The last volume ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, with our intrepid trio splitting up and separately getting caught up in a hunt for a dangerous fugitive, but if you thought that left you on tenterhooks then wait till the end of this one...
Samurai Champloo is well into its stride now and with Fuu, Mugen and Jin travelling further into the south and ever closer to their destination - the port city of Nagasaki - it finally looks like it's time to get some answers about the mysterious Sunflower Samurai. Why is Fuu searching for him? What is his relation to her? Finally we are starting to get closer to the mystery, but there are plenty of challenges to face first. Hidden Christians, corrupt priests, corrupt officials, swordsmen turned graffiti artists, outlaws, illiteracy... All this and more stand in their way, but there is an even more deadly foe lurking in the shadows, and it looks like there will be some very tough decisions to make if they are ever to reach their destination...
Samurai Champloo really hit a high point in the last volume, and this one keeps the momentum going very well. What I have always liked about the series is how it manages to be both extremely entertaining and packed with pop-culture references yet still sneaks a lot of historical fact in too. Especially intriguing in this volume is the focus on 'hidden Christians', at the time the series is set Christianity had been outlawed in Japan and practicing it was punishable by death. This forced Christians into hiding and it is to one of these hidden communities that Fuu, Mugen and Jin travel on their search for the Sunflower Samurai. It's clever how even the most anachronistic episodes, such as the one on this disc which focuses on 'tagging', that there is usually some basis in historical fact which the creators have taken and just gone wild with. It's makes it a whole lot more thought provoking than you would expect, and this volume ramps up the tension and action once again too.
As you would expect the action quota is suitably high, but even better is the fact that there are some really dramatic fights - particularly as Mugen comes face to face with a dangerous outlaw and Jin faces a former friend and an even more deadly opponent. For the first time there is really a sense that the characters may not get through the challenges that face them, and this really beefs up the tension, however, if you think this means that it will be all doom and gloom think again.
As always Samurai Champloo lobs plenty of laughs into the mix, and there are some particularly funny moments in this volume - particularly the sheer over-the-top posturing of the tagging episode and also Fuu's brilliant letter to Mugen and Jin. It's a good job there are the laughs in the tagging episode, because without them it would only really appeal to those interested in graffiti and urban culture, as it is you can't help but crack up at most of it! Samurai Champloo vol 5 has laughs, it has action, it has drama, and it has historical context, but does it move the plot forward? The answer is yes.
Finally some of the secrets of the Sunflower Samurai are being revealed, and with our heroes being pointed in his direction you would be forgiven for thinking that the series is winding down to it's conclusion. However, it lobs in a twist, a mystery and a massive cliffhanger ending all rolled into one at the end of the volume, proving there is still plenty to come. The series has consistently proved to be one of the best action series available in the UK, and although this volume does not quite hit the heights of the last one - mainly due to a couple of episodes with slightly more specific appeal than normal - it certainly does not drop the baton. With a superb ending whetting your appetite for volume 6, Samurai Champloo vol 5 is another great instalment in a great series, trust me - you need to see it.
Hmm, trailers and galleries. Impressive? Not really, the series deserves more.