Saturday, December 15, 2012

25 Days of Anime - #11: Samurai Champloo

Using many schools of hip-hop to build the soundtrack to a series about Japanese samurai may seem unusual and strange. In some ways, it is. But that aspect certainly does more to help than to harm in cultivating a unique identity for Samurai Champloo. It is an anime equally concerned with the development of its curious lead trio as it is with the artistic value of its presentation. There are tracks that play over dynamic sword fights that empasize fast drum beats, and there are those that are smooth and mellow that fit well with the anime's more sentimental moments.

The distinctly different musical styles that Tsutchie, Fat Jon, and Nujabes bring to the table are something of a reflection of the lead characters themselves. Jin is a classically trained samurai - noble and quiet - who is coming to understand just what the end of the era of samurai means for himself and those he once studied and trained with. Mugen is a brash rogue who is very skilled with a sword. His fighting style is most unorthodox, with some of his dodges and blocks more akin to break dancing. Meanwhile, Fuu made a deal with the two of them that they are not allowed to fight one another until they have successfully escorted her to find her father, the Samurai who Smells of Sunflowers. Though Fuu has no training in combat, she is shown to be incredibly resourceful and a go-getter, offering ideas to her travelling companions on how to make money when they are down on their luck while simultaneously acting as a source of comedic relief.

Samurai Champoo is both stylized and believable in its presentation of Edo-era Japan. On the one hand, the fights are concerned primarily with adding cool-factor and some of the subplots make little-to-no sense within the historical context. On the other hand, it's quite clear that Japan's phasing out the samurai and old societal pillars is constantly present, even if these themes are more present in some episodes than others. The technology and customs are spot-on, and by and large the series allows viewers to suspend disbelief that everything is in fact happening in Edo-era Japan. It's both a work of historical fiction from the larger perspective and an funky action-comedy about a ragtag trio at its core.

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