The simple plot revolves around Fuu searching for the Sunflower Samurai. The group of ninjas trek through 19th-century Japan in search of the samurai who smells of sunflowers but I’ll admit that most recent shows of note have been visually striking, but Champloo really stands out. The big thing is the fighting, which occurs early and often. Fights are choreographed well with slashes and cutting happening in the blink of an eye. Now I know some people are going to say that while some episodes were good, quite a few of them were bad. In fact, I felt this way as well. In Samurai Champloo the characters are clearly not together for mere convenience because I noticed throughout the series, that they almost constantly complain about the troubles incurred by staying together. Rather, they travel together for almost no reason at all, and find themselves continuing to do so despite each of them repeatedly threatening to leave.
So far the episode structure is like Cowboy Bebop‘s, with a funny episode or two followed by a sadder episode. Unlike Bebop, there seems to be no build-up to a larger plot and there’s little delving into the characters’ backstories. It may seem at times that Samurai Champloo’s popularity is driven more by its own hype than the quality of the series. I don’t give into the hype and after watching this series I thought the idea is more than just urban beats set against historical fight scenes. From the show’s soundtrack fueled by rap beats, Mugen’s break-dance inspired fighting style, episode themes, and subtle designs on the back of kimonos, the urban influence can be felt everywhere. Included here is a wide array of adventures that range from cool to corny. No matter what’s going on though, the action remains top of the line, the show is slick, and there’s a certain hip element to everything.
Samurai Champloo is one of those rare, very special shows that you need only to watch once, and right away you’re hooked. Interestingly as well, although the producers made a point of stating that the show bears no historical accuracy, watching it I felt transported back into the past, witnessing the opening of Japan to the West. The Tokugawa era to be precise, during the time of Japanese seclusion from anyone whom they considered foreign, which was nearly everyone. Yet Champloo doesn’t exactly allow itself to fall into the rules of history, or at least it doesn’t rigidly follow it. Some episodes really veer off to the left. For example: There is an episode entitled ‘Baseball Blues’, in which Mugen, Jin, and Fuu are conned into playing in a baseball game against some pushy Americans armed with cannons who will leave only if they lose the game. As usual for this series, all Western characters are portrayed as horrible caricatures of their national identity. This is somethign that bothered me quite a bit.
Samurai Champloo is a show that begs to be watched. It may not be an outright classic, but it offers a great amount of energy, fun atmosphere, and inventive characters. Towards the final episodes drama dominates. All of the characters meet the conclusion of their own personal stories, while wrapping up their story as a group. Jin faces a man directly linked to his past as a swordsman; Mugen faces a family bent on revenge for Mugen’s past life as a pirate; and Fuu finally meets the Sunflower Samurai. The end of Samurai Champloo is both exciting and a bit sad. It’s a perfect conclusion to a perfect anime series, and sufficiently answers all the questions left behind in the previous episodes.
As the two samurai heroes say in episode two, there’s something silly about a samurai who smells of sunflowers. However, this series truly shows off some of the best battles ever seen in an anime, embellished with the gorgeous environment of ancient Japan. It’s easy to tell that the artists worked very hard to create visually interesting and pleasing characters and settings. The animation in every single scene is infused with a sense of care and precision that is never lazy or sloppy. The series has been dubbed in English and will play automatically on this setting, but I recommend going into the setup menu and enabling the original Japanese voices with English subtitles. The series is so steeped in rich Japanese culture and the Japanese actors are so superb that watching the episodes in English seems silly. It is also getting the blu-ray treatment next month, so please, you owe it to yourself to watch this series. It may not be Cowboy Bebop, but its one of the greatest animes of my generation.