Samurai Champloo

Samurai ChamplooType: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Historical Martial Arts / Drama
Vintage: 2004

Version reviewed: English Dubbed / Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review:
31 Dec 2007

Grade: B

Director Shinichiro Watanabe revisits and reinvents his formula that worked with such success for Cowboy Bebop. This time, the Feudal Samurai Drama meets Underground Hip-Hop.

Plot Summary
Fate has brought three unlikely companions together: Mugen, a loose cannon; Jin, a silent and contemplative samurai; Fuu, a tea-house attendant. Mugen and Jin quickly get into a conflict amongst themselves and vow to kill each other. Fuu intervenes and insists that the two put off their duel and act as her bodyguards as she goes on a journey across Japan to find a samurai who smells of sunflowers.

The Review
Once more, two unlikely elements come together to make a series that defies expectations and becomes undefinable itself. While Cowboy Bebop found Shinichiro Watanabe combining space, the old American west, and jazz, Samurai Champloo brings together Japan before its emergence from world isolation in the 1800s with modern underground hip-hop.

The overall story of the series is Fuu’s search for the Sunflower Samurai, who she knows nothing of except his scent. However, it is still episodic in nature with only a few stories that take multiple episodes to tell, including the three-part finale.

Being a series that takes place in feudal Japan, it should come as little surprise that action is a primary focus of Samurai Champloo. You can’t very well have a series about Samurai without swordfights, and they are plentiful here. This is a well-rounded series though, so drama gets a nearly equal share of time here, and there is also a unique humor that shows up often. One of the subtle narratives of the series is the constant quest for the next meal, along with Fuu’s seemingly bottomless stomach – ironic considering that she’s a small girl of about fifteen years of age. Fuu also has a little flying squirrel as a companion, so even a series as serious as this can still have a mascot and not lose any of its edge.

The soundtrack works surprisingly well, though those who are not as familiar with underground hip-hop, and instrumental hip-hop in particular, may find it a bit odd. On the humorous side, there are some great anachronisms in the series. Fuu carries a pouch that could easily be mistaken as a cell phone complete with charms. She also wears platform sandals. Then there are the beatboxing villagers and graffiti artists. Yet somehow, it all seems to work.

So, while not your typical samurai drama, Samurai Champloo is a great series that plays like a reinvention of Cowboy Bebop. Comparisons are almost inevitable, but Samurai Champloo does stand out on its own as a fine series that I’d recommend to fans of samurai or Watanabe’s work.

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