Another of MVM's best series draws to an impressive climax this month with the seventh and final volume of the superb Samurai Champloo.
With Fuu, Mugen and Jin only a stones throw away from their destination and their most deadly opponent gone you would forgive them a bit of breather. Unfortunately they are never going to have it that easy! The mysterious enemy who began sending assassins to kill them is revealed, and the most deadly assassin of all - a legendary samurai by the name of Kariya - is dispatched to finish our intrepid trio once and for all. Mugen and Jin's pasts have finally caught up with them and Fuu finds that her hopes of meeting the sunflower samurai hinge not only on her bodyguards' battles, but also on her own...
Samurai Champloo has been a real mix of action, drama and comedy held together with urban cool. The anachronistic mix of hip-hop style and feudal adventure has worked like a dream, and although the series has had a couple of weaker moments overall it has been one of the best series of the year so far. This final volume is a perfect ending, a gripping three episode mix of high emotion, extreme tension and awesome action.
The series has frequently jumped from the main plotline to side stories and standalone episodes, sometimes to great comic effect, but this time it sticks to the main story and the focus is purely on drama. The series has always been at its best when it gets serious and this volume is absolutely superb. The fight scenes are the best so far, with Jin's showdown with Kariya and Mugen's battle in a ruined church being the highlights, but what really strikes you this time is the sense of tension. You are never sure who will live and who will die, it keeps you guessing, and for only the second time in the series Mugen and Jin are pitted against adversaries that are much stronger and much more skilled than they are. There are numerous twists and turns and the intelligent story serves up some great scenes and set pieces.
It has been the intelligence of the story that has grabbed me throughout this series, it manages to sneak in quite a lot of social commentary and serious Japanese history without being obvious about it. It blends a large variety of styles and themes, underpinning it with a sense of authenticity despite out of place elements like rapping samurai and graffiti. You can learn a surprising amount about the history of Japan from this series, and if you can't be bothered to pay attention to that you can dine out on the great animation, excellent music and superb action. These final three episodes manage to condense the series' best aspects, keeping the action, drama and tension ticking over throughout and making for superb viewing.
As endings to a series go, there are few better than Samurai Champloo vol 7. It has all of the series' best aspects and more, and manages to explain the all mysteries and tie up all the loose ends. Well, all but one - a retainer who is seemingly killed by Kariya somehow is alive a few scenes later as if nothing had happened, but we'll just gloss over that... All in all though this is the perfect ending to a great series and if you have missed out on Samurai Champloo so far then you have missed one of the series of the year. Breathtaking stuff.
It looks better than most previous volumes extras-wise, but at the end of the day two galleries, trailers and a (very brief) advert for the PlayStation 2 game is not much of an improvement. This is especially apparent when you consider the game isn't available in the UK and one of the galleries consists of the 'eyecatch' screens that come up before and after the advert break. Disappointing.