Samurai Champloo is another TV anime directed by famous anime director Shinichiro Watanabe. The series focuses on two wandering swordsmen named Mugen and Jin accompanying a young woman named Fuu throughout feudal Japan to journey in finding a man whom she calls the Sunflower Samurai. While on their journey, the three encounter various characters who either have their anachronistic quirks that clash with the reality of the historical period or whom the three are acquainted with from their personal pasts that each of the three are forced to confront.
Samurai Champloo’s most well-known aesthetic element comes in the form of incorporating modern cultural elements to clash with the historical elements of the show’s setting in Tokugawa era Japan. This is mainly shown through some of the show’s filler episodes and even with elements of Mugen’s appearance and fighting style. With filler episodes, a good number of modern Western elements such as baseball, graffiti, rapping, and elevators are incorporated into the various Japanese locales that Fuu and the guys visit. Meanwhile, Mugen’s choice of dress and his Champloo fighting style are inspired by elements of the American hip-hop scene with the baggy appearance of his clothes and incorporating elements of break-dancing into his fighting style. This anachronistic nature is obviously influenced by Watanabe’s love for meshing elements of Western culture into any anime titles that he directs. The anachronistic blurring of modern elements with feudal Japan does help add a stylish flair to Samurai Champloo’s presentation.
Outside of the modern anachronisms, Samurai Champloo also dabbles into believable elements of the Tokugawa era. While historical accuracy and believability of these elements is blurred due to the show’s anachronistic nature and artistic license, it still dabbles into historical figures and events of the time period. The presence of Dutch merchants in Japan despite the country’s strict restrictions on foreign relations, ukiyo-e paintings, and historical figures like Miyamoto Musashi and Mariya Enshirou are found in a number of episodes throughout the series. But the major event of the era that the show does gradually focus on due to its connection to Fuu and her companions’ journey is the Shimabara Rebellion and the shogunate’s efforts to repress the spread of Christianity within the country.
As far as the show’s handling of the journey of our three lead characters are concerned, it’s a bit of a mixed bag within Samurai Champloo. All three are hinted to be affected by different circumstances from their pasts that a number of later episodes do take the time to exploring to varying degrees of effectiveness. Mugen’s backstory explored during the middle of the series in a two-episode arc offered solid exploration of his past and what led to his pessimistic view of life in feudal Japan. Meanwhile, Jin and Fuu’s pasts are gradually built up to with segments of episodes devoted to exploring elements of them and ultimately explored in the show’s final three episodes. However, it seemed to me that Fuu’s character story was not as interesting to get into since she lacked the heavy personal baggage that Mugen and Jin had with their backstories. Plus, the journey to finding the Sunflower Samurai felt quite dragged out as it wasn’t until late in the show’s second half that the series started to pick up steam with trying to push and conclude their journey. A good number of the episodes not focused on our three lead characters vary quite a bit in storytelling quality as many of them are self-contained and contribute little to advancing the journey of Fuu and the men in any way.
As far as presentation’s concerned, Samurai Champloo is a bit hit-and-miss. The show has some fairly inconsistent animation quality as there are occasions I noticed the animated details on characters looked degraded or even missing altogether. While the character designs of our lead characters are pleasing on the eyes, the design quality of other characters tend to vary quite a bit throughout the show’s run. Action scenes had great choreography with characters engaging in sword duels or dealing with foes with different weapons or abilities, most unique of which Mugen milking his unique fighting style with break-dancing moves. Obviously, the visuals are not on the caliber of Watanabe’s more memorable work, Cowboy Bebop. But they get the job done with showing off Samurai Champloo’s stylish mix of feudal era Japanese and modern Western cultural elements.
For music, Samurai Champloo milks a mix of Western hip-hop and rap, traditional Japanese tunes, and some dramatic piano pieces. This is perhaps the best element of Samurai Champloo as this mix of musical styles fits perfectly with the atmosphere and varying moods depicted throughout the series, especially its opening “Battle Cry” being the most memorable musical track within the series.
Overall, would say Samurai Champloo’s a mixed bag. While it does effectively blend feudal Japanese elements with modern Western cultural elements for its aesthetics, its handling of the journey of Fuu and her male companions is quite hit-and-miss as focus on it felt too dragged out and Fuu’s character story not feeling as engaging to see develop compared to Mugen and Jin. It is still worth checking out if you are more into the show’s style and heavy swordsplay action. But would still say it isn’t one of Shinichiro Watanabe’s more stronger works compared to anything like Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope, and Carole and Tuesday.
Rating: 7.5 of 10
Someday I’ll be gone To somewhere that we belong And God has never played his role 'Cause I’m the one who saves my soul It’s a perfect world we’re longing for
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