Anime Review: Samurai Champloo

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_Samurai Warriors and Hip-Hop music.

Now that we’ve got your attention, Insite’s Paul Portanier reviews Samurai Champloo, one anime which should definitely form part of your “To Watch” list…_

When we think of Japan’s Edo period, we like to think of it as a time of honour and discipline: we tend to think of noble samurai with honourable quests, of a strict government working hard to keep the peace, and of sophisticated people that strived to reach new levels of art and culture every day. Then one day, one man, after presuming having far too much to drink, looked back on that period and said “Man, that’s all so boring, let’s make a show about beatboxing, breakdancing samurai instead.”

Hence, Samurai Champloo was born.

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Samurai Champloo exists in an alternate version of Japan’s Edo period, which consists of graffiti artists, guards getting stoned, and just a general love for hip hop. It’s pretty much what would happen if you gave the cast of 89.7 Bay a bunch of swords, locked them in a room and told them to go nuts. It was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, director of the world famous and highly acclaimed anime Cowboy Bebop (a.k.a. Star Wars with cowboys), so this fact alone should tell you that this anime is going to be both good and completely insane.

As far as plot goes, Samurai Champloo doesn’t really have much going for it. The show starts with two samurai and a random girl going on a quest to find ‘the samurai who smells of sunflowers’, and then they pretty much forget about that quest until the last three episodes cause they’ve all got much cooler stuff to do. The emphasis in the anime is a lot more on the journey than it is on the destination, leading to a very episodic anime where each episode is a story on its own, a new adventure for the characters to face and finish before they continue on their journey.

The soundtrack is also something that is definitely worth mentioning, since it was made by various hip hop artists, and fits incredibly well with the unique style of the anime.

Out of the three main characters, two of them also don’t really offer much to the anime. You have Jin, a silent-type character who has a very strict fighting style, and who has a personality so bland his character could be replaced by a brick wall with a smiley face on it, and Fuu, a 15 year old girl who starts them out on their quest, and whose only job seems to be to get kidnapped and eat all of their food.

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Then you have Mugen, a character so badass even Chuck Norris would think twice about battling it out with this guy. A roguish pirate-turned-wanderer whose only goal seems to be to beat everyone to a pulp, Mugen has the strangest fighting style I’ve ever seen, taking elements of breakdancing to create this wild mess of swords and limbs. The guy even looks wild, with a black afro and curved sword, and is pretty much what you’d imagine a gangster samurai would look like. All this leads to one of the most entertaining characters in all of anime, presenting a guy who is literally so badass, he was actually rejected from the gates of hell. Twice.

The emphasis in the anime is a lot more on the journey than it is on the destination, leading to a very episodic anime where each episode is a story on its own, a new adventure for the characters to face and finish before they continue on their journey.

The soundtrack is also something that is definitely worth mentioning, since it was made by various hip hop artists, and fits incredibly well with the unique style of the anime. The opening to is incredibly stylized and unique, and gives you a pretty good idea of what the show is going to be about. The dub is top notch, with Steve Blum in particular doing an amazing job as Mugen.

However, where the anime really shines is in the animation department. Made by studio Manglobe, the animation is almost constantly stunning; with some of the best fight scenes that I’ve ever seen in any anime. The action is incredibly fluid, and the animators do an amazing job of creating the constant insanity that surrounds this show. While there are a few times where the quality does seem to dip a bit, these instances are few and far between, and the anime is always quick to get back on track. The animation alone would make this anime worth a watch, as it still holds up even ten years later as some of the best fight scenes that you’ll ever find.

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Still, if you don’t want to watch it for the animation, than watch it for the experience, cause let’s face it: where else are you going to find a show where a breakdancing samurai has a to fight a group of zombie miners while a madman with a banjo summons a giant meteor on them?

Verdict:

This show thrives on the ‘Rule of Cool’, substituting plot and character development for just pure awesomeness, with the action episodes being superb, and the comedy episodes being a little bit more hit-or-miss, with some being mediocre at best, and others being downright hilarious. Unfortunately the show isn’t always able to keep up the momentum, and apart from Mugen, you’ll find it hard to really be invested in the characters. Still, this anime is definitely worth checking out, as it truly is a unique experience that you won’t find in any other anime.

Written by

Paul Portanier

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