Samurai Champloo Anime Review
US Release By
Hip-hop samurai dramedy
26 25-minute episodes
2004-05-19 - 2005-03-18
In medieval Japan, a waitress named Fuu decides to depart on a journey she's been planning for a long time: the quest to find a samurai that smells of sunflowers. To help her in her quest, she enlists the aid of two warriors: the thuggish Mugen and the stoic, traditional samurai Jin. That's about it.
Samurai Champloo is from the makers of Cowboy Bebop. See, Cowboy Bebop was about cowboys and jazz, and Samurai Champloo is about samurai and hip-hop. Now, I'm not a big fan of hip-hop and Samurai Champloo did nothing to change my mind, mostly because the only hip-hop tune they actually use is the opening theme.
Cowboy Bebop was an utterly perfect melding of cowboys, music, and science fiction. Samurai Champloo, in comparison, comes off as completely unbalanced. It's almost samurai all the way, with just a few hip-hop style tunes and one hip-hip style character (Mugen). It's also peppered with a few anachronisms that range from nice, small touches (the giant robot crab on the restaurant in one of the early episodes) to things that come off as just plain stupid (such as the beatboxing carpenters in one of the later episodes, and the entire baseball episode). It has almost no ongoing plot, and an ending that I consider highly unsatisfying.
The plot of each individual episode is usually fairly well-done; most of them are interesting and distinctive, although there were quite a few that got wearing, either by being too ridiculous or seeming utterly pointless. The episodes also change tone a lot throughout the series: the early episodes are mostly quite dramatic; towards the middle, they lean a little more towards humor; and around episode 17, they become consistently idiotic before settling down into a more sober mood for the final episode.
I also didn't end up liking the characters as much as those in Cowboy Bebop. They fill basically the same roles, except there is no Ed or Ein. Mugen replaces Spike, but where Spike was cool and slick, a perfect jazz man, Mugen is wild and brutal. I didn't find him as endearing as Spike, but somehow ended up liking him on some level. Jin plays Jet's role, and like Jet, he's the thinker played off Mugen's hotheadedness. Just as Jet was very much a Louisiana blues crier, Jin is a perfect samurai, calm and taciturn. Unlike Mugen he carries two swords, both the long katana and the shorter wakizashi, which was considered the mark of a true samurai in those days. Fuu, finally, fills the role of Faye (you'll notice how the names 'Jin' and 'Fuu' even sound like 'Jet' and 'Faye'), but she isn't the most well-realized character; her only real role is to provide the occasional compassionate counter to Jin's and especially Mugen's ruthlessness.
The animation in Samurai Champloo is uneven; some episodes exhibit incredible variations in plays of light and shadow, while others are crudely drawn and barely come up to the level of the long shots in something made in 1993 (like Yu Yu Hakusho). The music isn't that good either--it isn't because I don't like hip-hop, because there wasn't even that much hip-hop. It just wasn't well done, and didn't have the variety or overall quality of Cowboy Bebop. There were times it had me wondering if I had been fed misinformation, and this series was not supposed to be about samurai and hip-hop, but rather about samurai and lousy homebrew techno music.
The sad thing about Samurai Champloo is that its problems only become more glaring if one stops comparing it to Cowboy Bebop. I probably let it off a lot easier than I would have another series with no ongoing plot, erratic episode quality, choppy animation, and boring music. (You should hear how I tear into the newer episodes of Inuyasha!) It is reasonably entertaining, but there's no need to buy the entire series unless you really want to see who the Sunflower Samurai is. This is really a case where you shouldn't buy into the hype.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
Notes and Trivia
Released by Geneon on DVD, and shown on Cartoon Network--at least for now. Cartoon Network may have edited out some of the blood, but all the swearing is removed with a scratching sound like a disk on a turntable. On a side note, I much prefer this to the shrill, protracted beeping that viewers of Eva are subjected to. Obviously a disk scratch wouldn't fit in Eva, but I'd much prefer simply muting the word from the dialogue to that annoying beep.
The name of the show comes from the Okinawan word "champuru" (as in goya champuru) meaning "to mix" or "to blend."
There is apparently also a video game called Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked that was released in the US on April 11th, 2006 (also from Wikipedia. My days of totally inaccurate information are over!)
There is a short comic version, but it followed the animated series, not the other way around. The story is by Manglobe and the art is by Masaru Gotsubo; it's available in English from Tokyopop.
For some reason when it originally aired on Fuji TV in Japan, the series ran through the end of the first season, episode 12, skipped a week, then continued on to episode 17. It then went off the air for four months before taking up where it left off at the beginning of the new year and finishing its run. This is rather unusual for Japanese TV, where shows usually run weekly without reruns in season-long 12 or 13 episode chunks. In the US, Cartoon Network ran at least a couple episodes past 12 in their first showing and then got the rest later.
US DVD Review
Geneon's DVDs feature anamorphic widescreen video and audio in your choice of English Dolby 5.1, Japanese stereo, or Japanese DTS 5.1, plus of course an English subtitle track. Extras include promos, the theme songs, and art galleries. Get the series on your choice of 7 individual discs or a box set with the works.
Definitely not for children, even ones who watch Cowboy Bebop.
Violence: 4 - Guaranteed to contain 25% more blood and flying limbs than Cowboy Bebop.
Nudity: 2 - Amazingly not that much, considering how much sexual content there is.
Sex/Mature Themes: 4 - And in a limited-time offer, you get rape and prostitution in every episode, with bonus homosexuality and drug use!
Language: 3 - Doesn't make Cyber City Oedo-level, but more than the usual damns and hells.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Fuu: Ayako Kawasumi
Jin: Ginpei Sato
Mugen: Kazuya Nakai
Matsunosuke Shibui: Daisuke Goori
Inuyama: Takaya Hashi
Daigoro Katsuhisa Hoki
Hotaru: Masako Katsuki
Rikie: Fumihiko Tachiki
Ogin: Yorie Terauchi
Soukake Kawara: Mayumi Yamaguchi
Ryuujirou Sasaki: Otoya Kawano
Oryu: Reiko Kiuchi
Kikuzou: Tomomichi Nishimura
Saruhashi: Takehiro Murozono
Storeowner: Hiroshi Otake
Ishimatsu: Ryuzaburo Otomo
Heitarou Hidekatsu Shibata
Oniwakamaru: Seiji Sasaki
Tomonoshin: Masashi Yabe
Kiji: Osamu Ryutani
Mori: Shunsuke Sakuya
English Dub Cast
Fuu: Kari Wahlgren
Jin: Kirk Thornton
Mugen: Steven Blum
Inuyama: Michael Forest
Daigoro: William Frederick Knight
Hotaru: Wendee Lee
Rikie, Manzou: Michael McConnohie
Ogin: Barbara Goodson
Sousuke Kawara: Darrel Guilbeau
Ryujiro Sasaki: Dave Wittenberg
Orryuu: Melodee Spevack
Kikuzou: Steve Kramer
Ishimatsu: Peter Spellos
Osuzu: Kirsty Pape
Heitarou: Simon Prescott
Oniwakamaru: Jamieson Price
Matsuonosuke Shibui: Beau Billingslea
Tomonoshin Shibui: Derek Stephen Prince
Currently available in North America from Geneon on a bilingual DVD box set, and as a bilingual Blu-Ray 3-disc high-definition box set, distributed by Funimation.
Was previously available from Geneon on 7 individual DVD volumes, and on bilingual UMD through episode 8 (2 episodes per disc).