MVM's box set releases continue this in September with one of their most popular releases of the last two years, Samurai Champloo.
Part of a revival for samurai anime that
included the likes of Samurai 7 (also available from MVM) and ADV's
Kurogane, Samurai Champloo boasted direction from Cowboy Bebop helmer
Watanabe. The story revolves around Fuu, a feisty young barmaid in feudal
Japan who is searching for a mysterious samurai 'who smells of sunflowers'.
However, the bandit strewn countryside is no place for a woman to go alone, so
she persuades two swordsmen to join her as bodyguards. Unfortunately for
her the two aren't exactly conventional or devoted protectors. Mugen is
wild, uncouth and unpredictable, Jin is cold, calculating and aloof. The
two have two things in common - lack of money and awesome sword skills.
They both search for increasingly powerful opponents to test their skills
against, and both realise that the other is a worthy foe. With two
bodyguards looking for any excuse to fight each other, hordes of bandits and
samurai out to get all of them and some sinister opponents waiting in the wings,
will Fuu ever reach her goal? Oh, and did I mention that the series also
contains rapping samurai, bushido students that have abandoned the way of the
warrior for graffiti, a hip-hop soundtrack and breakdancing? Well it
Samurai Champloo is one of the most bizarre series of recent years, injecting a typical samurai tale with modern urban style. Oddly though it really works. The two aren't as far apart as you may think, hip-hop and samurai combine so well you wonder why only the Wu Tang Clan have tried it before. Samurai Champloo combines the best of both worlds, with the superb action and drama of samurai films imbued with the attitude and sheer urban cool of the hip-hop scene. The anachronistic elements, such as sunglasses and beatboxing
thugs don't seem out of place at all, and modern-sounding storylines involving drug running and organised crime fit Japan's Edo period perfectly. The series flips between standalone stories and deeper, longer plots about the central three characters and it's the characters that really drive this series.
Some of the standalone episodes can be a bit
too silly on occasion and the series does occasionally leave some awesome plot
strands hanging whilst it focuses on them, but the characters keep it
interesting. All three of the central trio are very enigmatic when they
first turn up, and their pasts remain unexplained quite a while. You want
to know more about them and you want them to achieve their goals, and this is
sometimes what keeps you interested when the series changes pace or focus.
The character focus is admirable, but that isn't all that Samurai Champloo
has. As with any series featuring samurai you know you're going to get
action and the action in this series is awesome. The fights are
frequent and jump from hack and slash epics to tense one on one standoffs.
The contrast in Mugen and Jin's fighting style makes each fight visually
stunning, Mugen's unpredictable, breakdance infused fighting is the more
entertaining, but Jin's more traditional swift and clinical style is more
The series is entertaining throughout, with tonnes of action and lashings of comedy, but it's at its best when the dramatic multi-episode stories kick in. Mugen's chaotic past, Jin's shameful burden and Fuu's hidden sadness form the backdrop for several rollercoaster stories that really keep you on the edge of the seat, and things really go up a notch when Jin and Mugen are forced to their limits. The problem is that the series will break up the brilliant stories with some throwaway episodes that, whilst still very enjoyable, shatter the
momentum the series builds. It's a shame that it doesn't stick to what it does best, but the sheer unpredictability does make it kind of addictive. You're never quite sure where it's going, and the frequent use of modern ideas and elements means you don't know what will happen next. However, despite all of the silliness and anachronism, it is also very clever. All the way through the series sneaks in historical facts and teaches you about the Edo period in an unobtrusive way. The Government persecution of Japanese Christians, the xenophobic laws that banned foreign travel within Japan and the structure of feudal Japanese society are all major elements of a story that takes our intrepid trio from the ancient Tokyo (Edo) to the very southernmost tip of Japan. It's entertaining, enjoyable and action packed, but it has brain to go with the brawn.
And that combination is what makes Samurai Champloo so good. Yes it can be hit or miss, yes it can be a bit stupid (especially the zombie episode), but even when it hits a low you know there will be another high just around the corner. The animation and music is great and it has a unique style that just oozes cool. It's clever and stupid, it's dramatic and funny, it's tense and carefree. 'Champloo' apparently means 'mixed' in one Japanese dialect, and it's the perfect word to describe the eclectic fusion of styles, genres and stories that comprise this series. A bit more focus and it would be getting five stars, but as it is Samurai Champloo is still one of the best action series currently available in the UK, and is well worth a place in your collection.
The on-disc extras are pretty weak for such a good series, just clean opening or closing sequences or a gallery and trailers on most discs, although a music video does grace the first disc and a short PlayStation 2 game trailer sneak on to the last one. Other than that you have some nice packaging and a free Samurai Champloo bandana, so at least MVM are trying to make up for the deficit.