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An Anime Review: Samurai Champloo
A thug who only loves booze, women and fighting, a silent swordsman who tries to be just, and a young girl who has to be rescued all the time. These are the main characters of Samurai Champloo, an anime set in a slightly changed version of the Edo period in Japan. Together they travel through Japan, searching for the samurai who smells like sunflowers. This under the orders of the girl, Fuu, who saved the lives of the two men, and demand they help her in her search.
The plot is however a little more than a backdrop, as only a few episodes ties into the plot at all. Most episodes simply have the heroes arriving somewhere, often hungry and without money, something happens, people fight, and they move on to the next place. The stories focus more on the characters and their interactions.
Mugen is a criminal who is traveling from place to place, often turning to crime, and mostly beating up or killing anyone in his way. Mugen's stories often concern his criminal past which comes back to haunt him. He hates following orders and will usually fight to the death if given the chance.
Jin is the stoic samurai without a master, traveling the world. We learn that he once was the most talented student at a dojo, but after he killed his master, the other students turned on him, and some still hunt him. Like Mugen, who does not have much of a future as he burns all bridges and destroys without a thought, Jin finds that the world is changing around him, and that his kind may not have a place in the new era.
Lastly, there is Fuu, a young girl looking for the samurai who smells like sunflowers. Fuu is often, but far from always, the most sensible, and tries to stop Mugen and Jin from killing each other. She also plays the role of the damsel in distress, she is often captured and in need of rescuing.
All of the characters seem fairly stereotypical, and indeed, the story mimics classical action stories in many ways. As mentioned, most of the episodes are self-contained, but there are some recurring plot devises. For example:
Prostitution and Fighting
It seems like Japan is populated entirely by swordsmen, criminals and prostitutes. A whole lot of stories involve various gangs stirring up trouble, which of course are met by the heroes flashing their swords. Several episodes focus on prostitution, but in a very shifting manner. Some episodes are all about saving the prostitutes, like when the stoic samurai Jin falls in love with a woman who is being sold into prostitution. Jin consider this a horrible fate and saves her, yet some episodes later he has no qualms about visiting a bordello himself, and the prostitutes seem perfectly happy (although all bordellos are owned by some criminal). I really find it kind of strange, as some episodes take on the issue seem to negate others.
But we all watch the show for the action, anyway. Samurai Champloo features all the classical sword fights: groups mowed down by a superior opponent, the duels in a lonely place under the full moon, the exploration of the different weapons and styles of fighting used. The animation fits it all perfectly, and creates an amazing mood. There is blood and corpses, but not as much as one would expect. And besides the silent scenes and the action scenes, there is a very light feel to it, with jokes and entertaining conversations.
The End of an Era
There are some stranger episodes towards the end. Suddenly we have an episode with the walking dead, when magic have never been mentioned before at all. There is a certain sense of mystery to it, though. This is followed by an episode where our heroes are suddenly playing baseball against a group of Americans. The world this all takes place in seems to be Japan around 1800. The Europeans are coming, and we see Christians beginning to assert themselves. A time period is coming to an end, as is discussed in the final episodes. There are however a certain amount of modern elements, like tagging and rap. This leads to some of the stranger episodes, but mostly it is just in the background, and it fits pretty well with the overall tone.
Samurai Champloo is classic samurai action, and for anyone interested in seeing that, I would definitely check this show out. While there are some episodes I would skip on a re-watch, there are also parts I adore and love. I would have liked Fuu to play a less stereotypical female role, but on a show like this which tries to catch the classic samurai story, no one really steps out of their archetype anyway. And there also scenes where she steps up, if only for a moment. While Fuu may not have been anything special, Samurai Champloo was. If some sword fighting and bantering with good animation sounds good to you, It must be said, this anime has some real style.