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.
There are a lot of problems that permeate Samurai Champloo and take away from what could have been an awesome, stylized adventure through late nineteenth century Japan. These problems are not large, but together they detract from the experience. Samurai Champloo is of course a well-loved anime, and far be it from me to harshly review it, but I shall because that is what I do.
The story of Samurai Champloo is something that is hard to explain in very long and drawn out terms. The series follows three characters, Foo, Jin, and Mugen, who are each outcasts from their respective walks of life. Foo is just an average girls whose father left her and mother died. Jin is a samurai who killed his master and is now being chased by the students of the dojo in retaliation. Mugen is a criminal wanted for killing the people on a sugar boat. They come together through a huge coincidence and join forces through the bitchiness of Foo. Foo as a character is something I’ll later discuss. Foo wants to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers and employs the help of Jin and Mugen who don’t like each other and plan to kill each other when the journey is over.
One of the main things I find to be completely annoying about the series as a whole is how characters are so trusting of these guys who randomly appear to them and want them to do something or follow them. I won’t spoil who every bad guy is, but it seems to me like the writers did not understand that the audience will eventually catch on to the fact that this supposed good guy is a bad guy after the past ten episodes pulled the same trick. While you’re not bound to think of the characters as bad guys sometimes, it’s usually fairly apparent.
Another problem I have is that the episodic nature of the series makes it perfectly okay to watch the amazing first episode, skip the next twenty-two episodes, and watch the well-done final story-arc. The first episode has an excellent fight in it that is unparalleled until the very end. The last episodes are tense and exciting, which is a lot more than I can say for the cream in the middle of the cookie.
The middle episodes range from just plain boring, to pretty good. They are fairly forgettable and unimpressive most of the time. There are never bad guys who are anything more than loud and annoying and the constant eating gets to be annoying. There are some episodes that may resonate with a person (the blind woman for instance) but it is otherwise nothing to write home about.
And I found that the use of a filler episode telling the story of the first eleven episodes was painful. In an episodic show, I don’t think you need to give us a recap of the episodes, because the episodes typically don’t have anything to do with each other and the consequences of actions very rarely resonate later on in the series.
So let’s look at the animation. Well, there’s nothing much to say here. The characters aren’t great looking, the backgrounds are average. Sword fights are somewhat smooth, though can be a little jerky with the movements.
The sound is what really makes Samurai Champloo what it is and gives it it’s cool style. The opening song is probably one of the easier to recognize openings as far as American fans of anime are concerned. The ending isn’t bad either. But during the show, the mix of smooth rap beats, jazz, modern Japanese music, and Japanese folk music, combine in such a way as to make me feel that without that music to help accentuate the style, the anime would be nothing more than another generic historical piece. As far as voice actors are concerned, the American dub is a safe bet if you don’t feel like reading. None of the voice actors are particularly bad and none of the style of the beatboxing nor rapping is lost in the translation.
The characters are nearly the opposite of the music. They aren’t that great. Foo is annoying and bitchy and gets what she wants and eats too much and useless. She’s not what you would consider a strong female lead and typically is found captured or crying or something that just makes you shake your head and wish for more of Mugen or Jin. Mugen is not a great character, his rather rude manner isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but he can be likeable and funny. Jin is also a generic character that has a life of his own because of those comedy moments and his interactions with Mugen. Foo’s bodyguards being from completely different walks of life makes for, as I’m sure you can tell, some funny moments, as well as some violent moments. The only reason that Mugen and Jin are ever good characters that you can remember long after the final episode is the interactions they share. But otherwise, the characters of the show are forgettable. There aren’t any recurring characters but two, and they are just there for comedy. Otherwise, even the final bad guys are fairly shallow in both intentions and emotions.
When I was nearing the last episodes I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like this anime very much. And then there were zombies. And then I nearly grew to hate it. And then there was a pointless baseball episode. And then I hated it more. But the end did redeem it a lot, and I feel that as an anime, overall, it’s not bad. If taken as weekly doses, it is definitely not going to be unappealing to fans of historical dramas. But if you plan to sit through episode after episode in a sort of marathon, it’s not something you’ll find too enjoyable. It’s just the sheer fact that taken as a whole, Samurai Champloo is both shallow in characters, story, and will never hold a place in the pantheon of amazing anime. It’s merely a distraction, not a great one, but it does have its moments and it does have that interaction between Jin and Mugen, well-done interactions at that, and it does have an urban style that it uses to its advantage. To me, it felt like Lone Wolf and Cub for the modern age (and there is a point where there is a reference to the classic manga), and it plays out in the episodic nature that the Lone Wolf and Cub manga did. The only problem is that while Lone Wolf and Cub was fresh and amazing to a new American manga audience in the 80’s, Samurai Champloo is nothing more than a generic period drama that is only different in its use of urban style.
So basically, I’m saying Samurai Champloo isn’t something you’re going to remember, though it can be a fun ride for those really starved for some swordplay.
Samurai Champloo (SC) is director Watanabe’s attempt to relive the success Cowboy Bebop (CB) had in the previous decade. I will be comparing a lot these two shows as they feel almost as siblings, plus you are almost forced to watch both in order to get a better picture. The following paragraph is in fact just personal speculation and you may as well skip it entirely if you want.
Although the anime fans didn’t lose their minds as much as they did with CB, that does not mean SC is a bad show. Far from it; it is very entertaining and retains a similar mood as CB. It’s just that the blending of different eras was not as easily categorized and since most people look for familiarity as means to sympathy, it was a bit harder to like as much. The thing is, CB was categorized as “space western”, an existing category that back in the late 90’s was a thrill. The Japanese people found the American flavor to be exotic, while the Americans found the show being almost a flattery of Japan towards them, so no wonder it was very captivating. Also, Jazz and Blues are considered by most as the most sophisticated genres of music, as if watching this show was placing you with the cream of viewers. On the other hand, SC can’t be categorized; there is no clear name for a genre that blends Japan with modern Hip-hop. No connection points for most to feel the sympathy, plus Hip-hop is ghetto music and considered violent and unsophisticated by most. Watching it felt like placing you with delinquents. So the whole thing boils down to an aristocrat and a punk. Very different, yet both shows are just the different sides of the same coin and Watanabe is offering a familiar type of humorous social criticism. So don’t let these pesky aesthetic details to get you down; SC is equally good.
The production values are great as in the other show, with lots of anachronisms and in-jokes offering a smart parody of the modern world. The whole setting is basically a masking of the old values of traditional Japan being trashed by the coming of the Westerners, as indirectly shown by various native people being exploited by foreigners while the background is a mix of traditional buildings and ghetto elements. Even the music themes are partly blending the traditional type of Japanese singing with rap lyrics to make it even clearer. Thus the whole world is an allegory on itself, a piece of art that deserves a thumps up.
A bit disappointing are the action scenes, which seemed to be great in the first few episodes but after that turned to simplistic exchange of sword slashes and kicks. The choreography is not constant in quality throughout the series, as it was in CB and it feels like it is fooling you into looking for more, when there won’t be. That is the only thing that keeps the score from perfect from me.
The main characters begin as stereotypes, yet along the way they are fleshed out a lot and by the end of the show they become lovable and memorable. I can’t say they are great since they don’t exactly develop and they definitely have less diversity and numbers than those in CB. It’s just the violent punk, next to the calm noble, next to the genki smart girl; very polarized to see them as nothing but caricatures. Although that makes them cooler, it also makes them shallower. They are still interesting, have quirks to become easily memorable, get colorized, get somewhat developed, and even find a bit of catharsis in the end. All of which happen in a mostly episodic show, which is a feat.
The story is episodic and despite that there is an objective (to kill a samurai who smells like Sunflowers) as well as some recurring characters, it is mostly the constant themes that keep the show together and not the storyline. It is a bit hard to get attached to any individual situation if everything is resolved in one or two episodes and the themes are not enough to keep you hooked. That does not feel too good to anyone (like me) who prefers and on-going plot than an episodic one. And yes, you gradually see more to the characters which may be perceived as on-going but that has to do with the cast and not the story. One could of course label this anime as 100% character-driven and thus share the same score with the characters. I also prefer it when the story moves forward by personal choice and not pulled by the nose because the scriptwriter said so and was unable to show it otherwise. On the other hand, you still see many characters for just one episode doing stuff that do not matter thereafter, which still makes you feel like they are wasting potential here. But at least there is an ending instead of a hint for a sequel.
The story is a very interesting take on episodic-formats but it is still not perfect for me as I always prefer an on-going plot to this. I would normally give it the base, but seeing how it smartly threw in character development here and there, I will raise it a lot more.
The sound department is a blend of Hip-hop, Rap and Japanese folk music. It sounds interesting to pay attention to even when I’m more of a metal and hard rock dude. I was mostly listening to them as a parody and not as a serious attempt at drama, as in the case of CB. It is still a very well made soundtrack and deserves a good score.
The value is very high just for being a series that stands out from the lot, if not just for having Watanabe as its director. My enjoyment was definitely higher than in CB because of its far more comedic nature, as well as the less alien to my tastes music. Just to imagine, I watched it in one go, unlike CB which I dropped 3 times before I finally manage to complete it. So there you go; I am not that sophisticated.
SAMURAI CHAMPLOO AND OST
Samurai Champloo, the second internationally acclaimed anime from Shinichiro Watanabe, following Cowboy Bebop, has indirectly shaped the beginning of the rest of my life. The soundtrack, in particular, has influenced my taste in music dramatically, inducing revelations pertaining to my career and future goals in this consequential journey we call LIFE.
Samurai, a member of the hereditary warrior class in fuedal Japan from the 11<sup>th</sup> to the 19<sup>th</sup> century. Champloo, translation of chanpuru, a Okinawan dish consisting of a 'blend' of tofu, vegetables, meat or fish. These definitions alone, depict the concept of the anime Samurai Champloo. A 'blend' of fuedal Japan Samurai culture, with that of modern street culture.Watching this series for the second time has unlocked my mind to the symbolisation of it all, predominately anachronisms. The manner in which this anime has fused japanese Edo-era with modern hip hop culture, conversely appropriated my ponderings.
Mediate circulation around the main characters, Mugen, Jin and Fuu, provides this anime with a presence of mediocre plot. The adventures undertaken by these personalities seem far-fetched, but are amalgamately relevent in portaying the disproportionality of modern attitudes compared to that of the 19<sup>th</sup> century. I mean, in what realm would an established samurai expose his attributes by means of a beatboxer and rap artist.
In the majority of 'Champloo, the underlying motive is to illustrate what isn't proposed by other samurai animes. Examples of this include; the persecution of Christians an Ainu, unwillingly prostituted women working off their spouse's debts, human trafficking in the art world, the co-existance of samurai in the Edo period with yakuza, and the substinance of homosexuality. Each aspect has its own essential role in the contruction of this anime.
And finally to the original soundtrack, courtesy of the great Nujabes, alongside Tsutchie, Fat Jon and Force of Nature, also involving Midicronica with their track 'San Fransisco' utilised in the final credits. The Samurai Champloo OST(Original Soundtrack) screams Hip Hop from the get go, with the monochrome opening, 'Battlecry', production by Nujabes and rap poet Shing02. This piece establishes the contruct displayed in the remaining soundtracks, pure underground Japanese hip hop instrumentals encompassed by contempory jazz. Melancholy jazz riffs compiled upon rolling hip hop beats, best describes these soundtracks, reinventing subtle, mellow instrumentation throughout. I distinctly commemerate the habitual use of live percussion continually displaying amidst music production.
In conclusion, Samurai Champloo consistantly touches base on the recurring images of anachronism, producing pre-appropriate scenes of hip hoperry amidst the havoc of realistic samurai persistance and survival. Personally, I award this anime 5 stars, in respect to its indiviuality and consenting educational message constantly exhibited throughout the series. LAA (Life-altering Anime). ONELOVE