Samurai Champloo

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vivafruit's avatar By vivafruit 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.

8/10 story
9/10 animation
5.5/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
Masakari's avatar By Masakari 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.
7/10 story
9.5/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
FullmetalCowboy24's avatar By FullmetalCowboy24 on Jun 12, 2012

Critic's Log: Earthdate - June, 12, 2012. Review # 8: Samurai Champloo

YO YO YO! Get your eyes ready! Keep it Steady! Because I have a review about Samurais and Hip Hop that is from the same guy that was directed Cowboy Bebop. I am white and nerdy and... You KNOW WHAT! I can't rap worth a damn, so let's pretend I never even started writing these written rap lyrics in the first place because... I think it was stupid from the beginning, so here's Samurai Champloo!

In the Edo period. A young woman named Fuu is working at a tea shop. A band of samurais harass her and she ends up being saved by a mysterious vagrant rogue named Mugen and a young ronin named Jin. Mugen and Jin end up fighting eachother because Mugen sees Jin as a worthy fighter and there was one casualty due to the havoc in the tea shop. Mugen and Jin end up being arrested and the jobless and homeless Fuu decides to save Mugen and Jin from execution and requests them to join her in finding a "samurai who smells of sunflowers". Fuu also tells them that they cannot duel eachother until after Fuu finds this Samurai.

To be technical, this anime was produced by Manglobe (a company that was formed by former Sunrise staff members) This was their first successful hit. This anime is also directed by Shinichiro Watanabe which most otakus know that he was the one behind Cowboy Bebop. this is also a tip of the hat for people that like Chanbara films (Sword-fighting samurai films), kinda how like Cowboy Bebop was a tip of the hat for people that like Science-fiction and Westerns.

The animation definitely has great visuals and Watanabe-san has a good eye on how to portray these visuals when it most matters. The animation is not perfect however. There are some times when the animation does not look too great. The episode "Elegy Of Entrapment (Verse 2)" is one example. That's the only bad note I have with the animation. Here's the good stuff. The action scenes are mostly spectacular in Samurai Champloo. If the story is out of whack, the animation's zany moments sure do cover that up well. Hell, Beatbox Bandits had a scene full of trippy effects. I don't think the animation is hit and miss however because there are some episodes that have the animation looking bloody well.

The soundtrack for Samurai Champloo is done by four people, Fat Jon, Force of Nature, Nujabes, and Tsutchie, all 4 of these guys didn't do a lot of musical scores from before or since. The opening is really cool in visuals and the theme really fits the visuals. May Nujabes Rap In Peace. The soundtrack for Samurai Champloo is pretty nice and contemplates the show for the most part, The strangest thing is that it works quite nicely, The average anime viewer that has tried it may wonder "How does Hip-hop music fit in with a story about samurais with The Edo period as its setting?" Now to think of it, Cowboy Bebop was a Sci-fi anime with western elements and Jazz music as it's main focus. Bebop's soundtrack is a gem, but Champloo's use of hip-hop may not make sense but the show is meant to be more entertaining and it is what it is. If you want to compare another samurai anime, look at Afro Samurai. It's about a Samurai, it has hip-hop music, Get the picture? There are a couple songs worth listening without the show but it is not too bad.

*wiki wika*

This show may also give you the impression that this show is more appropriate Subtitled, but Champloo is rich in Japanese Culture and is mixed in with Western Slang, hell... The New York Yankees are sort of in this show, so watching this in English wouldn't hurt either because both The Subbed Version and The Dubbed Version is excellent here. Kazuya Nakai and Steve Blum both make Mugen sound badass, Ginpei Sato and Kirk Thornton both make Jin calm and collected with some slight differences on vocal tones, Ayako Kawasumi and Kari Wahlgren are great as Fuu. It all comes down to personal preference.

If there is one major problem with Samurai Champloo... It is that Mugen, Jin, and Fuu don't really develop too much even though there was some development right in the middle of the show and in the 3 part finale. Then again, The show was probably made for fun since the setting and story was already hackneyed after a while. Watanabe-san probably wanted to use the same episodic approach from Bebop. There are some interesting ideas in Samurai Champloo but it is not as thought provoking as most of the episodes from Cowboy Bebop.  This is one of the flaws I see with the show and...Frankly, my reader, most people don't give a damn... because this show has some kickass action scenes, if that is all you want in an action anime. This show will not disappoint you for the most part.

*wiki wika*

Samurai Champloo used to be available by Geneon, it has been rescued by Funimation and is currently available. There is a manga adaptation of Samurai Champloo but it's not really necessary to read if you already have seen the show, only 2 volumes of the manga were made and there really wasn't a ending to it.

With that said, Samurai Champloo is a fun series that is a bit over the top in some of it's action scenes, humor, and some of the episodes. It is a blast to see it with friends. It also has a couple nods to its elder cousin Cowboy Bebop.

I give Samurai Champloo a 7.8 out of 10, It is GOOD!

Feel free to leave a comment, and if you want to start breakdancing. GO RIGHT AHEAD! Just don't kill yourself over it.

7.5/10 story
8.8/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
7.8/10 overall
theSentinel's avatar By theSentinel on Jul 7, 2013

Samurai Champloo is a very fun anime.  When I think about it, it is the same kind of "fun" that Black Lagoon brings, or maybe Durarara.  It is episodic, and I normally HATE episodic anime.  Normally anime like this crush any chance of a good story developing.  However, this one didnt try to be anything more then what it was.  This made the anime awesome.  It meant to be this way and so it was easy to enjoy.  Sure there was the main story about the samurai who smells of sunflowers, but it was just a bunch of entertaining small stories along the way.  It was good that way.  Like I said before, this had very much the same simply fun appeal that Black Lagoon had.  Just have fun with it.  Sit back relax and enjoy the things they did well.

Story:  like I said, episodic.  It had the main story but intentionally filled itself up with other stuff in between, but nothing seemed wrong with it.  Not like those anime that are episodic and then expect to be awesome.  This one rose above those kinds of anime.

Animation:  Really crazy, there was one episode early on with a really wierd animation style, but other than that it was pretty good.  9 for being solid and making the action seem like action.

Sound:  some of the soundtracks were pretty good, but it seemed like it could use more in some places and some were out of place.  misplaced and maybe a little scarce is the reason this gets a 7

Characters:  being episodic doesnt mean that characters cant have development.  There were small arcs for Mugen, Jean, and Fuu.  It worked out well.  In the end I also really enjoyed the relationship between the 3 companions.  They each had their own  very uniqe and rather entertaining personalities.  A 10 for the great characters, development and relationships.

Overall:  the end was really sad.  I didnt want it to end.  I loved the characters and how things turned out.  Dont get me wrong, the end was just how it should have been.  I think they did a great job of ending the series.  I was just sad to be done.  It really was a fun anime.  Not perfect, but just freakin fun.  9 out of 10, go check out Samurai Champloo.

9/10 story
9/10 animation
7/10 sound
10/10 characters
9/10 overall
Adhyaksa's avatar By Adhyaksa on Jan 17, 2010

     Samurai Champloo felt like a fresh breathe for me after watching all sorts of romance anime for the last 3 weeks. This anime focuses on 3 main characters, each with their own goals. We are first introduced by Mugen, a freestyle samurai or whatever you may call him. The second one is Jin, a calm-looking casual samurai with an usual ronin outfit. Finally the girl, Fuu, who was peacefully working in a tea shop, while some tough guys came in and had a fight with Mugen.

     All done with the tea shop burned, the three set on a journey searching for "the samura who smells of sunflowers". I'm gonna stop there, it will be too much of a spoiler. You see, the very own reason their journey takes forever is because they don't even know a single thing about this guy.

     Oh, i got to mention what i really like about this anime, the fight scenes. They're very....well made, it's like it wouldn't be impossible to actually put a real-live movie for this anime. At least, i think they're quite realistic enough and pumping at the same time.

     Lots of hip-hop music, nah don't reall like hip-hop. Historical facts and events are mentioned quite a lot. I know, cause there is a guest star in that anime, a legendary real swordsman, i won't mention a name until you actually watch it.

     Overall, it's quite good. Decent ending, nice animations 'till the last episode. Even though, the ending could be better, it's a little cliche? i think so. Well, i can make sure that you will at least enjoy 50% of it.

8/10 story
8.5/10 animation
8/10 sound
7/10 characters
8/10 overall