Review: Samurai Champloo

Samurai sword fighting meets hip hop in Samurai Champloo. Rivaling Cowboy Bebop for its unique soundtrack and highly acclaimed action sequences.

The story follows two lone samurai as they agree to accompany Fuu–a young waitress–to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers and hopefully find the answers to her fathers disappearance. In the first episode these two samurai are at each others throats and it is only by Fuu’s intervention that they agree to postpone their fight until they help out Fuu.

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The sword is an extension of the self. Samurai Champloo portrays this better than any other sword wielding show. In his natural state, the samurai, Mugen (in red above) is quick tempered and wild with his words. He was brought up an orphan and doesn’t know where he came from. In his eyes, his hatred for the world is just and fair. Therefore his fighting style could be called over exaggerated, unpredictable and raw. Another samurai called, Jin; (in blue) is calm and collected in his natural state, in addition he has years of formal training at an esteemed dojo. His fighting style is tactful and precise. You feel every move in combat he makes is coldly calculated.  Mugen is impulsive and vulgar while Jin is quiet and demonstrates good moral standing.

As the show progresses it allows for a genuine change in the samurais behavior and for Fuu to come to realize how the world works. At a deeper level it starts to become apparent that the two once distant samurai are not that different after all. Mugen and Jin are two sides of the same coin.

Entrance

Champloo hosts some of the most spectacular sword fights in anime. What really impressed me was the shows ability to personalize each and every kill that was made. You feel the cool blade run across someone’s skin, cutting and tearing out tendons. Being a samurai and killing someone was an intimate affair. As dark as it comes. Which is why a certain aura of respect and admiration floats above the combat of two equally matched opponents. Because for Jin and Mugen this is heir craft. This is their pleasure. Each has dedicated their life to the sword in their own way and on their own terms.

You can always tell what is going on during the fights. You never lose your orientation. The motions of each samurai are unique and well drawn out. Mugen flips and sprints across the screen. Swinging wildly as if he were a cornered rabid dog. While Jin plants his feet firmly on the ground and preciously cuts through bodies with deadly accuracy. The shows ability to capture such personalized body movements drives home the point of “the sword being an extension of the self”. Each time I watch the show I am reminded of what an impressive feat this was for the animation team.

The trio always finds themselves in a pinch. So it is quite enjoyable to see how they fight when their backs are to the wall.

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Naturally this story takes place in feudal Japan, with there being samurai walking around and all. The portrayal of this time period is done quite well. We get to visit royalty, witness clan wars, staging of coos. The trio finds themselves at brothels, religious gatherings, crop fields, and even underground mine. Each episode is different than the last, including the people they meet and the places they see. What makes their trip more intriguing is the musical score. Modern hip hop accompanied by Japanese style flutes and piano. The only words that come to mind when witnessing samurai duel to the sick beats of Nujabes is: bad ass.

At first it catches you by surprise–hearing that 4/4 bass beat in a time period centuries before hip hop even became a thing. I witnessed passion, despair and great comedy to the snap of a snare and kick of the drum. For there is more than one type of beat to be laid down and you will start to appreciate the sheer genius behind the music that is elegantly laced into the very fabric of the story line. Making Champloo and hip-hop inseparable.

Sword Cross

For what does music do for a show? It sets the tone. If you fill a jar with rocks and that represents the overall story. Then pour water into said jar, filling in all the gaps. The music floats around the story. Then the story and the music become one. The overall tone of Champloo is strongly associated with synth Japanese beats and pounding of the drums.

I thoroughly enjoyed Samurai Champloo. Even years later, it is still one of the best samurai stories and is a pure work of art. It’s ability to draw you in and get you to bob your head to the off-beat of the drums fascinates me. It’s just that addicting.

10/10

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