LACED WITH CRISPY BEATS FROM TSUCHIE, FAT JON, NUJABES, AND FORCE OF NATURE
What They Say
Let’s break it down. Mugen’s a reckless sword-slinger with a style that’s more b-boy than Shaolin. He’s got a nasty streak that makes people want to stick a knife in his throat. Then there’s Jin, a deadbeat ronin who speaks softly but carries a big blade. He runs game, old-school style, but he can make your blood spray with the quickness. When these roughnecks bring the ruckus, it ain’t good for anybody, especially them. Enter Fuu, the ditzy waitress who springs her new friends from a deadly am. All she wants in return is help solving a riddle from her past. She and the boys are tracking the scent, but there’s 99 ways to die between them and the sunflower samurai.
From a musical perspective, the audio for Samurai Champloo is unique from any anime I have ever watched. The music from this series is by the Japanese composer and arranger who produced atmospheric instrumental sampling from hip-hop and jazz, Nujabes; Tsuchie, a member of the three-person Japanese rap group Shakkazombie; and Fat Jon (John Marshall), an American hip hop producer and rapper from Ohio. The musical composition for this series greatly complements the anachronistic and predominantly hip hop setting of the series.
For this particular series, I felt like the subtitles were better than the dubs, though I won’t lie and say I don’t love Steven Blum’s voice over for Mugen. The reason the subs are better in this instance has a lot to do with how dubbing works. To create a dub that viewers can make sense of, a lot of sentences are changed from the original source. Of course, the same is true with subtitles, but they can generally keep it closer to the original meaning because they don’t have to worry about the number of times a character’s mouth flaps when speaking. A lot of the original meaning was lost during the dubbing for this series, and the Edo period setting makes this story very traditionally Japanese, which means the English language tends to muck up what people say so they no longer mean the same thing.
As expected from a series directed by the same person who made Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is a stunning example of anime directing done right. The scenes have a general mix of dark and comedic. The character designs are similarly unique in that they don’t quite follow the typical big-eyes and smooth features normally seen in anime. Mugen is the best example. He looks rough and shares none of the traditional appearances of an anime protagonist.
The quality of this video is also impressive. Perhaps it is because this is such a critically acclaimed anime, but Funimation—normally known for producing more affordable anime at the cost of quality—did a great job on the production of this series. The higher quality means the animation is shown in stunning 1080p and really looks like it is high-def.
The front cover of the BluRay sleeve for Samurai Champloo is perhaps the fullest I have ever seen. Fuu, Mugen, and Jin are prominently featured on the front, posing with their hands in the “peace” sign near their faces. Below them are what appears to be many different kinds of food. In the background are various forms of writing drawn as graffiti. It’s a very chaotic front cover that is meant to symbolize the chaotic and anachronistic storytelling found so prominently in this series. The back features a black background with white text and red headlines. The font used for the red headlines is a graffiti style English font.
The menu follows the same anachronistic style that is visually represented within the series. It is chaotic. The music in the background is very hip-hop. The background switches by showing off each character dressed in modern clothes and posing like they’re a rap artist, then switches to scenes that predominantly feature them. About halfway through the scene switching sequences, the music will stop, then a scene showcasing the aftermath of the eating contest will play. The characters are shown in this order: Mugen, Jin, and Fuu. The options you can choose from are Play All, Audio Setup, and Episodes. The extras options are not available on every disc.
Samurai Champloo features a good deal more extras than normal. It has the traditional textless opening and ending theme song, but it also features conceptual art and a bumper gallery. I found myself particularly interested in the concept art. It was almost like receiving a digital art booklet.
Content: (Please note that this portion of the review may contain spoilers):
Samurai Champloo is often considered one of the classics among anime fans for good reason. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe—most recognized for his directing of Cowboy Bebop—this anime features his unique animation signature when it comes to storytelling. And just like his previous work on Bebop, Samurai Champloo reached incredible popularity in the west. I think it might actually be more popular here in the west than it was in Japan, but I cannot remember how well-received it was in the east.
This series mixes two subjects that most people would never think of putting together: western hip-hop and eastern samurai swordplay set in Edo period Japan. While this combination seems odd, the outcome is a brilliantly unique series that no one has been able to replicate since. The closest thing that comes to this anime is, perhaps unironically, Cowboy Bebop, which was a futuristic fusion of jazz, rock, and blues music combined with traditional western themes, kung fu, and noir cinematic genres set in the great frontier of space.
What we have with Samurai Champloo is what I would call an Edo period Japan remix. Baseball, tagging/graffiti, Can Gogh, zombies, and Catholicism/Christianity are tossed into this setting of revised Japanese pseudo-history. It’s a medley of various influences and tangential storytelling that takes a trio of characters and has them travel across Japan on a journey to find the “samurai who smells of sunflowers.” The odd combination of episodic storytelling mixes with the epic journey of Fuu, Mugen, and Jin as they travel through Japan and get into all kinds of trouble. Fuu’s journey to find the “sunflower samurai” provides a compelling core to the story that helps keep the main purpose of this series on track. Meanwhile, her two companions, Jin and Mugen, are like oil and water for most of the series. The three of them provide the perfect blend of comedy, drama, and growth.
In some ways, it could be argued that Samurai Champloo is not actually about three characters looking for a “samurai who smells of sunflowers,” but an anachronistic journey that showcases the various misadventures of three very different people who just happen to be searching for this sunflower samurai. A lot of the episodes have literally nothing to do with their search. Sometimes they arrive in town only for Fuu to be kidnapped, or for Mugen to run into a woman who uses his lust to clean him out of all his money, or for Jin to meet a woman who he falls for and helps escape from the life of a prostitute. There is no end to the misadventures these three find themselves in. One episode was literally about the group entering an eating contest, only to end up traveling alongside a gay Dutchman who came to Japan because he believed he would find acceptance here.
One common theme in almost every episode is how our trio of protagonists are always out of money and starving. Life in the Edo period Japan was difficult. Fuu, Mugen, and Jin are broke almost every episode, and even after they work their butts off to gain money in one episode, they become broke by the next. That’s the cost of living in the Edo period where common folks are constantly facing difficulties.
Something I felt was really well-done about this series was the characters themselves. For most of the 26 episodes, Fuu, Mugen, and Jin hate each other. Mugen and Jin tried to kill each other in the first episode and promised they would after Fuu forces them to travel with her as their bodyguards. To make matters worse, Fuu is constantly trying to boss them around into being more respectable—especially Mugen. However, their hatred gives away centimeter by centimeter as the show continues. While they initially try to break away from each other, a variety of situations conspire together, until they reach the turning point in the series, where they actively choose to remain by each other’s sides. It could be said that one of the more understate themes for this series is how a journey together can result in complete strangers becoming something like a family.
While Samurai Champloo features many interesting themes, something this series is most known for would definitely be its scenes that are juxtaposed with modern quirks. This is never more clear than in the episodes where characters will beatbox to humorous and surreal effect. Beatboxing is sometimes referred to as vocal percussion because it involves the art of mimicking drum machines by using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. It is intricately tied into American hip-hop culture from the 19th century and not something you’d ever find in the Edo period Japan.
Because of the anime’s episodic nature, Samurai Champloo’s ultimate objective of finding the sunflower samurai remains only a vague theme until we get to the last few episodes. The rising action of this series is probably when Fuu informs Mugen and Jin that the sunflower samurai is actually her father. While the anime meandered through their journey, taking twists and turns that invariably helped us learn more about each character through their interactions and the revelation of their
pasts, it begins traveling forward as a breakneck pace during the last few episodes, leaving you on the edge of your seat. All the previous experiences culminate into a few action-packed fight scenes and a series of revelations that help the three characters end the series as friends/family before they part ways for their own separate journeys.
I would not say Samurai Champloo is for everyone. This is a divisive series that has tested the patience of many viewers, turns others off after only a few episodes, and frustrated many an anime fan who became too used to watching a plot move characters forward. Samurai Champloo’s characters do not even move the plot. They are literally just traveling through the Edo period Japan together. The appeal of this series is style over substance. At the same time, this series has amazing sword-slashing action, clever comedy, moments that will tug at your heartstrings, and visually appealing modern quirks presented that propose unique ideas in a traditional Japanese setting. Among anime, it stands at the forefront as one of the most unique series within the fandom.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 5th, 2019
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.781: Widescreen
55″ Class AQUOS HD Series LED TV LC-55LE643U, Xbox 360 DVD player