Thursday, April 15, 2010
Anime review: Samurai Champloo
(Warning: minor spoilers in paragraph seven)
Fuu is a girl who has always dreamed of finding the samurai who smells of sunflowers. She has no means of achieving this goal until two samurai, Jin and Mugen, pick a fight in the restaurant where she works. After rescuing them from execution, Fuu makes Mugen and Jin promise not to kill each other until after the quest has been completed. Fuu is by far the strongest of the three characters and gains the largest focus. She constantly looks towards the prospect of completing her goal, yet is afraid that the friendship she develops with Mugen and Jin might come to an end and she would be left alone.
Mugen is a potty-mouthed wanderer who constantly wants to pick fights with anyone stronger than him. Fighting is all he’s known, so when he first enters the restaurant where Fuu works, he picks a fight with a group who are threatening to cut off her fingers. This is not out of sympathy, but rather from his drive to defeat them. Most of Mugen’s humorous sequences are drawn less out of his actions, but more from the unfortunate situations he finds himself in. Despite this, he manages to keep his head straight and plays things off as no big deal whenever Fuu becomes worried for him.
Jin is the most serious of the three main characters. He is incredibly focused due to his years of training in the dojo, yet he is looked down upon by his fellow samurai for killing his own master. Jin is not the most expressive, but still shows concern for Fuu when she becomes emotional. Jin isn’t often the butt of the joke in Samurai Champloo, rather he consistently dishes insults at Mugen in the midst of general conversation, half of which fly completely past Mugen’s head.
The contrast in Mugen and Jin’s characters plays off one another in clever ways. While some of it is more obvious than others, subtle things, such as their mannerisms or conversations add to the irony of the two samurai working together. This is balanced with more in-your-face and slapstick humor, with Fuu’s unusual eating habits and Mugen’s unfortunate luck with women. All in all, the humor of Samurai Champloo is carried out quite well, though many of the show’s funnier moments occur in the first half, whereas the second half becomes much darker and more serious.
The individual episodes are a mixed bag, with some being absolutely brilliantly scripted and others being mediocre filler. That said, there are no episodes that can really be considered as ‘bad’, but those that are sub-par seem so much less than those that obviously had plenty of thought put into them.
The first five episodes or so are incredibly repetitious, as they involve the typical design of Fuu getting into a spot of trouble, Jin and Mugen trying to kill each other only to find they must begrudgingly work together to defeat a greater foe, and Mugen and Jin inevitably saving Fuu’s hide. This may turn some viewers off from the series, but if they choose to stick with it, the story does play out fairly well in the end.
Late in the series, Mugen and Jin encounter an assassin sent to kill them. This unfolds a story arc that is meant to build until the finale, but is only so effective in doing so. The problem lies in episodes 22: “Cosmic Collisions” and 23: “Baseball Blues”. “Cosmic Collisions” causes Jin, Mugen, and Fuu to become sidetracked and help dig for a long-buried treasure in exchange for a cut of the share from a royal descendant. Things seem out of place to Fuu, and it is revealed that the men digging for the treasure have actually been dead for five-hundred years. The end result is that the royal descendant calls upon a meteorite to strike the excavation site, and the entire episode is passed off as a bad reaction to the mushrooms Jin and Mugen ate at the start of the episode. “Baseball Blues” is a slightly stronger episode, closing up loose ends for a few of the minor characters. This is easily a much funnier episode, but its blatant historical inaccuracies combined with a weak plot makes it seem as so much less than most of the other episodes in the series. Both episodes are used as filler content, but they might not have seemed so weak had the events therein occurred earlier in the series.
Surprisingly enough, the hip-hop tracks work ingeniously with the overarching themes of the series. These are easily most prominent in fight sequences, but still powerful during more calm sequences, such as when Jin reflects on his years training in the dojo. The three major contributors, Nujabes, Force of Nature, and Fat Jon, utilize sounds that are distinctly different, but culminate into a soundtrack that flows together wonderfully.
The art style plays off the soundtrack in more ways than viewers might realize, and vice-versa. While the series does take place in ancient Japan, the inclusion of modern day occurrences, such as urban clothing and graffiti, push this combination to a satisfying peak that is a bit exuberant but not so much that it detracts the focus of the story. The inclusion of beat-boxing only appears in one episode, and is included simply for humor.
Samurai Champloo pokes fun at material both modern day and that of the ancient world. The violent Spanish priest and Hollander disguised as a samurai searching for “manly love” may be a tad offensive, but are clever plays on different cultures, while the interaction between the three main characters boils up a fair share of irony and situational humor. The fight sequences of Samurai Champloo are intricately planned and executed in fluid and interesting dynamics. Things only becomes repetitive on a few occasions, and while some episodes are stronger than others, the overarching story is pretty good. It could have used some finishing touches, but overall Samurai Champloo is one of the better TV-MA action series in anime today.
My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)