think I only noticed because I read someone else's review of the show and they said the animation looked sloppy at certain points. But the actual style of the show is pretty good -- there's no gigantic-eyed women or, like I read from another reviewer, fight scenes where the main character gets enough time for a 10 minute flashback and planning of his next move (i.e. -- there are actual BATTLES).

Sound - The soundtrack fit in well with the anime's weird Edo-period-but-also-urban-influenced setting. I don't really like J-rap though, and it got pretty annoying despite being fitting so I can't give it a score. I watched this series both subbed and dubbed, and I'd say both were very good. In fact, I'd almost say that the dub was better because it involved less reading (which normally I don't mind, but the dub was so good that it wasn't even worth it to watch it subbed and have to read) and the English voices fit the characters very well.

Characters - I grew very attached to each of the main characters, even though they're pretty one-note. There were some brief shows of emotion and loyalty from Mugen, Fuu, and Jin that I enjoyed, but it was upsetting that while each character realized that travelling with the others made them happier, that they didn't seem too changed or attached to the others because of it. Some of the side-characters are interesting as well, especially the blind assassin and the Dutch foreigner.

Overall, this was an extremely entertaining anime. After reading other reviewers' dissections of the anime's themes, I love it even more and will definitely rewatch it with those themes in mind.

  • + Entertaining despite repetitive-ness
  • + Very good characters
  • + Very good dub
  • + Can be hilarious

  • - Little character development
  • - It made no sense to me why the men joined Fuu despite being very independent
  • - Soundtrack got annoying
  • - I disliked the ending, though it was fitting
9/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
8.5/10 characters
9/10 overall
Starfeesh's avatar By on Jun 2, 2015

Didn't really pay attention to the sound, so I gave that a 10/10.

One of my favorite animes! The Netflix description held me back because I thought it was going to be generic. Vibrant colors, unique art style, unique soundtrack,  good, flowing animation. It was as visibly great as the story. Great if you like travel, adventure, and feudal Japan. Short but each episode is packed with story. Haven't checked out every detail, but it's kind of cool that lots of the historical stuff mentioned is actually true. Thinking of buying this on dvd.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall