Geneon // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // May 26th, 2005
For everyone who's always wondered what samurai and hip hop would be like in the same series.
Unfortunately, DVD Verdict didn't get the first volume of Samurai Champloo to review. We did get the second one, though, and it is lots of fun. I will do my best to make this review applicable for people that are curious about the series in general.
The plot of Samurai Champloo is nothing to get excited about. A fifteen-year-old girl named Fuu saves the lives of two opposing warriors. One, Jin, is a highly trained samurai with traditional style. The other, Mugen, is an unconventional but deadly fighter. Although they would like nothing more than to kill each other, Fuu convinces them both to join her in her quest to find the samurai that smells of sunflowers, who could be pretty much anywhere in Japan. The two of them want nothing to do with her, but they feel obligated to stick with her for the time being. As of the second volume, they haven't made headway in their actual quest, but they do get into trouble everywhere they go.
This volume contains four episodes:
* "Artistic Anarchy"
Fuu catches the eye of a local painter, who seems sleazy and may be involved in a kidnapping and prostitution racket.
* "Stranger Searching"
Mugen and Jin lose their swords to a gay European merchant disguised as a Samurai. The only way to get their swords back is to take him on a tour of the city and avoid the law.
* "A Risky Racket"
After Fuu is robbed by a pickpocket, she gets tangled up with a young man who has stolen the wrong things from the wrong people.
* "The Art of Altercation"
A conceited samurai, trying to make it big by hunting down a samurai with glasses (Jin), falls in love with Fuu in a bar. Jin and Mugen are seduced by an older woman.
Okay, so the plot seems pretty slim. Of course, Cowboy Bebop (Shinichiro Watanabe's last series) didn't have much plot at the beginning either, and it grew into one of the most entertaining and compelling anime series in history. So far, Samurai Champloo is a suitable and worthy follow-up.
We are starting to learn bits and pieces from each character's past. Although Mugen's past is shrouded in mystery, I now have a few guesses what happened to Fuu, and the last episode on this disc gives us a much clearer picture of Jin. Each of the three main characters has me intrigued, and I suspect that their pasts will factor into the rest of the show.
The plot isn't especially important, though. Watching Samurai Champloo is a lot like reading the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Each book has a few stories that stand alone, building a better picture of samurai culture and allowing the characters to kick major butt. Sometimes these episodes are sympathetic, some of them are ridiculous, but all of them add more to the collection of stories.
I'm fascinated by the blend of historical and contemporary elements in the show. The series is squarely aimed at fans of hip-hop, using popular music, familiar stock characters from urban gang movies, and drug-related storylines to connect to this new generation of fans. Fans of samurai movies will be pleased to know that the action scenes are slickly produced, and that the main characters would fit comfortably in a pulpy samurai action movie. The blend of these two influences is playful, so it's impossible to guess where the show will be heading next. It's like Takashi Miike making a Zatoichi movie, only animated and injected with a hip-hop score.
The animation comes from the team that produced the anime sequence in Kill Bill. Like the script, the animation always teeters on the edge of parody, while maintaining a top level of quality. The action sequences are inventive and fluid, and the characters are sharp and unique. From bar-room brawls to classic samurai duels, the action scenes never get repetitive and always entertain. Likewise, the colorful cast of characters is always changing, which keeps the over-the-top extras from getting too annoying.
Fortunately, Geneon has released a disc that does justice to the great animation. The video transfer is flawless, with strong colors, deep black levels, and high detail. Computer animation is used subtly, blending well with the cel animation. And, finally, someone has listened to my request for sound mixes in Geneon's releases. The options here include a 5.1 Dolby track in English, or a 2.0 Dolby or DTS surround track in Japanese. Watching it anything but DTS would be a waste. This track is Geneon's penance for all the stereo tracks that I've had to endure in the past, and it has a rich bass track, plenty of action in the surrounds, and great clarity. No extras exist on the disc, but I'm happy to sacrifice some animation galleries for the extra sound track.
I'm looking forward to the rest of Samurai Champloo. While this disc isn't quite as strong as the first one, it is still supremely entertaining, and suggests that the creators of the series are heading in a clear direction with the show -- they're just keeping it a secret for now. Fans of action anime and samurai movies will definitely want this in their collection, and people involved in the hip-hop culture might be pleasantly surprised. It's better than Scarface, at any rate.
Not much plot, tons of style, cool action sequences and a beat you can dance to...Samurai Champloo is a unique addition to the action anime genre. So far, not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; 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: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated