Samurai Champloo – Review
Original Air Dates: May 19th, 2004 – March 19th, 2005
Synopsis: A young woman named Fuu travels across the country with two swordsmen by her side; the unruly and brash Mugen, and Jin an even tempered ronin. The two ‘help’ Fuu in her search for a samurai who smells of sunflowers. But in their quest to find such a man the trio are constantly sidetracked through various adventures and mishaps as they make their way across Japan.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Samurai Champloo has a fairly simple premise at its heart. Fuu is looking for a man alongside two unwilling travel companions who easily get her into plenty of trouble along the way. Episodes aren’t serialized in nature, with most having very little to do with each other outside of an overarching narrative that doesn’t kick into full gear until the last fourth of the series. Shows that are more episodic can be very hit or miss. Without a big narrative to carry a story forward, you’re relying on frequent one offs, stories crammed into one thirty minute episode, two if you’re lucky, and they don’t always stick the landing. Thankfully Samurai Champloo avoids having any real stinkers (although there is one clip show to avoid, Episode 11) but at the same time only a handful stand out as the creme of the crop. Like Cowboy Bebop, seeing as it’s from the same director, there’s a heavy reliance on music, in this case the hip-hop genre. Without an appreciation for that type of music, Samurai Champloo can feel like a slog, just as Cowboy Bebop is without a love or acceptance of Jazz. The overarching narrative itself isn’t much to write home about, and its twists can be seen and guessed from miles away, but what Samurai Champloo does provide is some strong character growth and touching moments for our three leads.
Linny: The show starts off on a humorous note with tons of action and just as much comedy. As the story progresses, the amount of violence and action grows exponentially. If you are sensitive to cruelty onscreen, this anime might make you squirm every now and then due to its escalating violence. Thankfully, there is a lot of comedy scattered throughout the series which helps to break up the darker tones of the show and provide much needed comic relief for the more sensitive viewers.
Tom: Samurai Champloo has a colorful cast of characters, one of its biggest draws just like it was for Cowboy Bebop. Fuu is a tough and adorable female lead. She’s not a mere ditsy girl and easily shines as one of the stronger female characters to come out of 2004 if not early 2000s anime at large. You also have the rough, dumb and brutish Mugen who’s actually kind and caring deep down (just like Spike, it takes a bit to get there.) And finally Jin, the quiet, collected ronin who keeps to himself and his troubled past. It’s not to say that any of these three are terribly original, and Mugen can even feel like a time displaced Spike Spiegel at times, but they’re fun to watch no matter what. There isn’t much of a supporting cast to speak of, outside of a recurring detective who pops in and out from time to time. In fact, many of the ‘characters of the week’ can blend together. They often feel more like archetypes than truly individuals. That said, Samurai Champloo is less interested in world building and generating a large cast than it is breathing life and development into its three leads. And it’s there that Samurai Champloo excels.
Linny: Samurai Champloo does a great job of showcasing and exploring its leads so much so that the chances of the audience falling in love with atleast one of them is pretty high. However, thanks to the show’s decision to tell its story in episodic bits and pieces, its main characters do lack structured background information dispensing episodes. It can be frustrating to some viewers when a show leaves a lot of mystery about its mains. The worst part is that if you find yourself disliking all three leads, the chances of you warming up to a side character/s is slim. Like Tom mentioned, the supporting cast get the short end of the stick as not only are they often limited to appearing in only an episode or two but they seem to exist solely as villains or comic relief.
Tom: It’s interesting to note that Mugen and Spike share the same voice actor in the english dub, Steven Blum, which only furthers the comparisons and similarities between the two characters. Outside of this interesting tidbit, there isn’t too much else to say. The dubs cast does a solid job of bringing these characters to life. And outside of a lackluster clip show that features the tinniest amount of new animation to keep you watching if you just have to see it all, the series maintains a fairly impressive level of quality. There’s a handful of episodes that suffer from subtle stylistic changes as if another director was brought in, but otherwise Samurai Champloo never fails to produce solid and enjoyable visuals.
Linny: Samurai Champloo is a classic and famous anime in its own league thanks to its rather unique style and mixture of hip hop elements and the samurai aesthetic. It is a rather violent show, which can get sadistic at times so proceed with caution if you are a sensitive soul. If you like playful characters or watching the odd couple set up of a sombre character stuck with two irresponsible or happy go lucky types, you might end up loving the show for its leads. Thanks to its episodic story set up and English dub, the show feels like a light watch with no brain scratchers of a plot that needs you to follow every episode with intense concentration, even making it a perfect show to binge while you multitask.
Tom: Samurai Champloo is a strong show in its own right, but thanks to the unique and familiar style of its director, Shinichiro Watanabe it’s hard not to draw parallels and notice similarities between this series and Cowboy Bebop. If we’re comparing the two I’d still say I prefer Cowboy Bebop, but that doesn’t mean Samurai Champloo isn’t a wonderful watch on its own. That said, if you found yourself hating Cowboy Bebop for its style, then Samurai Champloo might best be avoided.