The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Samurai Champloo

Title: Samurai Champloo
Genre: Action
Company: Fuji TV/Manglobe Inc.
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 20 May 2004 – 23 Sep 2004 and 22 Jan 2005 – 18 Mar 2005

Synopsis: While working in a small restaurant as a waitress, Fuu is attacked by the son of a wealthy nobleman. To her rescue comes the not-so-princely Mugen with his outlandish and unorthodox sword styles that he had picked up in Rykukyu. Shortly after taking out Fuu’s assailants, Jin, a quiet wandering samurai, appears and after some heavy words he and Mugen end up fighting. However, soon after they are rescued from certain death by none other than Fuu, they must help her find the samurai who smells like sunflowers.

The Highlights
Music: A cut above average in terms of hip hop.
Characters: Very underdeveloped; not enough background information.
Style: Unique combination of hip hop and classical Japanese elements.
Action: Phenomenal swordplay.

When it comes to stylized action directors, one thinks of Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, or John Woo. Well, it’s time to add one more name to that list: Watanabe Shinichiro. After his late 90s hit, Cowboy Bebop, I had very high hopes for his next project, Samurai Champloo, a stylish and episodic series that follows three heroes on their journey to find the sunflower samurai. However, did Watanabe’s newest project live up to the high hopes that many fans, including myself, had for it?

One thing Watanabe deserves praise for is his near seamless combination of modern hip hop culture with Edo-period Japanese culture. What did this hold in store for the viewer though? Well, not only does this create an amazing and unique world of beatboxing samurai, but it also serves to create more distinct fight scenes. Many of the samurai showdowns feature a mix of swordplay and breakdancing, displaying Champloo‘s eclecticism. The animation is unbelievably fluid during these action sequences and has a distinct look that is clearly “Watanabe“. The music is commendable, too. From the hip hop opening to the softer ending credits, it’s always spot on. There’s lots of catchy beats, most of which build the general atmosphere. Watanabe‘s distinct style, one with great music, slick animation, and eye-candy fight scenes, shines through in Samurai Champloo as it had in Cowboy Bebop.

However, where Watanabe’s usual strengths show, so do his usual weaknesses. Most notably is his all too apparent “style over substance” attitude. While stylistically Samurai Champloo is one of the best out there, it falls flat on its face in the substance department. Plot and character development are far too overlooked. It dawned on me near the end of the series when Jin, Mugen, and Fuu sat around a fire discussing their pasts, that nearly nothing had been revealed about the three’s pasts. It is quite a disappointment considering how likable the characters actually are. And the plot… well, nothing really happened. The main plot has an unsatisfying “resolution” and is not fully emphasized until the last episodes. Our protagonists are pitted against villains who are introduced at the last possible minute and that’s it. Not the most intriguing script, I agree. Everything came up way too late in the series for anything to actually have any emotional effect on the viewer, which is disappointing as it had a lot going for it.

When it all comes down to it, Samurai Champloo is a fun series. I am in no way disappointed in Watanabe Shinichiro. Samurai Champloo is a genuine example of just what a great director Watanabe is. It has a lot of potential, but in the end, it is just a fun time. Nothing else.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: DarkKanti

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