The first volume of Samurai Champloo was excellent, blending samurai action and hip-hop cool to superb effect, but the first episode set a standard that the others fell just short of achieving. This time it's a different story.
Running low on cash, the intrepid trio - Fuu the former barmaid, Jin the cold and selfish Samurai and Mugen the wild and uncouth swordsman - decide to search for ways to make money in the big city. However, the city of Edo (now known as Tokyo) doesn't quite have streets paved with gold, and one disaster leads to another for the naive Fuu. Her attempts to earn money from modelling and an eating competition lead her to danger, whilst Jin is forced to face part of his past and all three of them get caught in the middle when a drug deal goes wrong. With all this going on it's not surprising that they appear to be no closer to the mysterious sunflower samurai, but they do get a lead that will set them on their travels once more.
Wow. Comedy, action, drama, emotion... this volume of Samurai Champloo has it all! From the hilariously big headed - but crap - swordsman and his beat-boxing lackeys, to the truly moving story about the boy who becomes a pickpocket to support his ill mother but steals more than he bargained for, the episodes on this disc really cover the whole spectrum. It also manages to tell you an awful a lot about feudal Japan, despite taking some obvious liberties it does get a lot of historical and cultural information in. By the end of the volume you will know what Japanese Ukyo-E painting is and will have learned something about feudal Japan's isolation from foreign influence, but will still have seen a lot of samurai slashing the hell out of each other.
And to be honest that is a large part of what makes Samurai Champloo so good. The action is superb, the animation and music excellent, the storylines great and the characters brilliant, but it is not style over content. It is stylish as hell, but it has brains too and they don't get in the way of the action. The episodes are mostly self-contained stories which parallel modern issues - drug dealing and criminal gangs for example - but the highlight for me was episode 6 which featured a Dutchman fleeing European homophobia for the liberal sexual attitudes of Japan, but meeting extreme xenophobia instead. It was quite a thought provoking episode, but it never got too preachy - great stuff.
Samurai Champloo is a real mix of styles but it works so well, and this volume sees the series on top of its game. It's weird how the hip-hop stylings blend so well with feudal Japan, and this volume proves that the brains are there to back up the great visuals and music. The fast paced comedy and action keeps everything thundering along, and we learn a little about Jin's blood-drenched past along the way, ironically during an episode that has probably been the most hilarious of the series so far. All of this combines to make a great release, and one that deserves to be in your collection, if you haven't bought it yet what are you waiting for?
For such a high-profile release the extras are shockingly weak, clean closing sequence and trailers are all that grace this disc.