Funimation // 2004 // 650 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 17th, 2009
Death, betrayal, and...hip hop!
Ask a random anime fan to name the best television series to come out of Japan animation studios, and director Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop is likely to land near or at the top of the list. The 1998 science fiction epic about a ragtag group of outer space bounty hunters merged Eastern and Western influences into a funny, rollicking hipster adventure punctuated perfectly by Yoko Kanno's jazz-heavy score. The show was such a hit in Japan that it found its way onto television stations all around the world (in the United States, it began playing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in 2001).
Given the popularity of Cowboy Bebop, there was intense interest from fans the moment Watanabe announced that he was developing a new project. Samurai Champloo finally landed on TVs in 2004 to critical acclaim. Though it doesn't quite reach the heights of Cowboy Bebop, the show's idiosyncratic mix of Edo-era samurai adventure and hip-hop style (by way of DJ Tsutchie's funky, scratchy score) delivers plenty of action-packed entertainment as well as the stylistic flourishes one expects from a Watanabe creation.
After its run on Adult swim in 2005 and 2006, the show's 26 episodes were released in seven volumes on DVD. The seven DVDs were later collected into a stylish red box and sold at a slight discount as Samurai Champloo: Complete Box Set. Now we have the show's third incarnation on DVD, a true budget offering that repackages the original seven volumes in slimline cases (with the same cover art), housed in a lightweight cardboard box. This may be just what the budget-conscious Samurai Champloo fan has been waiting for.
A brash, shaggy-headed stray dog named Mugen and a laconic, bespectacled ronin named Jin are about to be executed by the Yagyu clan, whom each has wronged. The duo escapes with the help of a 15-year-old tea house waitress named Fuu. Stone cold swordsman impressed with one another's skills, Mugen and Jin are determined to fight each other to the death...until Fuu intercedes with a challenge. She'll flip a coin. If it comes up heads, the two will fight. If it comes up tails, they'll delay their epic duel until after they help Fuu find a mysterious warrior, the samurai who smells like sunflowers.
The coin comes up tails, of course, and 26 episodes of adventure follow, as the trio works its way across Japan on a disorganized hunt for the Sunflower Samurai. Samurai Champloo: The Complete Collection offers all 26 episodes of the show, spread across seven DVDs:
* "Tempestuous Temperaments"
* "Redeye Reprisal"
* "Hellhounds for Hire Part 1"
* "Hellhounds for Hire Part 2"
* "Artistic Anarchy"
* "Stranger Searching"
* "A Risky Racket"
* "The Art of Altercation"
* "Beatbox Bandits"
* "Lethal Lunacy"
* "Gamblers and Gallantry"
* "The Disorder Diaries"
* "Misguided Miscreants Part 1"
* "Misguided Miscreants Part 2"
* "Bogus Booty"
* "Lullabies of the Lost Verse 1"
* "Lullabies of the Lost Verse 2"
* "War of the Words"
* "Unholy Unton"
* "Elegy of Entrapment Verse 1"
* "Elegy of Entrapment Verse 2"
* "Cosmic Collisions"
* "Baseball Blues"
* "Evanescent Encounter -- Part 1"
* "Evanescent Encounter -- Part 2"
* "Evanescent Encounter -- Part 3"
In moving from Cowboy Bebop to Samurai Champloo, Shinichiro Watanabe may have switched up milieus, but he still opted to play to his own strengths. Structurally speaking, the show adheres almost religiously to the Cowboy Bebop template. Its lead cast is the same sort of vagabond losers that crewed the Bebop, right down to their threadbare clothing, growling stomachs, and general inability to function successfully among the broader culture of squares that surrounds them. Fuu, Mugen, and Jin's quest to find the Sunflower Samurai often falls to the wayside as individual episodes find them caught in the middle of clan wars, battling vicious yakuza, or rubbing elbows with funky foreigners, just as Cowboy Bebop was more a series of loose stand-alone adventures than a focused tale of Spike Spiegel's search for his long lost love Julia. Champloo, like Bebop, is an entertaining platform from which Watanabe indulges his fascinations with bohemian cultural outsiders and the postmodern deconstruction of our increasingly global popular culture.
If Samurai Champloo doesn't quite satisfy like Cowboy Bebop, it's because its Edo-period setting -- seen in countless Japanese historical and action films over the past century -- is more familiar and less unique than the earlier show's shoddy, low-rent intergalactic setting. By the time Champloo arrived, we'd already seen Japanese swordfight films (chanbara) comically deconstructed in the likes of director Hiroyuki Nakano's Samurai Fiction (1998), and even Westernized in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 1. Just like the setting, Fuu, Mugen, and Jin come across as little more than the well-worn types -- tea house girl, stray dog, and ronin -- that are requisite in nearly all Japanese period genre pictures. None of them is as unique or memorable as Bebop's Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine, a duo whose conflicts with one another are compelling because of how much we like them both. But saying that Samurai Champloo isn't as good as Cowboy Bebop is merely saying it's not the best anime television series ever made. Even so, it's still smarter, better looking, and more fun than the vast majority of stuff coming out of Japanese animation studios.
One area in which Samurai Champloo easily eclipses Cowboy Bebop is its visual splendor. Made with a larger budget, its animation is smoother and more fluid. Detail and lighting are absolutely gorgeous. These DVDs reproduce the work of Watanabe and his crew spectacularly. The transfers are undoubtedly the same as those used for the original single-disc releases, but that's not a problem considering their high quality. The presentation is 1.78:1, enhanced for widescreen displays. Colors are beautiful, depth and detail are impressive, and the image is entirely free of macro-blocking, combing, and other digital artifacts.
The default audio option is an English dub in Dolby 5.1 surround. The voice acting is quite good, though not as impressive as the dub for Cowboy Bebop (which is arguably better than the original Japanese track). On the technical front, Samurai Champloo's English dub is nearly as impressive as the original Japanese recording. Ambient space is well-designed, making fine use of the entire soundstage. Dialogue, effects, and music are crisp with fine lows and crisp midrange. The original Japanese soundtrack is presented in DTS 5.1 surround as well as a stereo mix. The DTS track offers slight improvements in dynamic range and spatial design over the English dub. The stereo mix is clean and free of flaws. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Supplements match those on the original DVD releases. The discs have a slim (and sometimes repetitive) collection of trailers, concept art, and promotional videos. All of it is disposable. Inside each of the clear slimline keep cases is a text interview with one or more of the show's crew. In terms of substance, the interviews blow away any of the detritus on the discs.
Samurai Champloo is 26 episodes of rousing animated entertainment. This Complete Collection set is a great bargain for anyone looking to grab the entire series.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Conceptual Art