You know, back in the days of the early 2000s, I, like most other people, didn’t know much about the world of anime or even if what we were watching was anime at all and then came the world of Toonami and Adult Swim action, both which still exists to this very day. The block (along with other channels like Sci-Fi) was practically our gateway into anime, although it’s mostly action anime but that’s practically what attracts people into it, at least for the TV crowd.
There is another factor in this and the factor’s name happens to be…..Shinichiro Watanabe, the man known for directing one of the most popular anime (you should know what it is already. If not, it’s Cowboy Bebop) to ever come out in the last 15 years and now he’s trying something different in his genre-mixing project. Like he did with space operas and jazz, this is samurai era and hip-hop. The show blends historical Edo period backdrops with modern styles and references and relies on factual events of Edo-era Japan, such as the Shimabara Rebellion, Dutch exclusivity in an era in which an edict restricted Japanese foreign relations, Ukiyo-e paintings, and fictionalized versions of real-life Edo personalities like Mariya Enshirou and Miyamoto Musashi. The exact placement within world history is questionable, however, and is likely somewhat distorted by artistic license.
Mugen is a fierce animal-like warrior with a unique Bboying (break-dance) inspired fighting style. Jin has a more traditional style but don’t think of this as a weakness because his skills are amazing. The two contrasting samurai warriors are far from friends, yet their separate paths seem to cross anyways. Mugen is wandering aimlessly through the city when he stumbles upon a teahouse where he meets Jin and Fuu (A ditzy waitress, but don‘t think she doesn‘t have anything hidden up her sleeves). Fuu convinces them both to come with her in search of a mysterious samurai that smells like sunflowers and their journey begins. This modernized hip-hop tale breaks the barriers of the common, historical, samurai anime.
This is no question when I say that I really, really love this show and I favor it to be one of the my beloved classics (I get to that later) but that’s just me and I have talk about this before via D.R.E.A.M.cast Episode 16 but I felt like I forgot to mention a few things on there and plus, it was my debut so I was bound to fuck up a few times but nevertheless. What makes the show works for me is that sometimes style over substance can work in the right hands and Watanabe is definitely the person with the right hands to do it. I know that style is more flash and spectacle and it skimps on the story but to be honest, it just mostly them finding this guy and it’s not really that deep or complex, but it isn’t time-wasting as during the journey, they encounter with some very shady and dangerous characters and sometimes even some innocent or misunderstood characters, and that especially goes to every main character’s past life and see how they went through hell in their lives and you figure that it’s going to be with you for the rest of your life.
I’m only going to talk about the main three characters, mostly considering there is a lot of supporting or side characters throughout the series and there are too many to name but I might mention some of them during here. Mugen is definitely one of my favorite characters in the show as the guy is like a bombastic fighting ball that can’t be controlled by one man and I really admire the fighting style of break-dancing and capoeira. He is the anti-hero who simply doesn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything but his own. Hell, I’m not even sure to call him an anti-hero but he’s basically somebody who you don’t want to cross. I also notice in episode 13 and 14, that the rivalry between Mugen and this pirate captain named Mukuro really reminds of Spike Spiegel vs. Vicious in Cowboy Bebop and often those themes about the past coming back to haunt you heavily applies to these two episodes. Now, with Jin, he is more of the traditional samurai and I did admit he was a boring character with a typical past about him and what happened with his master but now that I think about it, he’s not really a boring character, just not as interesting as Mugen. I admit, the stealth stance of Jin is what I like about him and him being quiet, that’s actually more threatening than someone who talks a lot of shit. But, whoever, the last main character of the show is definitely my least favorite and that is Fuu, the waitress who’s persuading them to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers and……well, let’s see……she often yells and berates them for trying to kill each other (which I understand), always gets kidnapped, thus is the main damsel-in-distress of the show and what’s really annoying about her is that when every time a woman flirts with Mugen or Jin or vice versa, she gets jealous even though she said she has no romantic intentions between them, i.e., “Why do they want to hang around those women when they got me?” That line just bugs the hell out of me. It’s obvious she wants one of them (well, mostly Jin) but…..who know what? I’m going to get off this subject and talk about the best thing about this show.
THE MUSIC!!!!!!! Now for most people you don’t much about me, I am a hip hop fan and the minute I heard the theme song playing, I was hooked by it. The music not only deliver but it compliments and helps the style of the anime and often it’s more of the unique scores all there, all done by 4 Japanese Hip Hop producers…..well, 3 and one American producer and they are tsutchie, Fat Jon (from the group Five Deez), FORCE OF NATURE, and of course, Nujabes. “Battlecry” by Nujabes and Shing02 is that one song in an anime that I will never, ever, ever skip while watching this. Listening to the song just get me ready for any episode of the series (well, except for that zombie episode. What the hell was that needed?) and the ending songs cool me down after watching it and I would suggest not only give the soundtracks a listen but give these artists a listen, especially Nujabes. Hell, if it weren’t for Interstella 5555, I wouldn’t be a Daft Punk fan.
The animation for the show is from Manglobe and this is one of their first efforts into making their own anime, as like Studio BONES, they consist of people who previously worked with Sunrise and the animation is rather alright in this. It isn’t actually a visual marvel but for the fight scenes, they were worthwhile watching and sometimes they worked with what budget they got and all there is some hiccups, this is one of their fairer works.
Now this is usually the time where I say about what I thought about the dub or sub……see both of them. That’s right. Either way, the show is pretty damn good in any language but if I need to speak about the English dub from Geneon / Bang Zoom Entertainment is that the performances from Steve Blum, Kirk Thornton, and Kari Wahlgren were very excellent, like these roles were hand-crafted made for them, considering Mugen is like a spiritual successor (or predecessor in-universe, since the time is pre-Bebop) to Spike Spiegel and Blum naturally fits into that role.
FINAL VERDICT: I think for every anime fan and non-anime fan, this is definitely one of those shows that I highly recommended for those who want to see it. Hell, I suggest you own the series on DVD and/or Blu-ray and while some things about it may turn you off or might annoy you (Fuu, the zombie episode, mostly the ending) but it doesn’t ruin the experience of the show itself.
Now I gave this a “FIRST CLASS” before but I have a feeling that I’m going to have a change of heart…..as in this show gets the
HALL OF FAME!! – 9.5/10
Samurai Champloo is available on own on DVD and Blu-ray from FUNimation Entertainment (formerly owned by Geneon). Streaming options are available on Hulu, Funimation.com and FUNimation’s Elite Subscription Service.
And until then, this is MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid, bringina all the elements in one format.
SAMURAI CHAMPLOO – animation by Manglobe / distributed by FUNimation Entertainment
THE MIND OF THE HYBRID ONE – my Tumblr Page.