"Gather around 'Bleach' and samurai lovers to gaze upon the beauty that is 'Samurai Champloo'" — ancient proverb
Samurai Champloo is an underrated anime that was released in what is known as the Bleach era, where samurais became the raging new trend. What is different between Bleach and Samurai Champloo, is that the latter is only 26 episodes long and takes place at the end of the Edo period in Japan. This anime was created by the same man that created everybody's favorite anime Cowboy bebop, *drum roll* Shinichirō Watanabe.
The story follows a young girl named Fuu, who after being saved by a vagabond samurai named Mugen and a ronin named Jin, she decides to go on a quest to find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers." Accidentally, Mugen and Jin get in a fight with each other, thus killing Shibui Tomonoshin, the magistrate's son. They were sent immediately to jail. Fuu then returns the favor to Jin and Mugen by setting them free under one condition: They must help her in her quest (and we're speaking about the Edo period, where everybody hired samurais to protect them). And this is how the story begins. Two samurais, who promised to kill each other, and a girl, who keeps them both in control, out on a long journey.
As the episodes drag on, we get to know each character individually and bond with them.
What really attracted me about this show is the style of the setting. The people who worked on this really captured the essence of the Edo era while blending it with some old school hip-hop and modern references, all that while keeping it a timeless piece of art. You can see the modernization in Mugen's reckless fighting style, the famous rap soundtracks and a little subtle designs on the back of kimonos. Some writers and directors fail to create something with the same urban feel like Samurai Champloo. Meaning, they can't blend between old and new. It takes effort to balance between traditional culture and our modern era without making it look cheesy or overused. Samurai Champloo excels in creating this balance, making the show feel authentic and relatable.
Phenomenal Fighting sequences
The one thing that really got me pumping is the fighting scenes in this show. Nowadays it is hard to find anime with realistic hand-to-hand combat sequences or fighting scenes with light weapons (Don't get me wrong, using magic and other devices as weapons is fun, but it certainly is being overused) and this is where people draw similarities between Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop.
In Samurai Champloo you can see the blend between action and comedy. What struck me the most is how each character has its own fighting style. Mugen, for instance, fights with reckless abandon. It makes you feel like the creator merged break-dancing with Mugen's moves. Mugen's fighting technique complements his personality: wild, vulgar, rude.
Jin, on the other hand, has a precise, conventional fighting technique as seen in most samurais, which tells a lot about who is as a character: traditional, quiet, calm.
Fuu is not a fighter. Although she carried a sword with her that belonged to the samurai she wishes to find, she didn't fight. I hoped she would pick up some fighting techniques in her journey, but the show's pacing did not allow that.
Every fighting scene — and I shit-you-not — is unlike the ones in recent anime. In each fight scene there is different background scenery, enemy and feel. I honestly cannot stress how much I love the fight scenes in this anime. They are quick and each has its own purpose. What I also noticed is the physics and how it is taken under consideration by the creator, which is something I have not seen done in Bleach. Watanabe does not show us unrealistic techniques. No character jumps so high like gravity does not apply to them or have a long inner dialogue that drags to the next episode in Samurai Champloo.
The Plot Leaves Unanswered Questions
Considering how much effort it was put to create this unique feel of Samurai Champloo, the plot was not that thrilling. At times you'd feel excited, but there are other times where you only watch it for the characters rather than the plot. Despite my love for this show, when I first watched it, it took me seven episodes to actually get used to it, and there are a lot of things left unanswered, which in some cases keeps the show fresh and excited so the viewer can rewatch it. I don't think it was necessary to leave loose ends in this show because it's not like it's a mystery where you need to watch it over and over again to understand it. Samurai Champloo has a direct and open plot, so there was no use in leaving things unanswered.
At first, the three main character appeared to be three of the many archetypes: typical wild untamed man, the well-behaved man and the bossy girl, but as the episodes go on you get to see some other unique features stand out in each character; some even surprise you by their unpredictable actions, thus breaking the archetype assigned to them.
Every show has its pros and cons. Despite Samurai Champloo having a lot of weak spots, it is still considered as the best samurai show of the century. To wrap it up (because honestly I can talk about this show all day long), Samurai Champloo deserves more recognition for its unique style and for its blending between historical facts and out-of -place elements. If you are a fan of samurai and quick-ass fighting scenes, then watch it. Not only it is a short anime, it's also very memorable.