Samurai Champloo

Reviewed by: spcnet

December 29, 2005

Rating: four

Total episodes: 26

From Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of "Cowboy Bebop", comes another stylish and creative anime in the form of "Samurai Champloo". "Cowboy Bebop" was a jazz and blues fest of guns, roses, and cowboys while "Samurai Champloo" is the hip-hop and rap mix of swords, sunflowers, and samurais.

Each episode, until the last three, of "Samurai Champloo" loosely follows a single main plot of finding the 'Samurai who smells like sunflowers', sometimes not advancing at all to support this overarching plot. The story is really about three people taking a journey together and discovering something about themselves and finding friendship and companionship for the first time in a lonely life.

Our girl main character is Fuu, a cute girl waitress at a restaurant who has lost her mother recently. She's been wanting to go on a journey for a long time to find this 'Samurai who smells like sunflowers' but never found the courage to leave. In the first episode, she's bullied by some customers. A scruffy looking rogue samurai, Mugen, offers to take care of them for her if she'll pay him. Fuu desperately agrees when she is held down. Mugen makes quick work of the bullies and the outraged leader yells that he wants to bring in someone powerful for backup. Mugen gladly waits.

At the same time, a wandering samurai who dons eyeglasses, Jin, takes care of some local bullies on the streets. When he goes into the restaurant, Mugen mistakens him for the backup and starts a fight. Both duel, Mugen with his hip-hop break dancing style while Jin uses conventional samurai techniques. This battle ends abruptly as the restaurant is torched to the ground and both are knocked out cold. They're captured by the bullies and are set to be hanged the next day. Fuu sneaks in to visit them in prison and offers to save them in exchange for escorting her on her journey. Ultimately, a coin toss decides their path.

There is a lot of subtley in "Samurai Champloo", from the symbolic references made, to Jin's glasses, and to the humor. For instance, does Jin need glasses to see clearly? In an episode, Mugen and Fuu pawn his glasses to pay for food and Jin didn't appear to have trouble seeing. In the ending episodes, he loses the glasses in a duel and is still formidable. In all his flashbacks, he also did not wear glasses. His sensei also made a comment in the anime about how he needed glasses to see the world.

The relationship questions. Does Fuu like Mugen? She is constantly upset whenever Mugen gapes over other women, chooses Jin to leave, and makes a very ambiguous statement near the end about Mugen. She was devastated when she thought Mugen perished in a ship explosion and then anxiously tried to take care of him.

Does Mugen like Fuu? Both times when he almost died, what brought him back seemed to be Fuu. The first time, the last image in his flashbacks was Fuu. Then the second time, it was Fuu's voice calling him that dispersed the death icons. And was that jealousy on his face when he saw Fuu and Jin together near the river?

And might as well, does Jin like Fuu? I think it probably borders more on brotherly love.

The characters in Samurai Champloo have depth, their motivations in life are developed through the anime and they also in turn, develop as it progresses.

Mugen is a very interesting character and my favorite character in the anime. He's different from other main characters in that he's not your typical hero. He is not greatly righteous or honorable, but has his own code of ethics. He is unashamed to show his perverted side in going after women, will rashly kill an opponent, and get on a crazy mood. Growing up on an island where only criminals lived and the cruel survived, Mugen is perhaps the loneliest of all three main characters.

His profile seems very similar to Spike from "Cowboy Bebop", though it's not surprising, considering it's the same creator. A similarity between both Spike and Mugen is that both were part of a dark side of the world that they wanted to leave. Spike was part of the mafia, Mugen was branded as a criminal and both were marginal characters, never quite fitting in.

The music in "Samurai Champloo" woves in well throughout the anime. Most notable, the music played during the scene when Mugen was drowning was both beautiful and sad. It felt spiritual and contemplative. Not sure if I liked the rap intro song though since the vocalist was not a very strong rapper.

The animation is smooth and almost every episode is action packed. The pacing was also well done, 26 episodes didn't feel too long or too short. You may want to watch only a few episodes at a time though since it is episodic and each episode doesn't necessarily tie in with the next. The only gripe I have is that I would've loved to see what happens to these characters at the end of the journey. Hopefully, a movie or OAV will come out since it definitely left room for it. Recommended.

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