Geneon // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // July 21st, 2005
Sort of like Sword of Doom re-scored by RZA...
This third volume of Samurai Champloo contains four more episodes of zany encounters, wild samurai action, and lessons in Japanese history. Although this volume doesn't advance the plot, fans of the series are sure to be entertained.
Well, there's not much story to tell at this point, but Fuu is still accompanied by Jin and Mugen on her search for the samurai that smells like sunflowers, who may or may not actually exist. Their journey has taken them to Edo, and is now moving them slowly towards Nagasaki, at least when they can actually travel instead of working for money and food. This time around, they have the following adventures:
* "Beatbox Bandits"
The three travelers are captured at a very tough checkpoint. The only way to escape execution is for Mugen to return the head of a dead bandit to a nearby town. Unfortunately, there are legendary monsters in the woods, and he has to be there and back in less than a day. Not even the tough checkpoint officials are ready for what he will really find in the forest...
* "Lethal Lunacy"
Fuu, Jin and Mugen stop in a town to work in a small temple in exchange for food and lodging. There have been a series of murders in the area, all targeting skilled swordsmen. When Mugen learns that there is a bounty on the street killer's head, he seeks out the man. Has Mugen finally met his match?
* "Gamblers and Gallantry"
While Mugen trains a beetle to fight in a local beetle sumo ring, Jin meets a local woman who has been forced into prostitution because of her husband's gambling debts. Jin decides to rescue her, but his motives are unclear. Is this finally a glimpse into the samurai's past?
* "The Disorder Diaries"
While Fuu is having a bath, Mugen and Jin read her diary in order to learn more about the samurai who smells like sunflowers and the journey they are on. This quickly morphs into a review episode.
Plot development or not, Samurai Champloo is still a lot of fun. Each episode zooms in on a different aspect of the Edo period, playfully teaching about and subverting historical Japan. This volume covers the checkpoints that existed between regions as an attempt at national law enforcement, Japan's position in the world of martial arts, sects of warrior monks, and forced prostitution. It's not unlike the bits of explanation in the Lone Wolf and Cub comic series, using dashes of historical and technical information to add some credibility to the wild and zany adventures. And it works. I'm not saying that you should show Samurai Champloo to your kids as educational material, but fans of anime and samurai films that don't have much historical knowledge will find it a fascinating addition to the series.
Even without the mini history lessons, most of the episodes are thoroughly entertaining. Mugen and Jin are both really cool characters, and the series maintains a great mix of action and humor. Although the characters don't have the depth that exists in many anime series, their interactions are always entertaining, as these three characters with nothing in common have to put up with each other and try to work together. It's an old formula, but it still works just fine.
The fighting sequences are very slick and well designed, showcasing the skills of the two fighters. Everything is slightly exaggerated, since this is animation, but it is all rooted in reality and richly influenced by classic samurai movies. Just like the treatment of the period, the look and feel of the series is playful but also respectful of everything that has come before. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of hip hop, so the music does little to pull me in, but the contemporary flavor it gives the series does make Samurai Champloo a unique experience.
The only real problem with the show at this point is its unwillingness to deepen the characters and advance the story. As a weekly television show, the episodic nature of the series could work just fine: each episode is a self-contained story within the larger context of a journey. In the DVD format, though, it's starting to get somewhat annoying. I want to learn more about the pasts of the characters. I want to understand better what they are searching for. I want some drama with my action. The review episode at the end of this volume is a kick in the face, because not enough has happened to warrant any kind of review. One of the characters mentioning that they are traveling together to find the samurai that smells of sunflowers and that Mugen and Jin plan to kill each other when it happens would be more than enough to catch anyone up. Instead, the whole episode is wasted trying to sum up each of the adventures the trio has already been on.
The technical quality is still top notch. Listening to Samurai Champloo in DTS is a joy, for the active surround channels, the punch of the music and the clarity of it all. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a trend in the anime industry. The English dub is all right for people who can't read, I suppose, but the Japanese track is a better choice for the rest of us. The video transfer is still exquisite too, with no visible flaws in any way. The lack of extras drag is disappointing, with only a collection of ten line drawings on the disc.
Overall, I think Samurai Champloo is a solid investment. Even if the story and characters don't get developed as much as they could, I doubt I will ever get bored of these short, fun samurai adventures. Now everyone can find out what the Edo period would have been like if they had hip-hop back then.
Not guilty, but let's advance the story a little more next time, all right?
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
* Line Art