Cowboy Bebop remains on of my top picks for anime and to this day I get a kick out of watching it again and again. I'm apparently not alone because it constantly comes up in conversation, people always cosplay as Spike, and it is regarded as one of the most popular anime shows from the past decade in many circles. Its spiritual successor, Samurai Champloo, stormed onto the scene in 2004 and instantly became a hit.
While not a sequel by any means, Samurai Champloo is stylized similarly to Bebop. The show uses an excited blend of music to amp up the action which also gives it some heart, the characters are interesting and fun, and each episode is unique with a penchant to offer something nonsensical now and then. Of course none of this would have been possible if Shinichiro Watanabe wasn't involved in the project. Watanabe was the man responsible for Cowboy Bebop and likewise was the brains behind Champloo. The energy feels very similar because of this, and though the show was produced by Manglobe (not Sunrise) it still felt familiar in terms of style somehow. But what's it all about?
Well, the show takes place during the Edo period and centers around the actions of three main characters. Fuu is a waitress with a dream to find a samurai who smells like sunflowers, but she can't exactly do it alone. Lucky for her, one day pair of samurai makes their way into her restaurant and destroy the place. Mugen is brash, womanizing, arrogant, and very rough around the edges. Jin is refined, traditional, and for lack of a better description, mild-mannered. To say that Mugen and Jin clash would be an understatement, though their fight lands them before an executioner and at the mercy of the state. Fuu seizes the opportunity to get both of them to help her and rescues them at the last minute. She forces them to promise not to kill each other until their mission is complete, and with that deal set in stone the three head out in search of the flowery samurai.
In all fairness the premise behind Samurai Champloo is very straightforward and simple. As Fuu, Mugen, and Jin travel across the land they get to know each other a little more and go from one scrap to another. Aside from the main plot presented in the first episode the show doesn't grow too much beyond that point. Each episode is relatively episodic and stands alone in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun.
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. Whether Mugen, Jin, and Fuu are forced into an eating competition, play baseball with some Americans, deal with kidnappers and thieves, and even beautiful ninjas in disguise. There's a lot of variety here and it's safe to say that the show does not come up short in the creativity department. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more engrossing stories, but I suppose you take what you can get and this set up is very similar to Bebop anyway.
All told there are only about five storylines that take more than one episode and of those five, four of them only last for two episodes (the fifth being the finale). These are quite entertaining and interesting as well and allow for the plots to be stretched out a bit. They tend to be more dramatic and much more involved, which contrasts the episodic content greatly. There's a lot of potential here and it's nice to see Samurai Champloo capitalize on it.
If you missed the Geneon release of Samurai Champloo back in the day, or simply never caught it on Cartoon Network, FUNimation's distribution of the Geneon boxed set is something to consider. The show is a lot of fun with imaginative episodes, unique characters, and an energy that is nary replicated in the world of anime. It's safe to say that Watanabe has a vibrant sense of style and his works stand as perfect examples of that. Shows like this are a rare and special treat, so because of that you should consider this boxed set highly recommended.
Samurai Champloo is one great looking show. The series was originally broadcast back in 2004 and makes its transfer to DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that has been enhanced for an anamorphic widescreen display. The image is vivid, sharp, and detailed with fine black levels and rich shadows. This is one of those stylized shows that is striking to watch and it's nice to note that the video quality of this transfer lives up to the artistic value. There is some grain in parts, but those moments hardly detract from the overall experience.
A decent blend of audio options helps the presentation for Samurai Champloo in a big way. The disc includes three distinctly different soundtracks to listen to; English 5.1 Japanese 2.0 and Japanese DTS 5.1. I personally gave the Japanese DTS track more play time than the other tracks and found it to be technically sound. The rear channel doesn't kick in as much as I would have liked it to, but when it does it sounds great and offers a decent sense of immersion. I didn't have any problems with dropout or distortion during my viewing. The disc also includes optional English Subtitles.
There's a promo video, some galleries to peruse, and trailers for other anime titles. In other words there's nothing really substantial here, but that's not necessarily surprising either.
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, inventive characters, and a sense of style that's rivaled only by Watanabe's other successful work, Cowboy Bebop. That alone should drive you to buy this series! If you missed out on this show when it aired on Cartoon Network or when Geneon released the individual volumes, then consider this your best opportunity. Highly Recommended!
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