If there is one anime Watanabe anime that I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never watched before, it’s Samurai Champloo. It’s even worse in this case, because one of my best friends showed me a episode of this anime a long time ago and yet I turned up my nose at it. The episode in question was the baseball one for the record. I’m kind of stunned that didn’t work on me because that’s an amazingly fun one. I’m glad I made the effort to catch up on my Shinichiro Watanabe anime before Carole and Tuesday makes it’s appearance on Netflix, because it’s allowed me the change to watch anime I would have just put off to the side for some reason. No particular reason, just some reason. It’s also allowed me to really fall in love with Shinchiro Watanabe’s approach in making anime, because that guy is a one of a kind director. Music is his passion and he uses the music in his anime in so many unique ways.
Samurai Champloo’s backstory material is rather simple to explain. One strange day in an unspecified date when shogun and samurai ruled Japan in the Edo period, a fifteen year old girl by the name Fuu Kusumi worked as a waitress at a teahouse. Her father went missing when she was a little kid and her mother died more recently, so working for some nice folks at a teahouse was the way she kept on surviving. One day when gang members came to cause some problems at the teahouse, a complete unrestrained swordsman named Mugen came to the teahouse to take out the gang for food. Before major action starts, a silent and traditional swordsman named Jin came in to the teahouse as well. A fight breaks out in earnest, Mugen and Jin end up fighting each other, and a local lord arrests both Jin and Mugen in order to execute them the next day. With Fuu’s help, the two swordsman were able to escape at the price of going on a journey with Fuu to find a samurai that smells of Sun Flowers. After that comes some episodic adventures for this unlikely trio.
The easy way to describe this show is by explaining it’s second name it’s title, Champloo. Based on the Okinawan word “Champuru”, for stirred or mixed up. In this anime, the mixture is used in a more hip hop context. You know, like a disc jockey? So Samurai Champloo is a mixture of Japanese culture with a blend of hip hop culture from Watanabe’s point of view. Some aspects of Japanese Culture are accurate to what I know about Japan from history class. So, possibly not that accurate? Christianity was heavily frowned upon and so were foreigners. Two things that play heavily into Samurai’s Champloo’s growing plot. At the same time, hip hop was thrown in with how Mugen fights like a break dancer and how typical thugs that represented in that culture (at least as far as Watanabe knows) from the streets own different towns. It’s definitely a unique world experience that I am glad that is explored by are three main character/dorks.
With all that said, I’m amazed by how dark and realistic this journey was portrayed. In the beginning of Champloo, Jin and Mugen didn’t buy Fuu’s journey for a second. They would ditch her as soon as the trio entered a town, so Fuu had to fend for herself. You know, a fifteen year old girl in a land predominately controlled by thugs. While nothing really bad ever happened to Fuu, seeing her working at a whore house or almost sold into slavery before Jin and Mugen cared enough to track her down. Watanabe never holds back does he? I suppose that showing the growth between Jin, Mugen, and Fuu by showing them care about each other more and more as time goes on really does make Samurai Champloo feel heart warming and completely wonderful. Fuu shouldn’t be traveling by herself, so I’m glad she found some great companions eventually. Even if they are overly skilled losers that have no business being body guards and/or companions.
Samurai Champloo isn’t dark all the time though. There is a lot of crazy things through out the show that only can happen in this anime. I do have some questions about a dutch trader being the first weaboo. An odd thing to do with that character. Still, I did love his goofy personality while trying to hide himself from the police and how he was the person that gave Fuu and the others a clue on direction to go. I also love the checkpoint episode where an entire weed patch was set ablaze causing hallucinations everywhere. Watanabe likes having some fun with that, doesn’t he? Oh, the baseball episode. I love the idea that the United States left Japan alone until Admiral Perry showed up because Mugen beat up a lot of US players with his pitches and stopping U.S. imperialism for now. That’s not even all the funny that comes from that episode either. I do have some questions about the episode, but I can’t help but say I really liked it.
There could be some complaints about how Fuu, Mugen, and Jin never share their backstories with each other during their journey. Honestly, I really like the choice that Samurai Champloo made in regards to this. Watanabe really is a person that allows to the story to tell you about these characters instead of giving exposition and I approve of that choice here. The slow reveal of Jin and Mugen’s backstories gave the anime some time to build the unique feel of this world. Mugen being a former pirate and Jin killing the master of his old dojo is heavily involved in Samurai Champloo’s plot. Do you need to know those things to know these character? No, you get to see them interact with different situations every episode to make them feel more fleshed out in a natural manner. By doing that, you see their likes, interests, and their goofy sides when the occasion arises. Also, there is a large amount of comfort in having a place to return to where you aren’t judged. Each character in that trio is an outsider for a reason, so their partnership is that warm and comfy place that they can return to. In the end, the three becoming best friends is the greatest way Samurai Champloo could end.
The visuals of Samurai Champloo are very beautiful, but I can’t help but admit that there are plenty of short cuts in it’s production as well. As usual for a Watanabe anime, the character designs are very interesting and distinct in a certain Watanabe style. Also, I recall like how distinct colors that are used because it really does give the anime it’s own personality. At the same time, a lot of action shots were either covered in shadows to make the animation easier or changed the character designs to be sharper and more angular figures fighting each other in cool action scenes sometimes. There is plenty of fluidity though, but not as often. From a stylistic stand point, that absolutely works. From an animation stand point, it doesn’t look at neat and awe inspiring as Cowboy Bebop for me. That’s just a personal thing though and not fair to what Samurai Champloo is doing here at all. On it’s own, Samurai Champloo is still more then a visual feast in a lot of ways.
What can I say here other then, I liked Samurai Champloo quite a bit. I feel like I probably should mention that, because I don’t think I made that clear enough in this review yet. Even if I was a little shocked by some of the content at the beginning of Samurai Champloo, I can’t deny how true to their character pushing Fuu aside was for Jin and Mugen then because they started on a journey they didn’t want to go on. Really seeing this crew of unlikely teammates becoming true companions was immediately satisfying. I also like how realistic this world felt over the run of it’s two cour run, even if it was like a very strange fantasy version of the origin. There is just too much here to like. I’m glad I watched it finally after all these years. I guess I have some more anime from the early 2000’s that I need to watch in the future, but I don’t know when I will get to doing that.