After the excellence of Samurai Champloo vol 2, the latest volume has an awful lot to live up to, but thankfully it doesn't disappoint.
The disc starts in unusual fashion with a retiring border official reminiscing about a single day when everyone was let through the notoriously tight security of his checkpoint. Although it seems an odd way to start, it doesn't take a genius to work out that where such an unusual event occurs, Fuu, Mugen and Jin can't be far away. Once again we are in for a shedload of action as Mugen takes on a sect of warrior priests and a deadly martial artist who has learned a powerful Chinese martial art that allows him to kill without physically striking his opponent. But there is also more going on than action in this volume as Jin shows a softer and more honourable side when he helps a woman who has been sold into prostitution to fund her husband's gambling habit.
Once again Samurai Champloo comes up with the goods. The animation is great, as is the music, and this volume contains some of the best action scenes of the series so far - particularly when Mugen takes on a load of warriors in field of 'sacred herbs' (three guesses at what herbs these may be, here's a clue: it's not coriander) - whilst the comedy is great too. One of my favourite parts is Mugen's training of a stag beetle so that he can enter it into the beetle equivalent of a cock fight, there is just something extremely funny about a battle hardened warrior making a beetle drag a rock...
However, in amongst all of the comedy and action it is the story of the woman sold into prostitution that really stands out. The story gives a real insight into enigmatic samurai Jin's character, and is far more dramatic than the rest of the series, plus it is romantic in an understated way. Jin's awkwardness in his part time job as cook on an eel stall shows a more human side to his character, but it's his quiet and noble determination that really drives the episode. It's great stuff, in fact it's only episode 12 that lets the volume down.
Episode 12 sees Mugan and Jin taking a peek in Fuu's diary, which basically is an excuse to show a load of clips from past episodes linked with a few moments of new footage. It actually works better than most other 'review episodes' I have seen as it allows you to see some of the series coolest fights again but it doesn't really move the story forward at all, which is a shame.
Overall though it doesn't detract too much from what is another great instalment in a great series, there's plenty of action and comedy, as well as some impressive drama this time round. I have been thoroughly enjoying this series so far and it continues to be excellent, with likeable characters and plenty of style backed up by an interesting story. I recommend this series highly.
Volume 1 had three extras. Volume 2 had two extras. And volume 3 has 1 extra. Trailers. If it carries on like this then in a couple of volume's time we'll be lucky to have a scene select.