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Anime Review: Samurai Champloo

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When you hear crisp beats and see beautiful scenery just be careful you don’t bump into the wrong guy or he’ll cut your head off. That’s what Shinichiro Watanabe envisioned Edo Japan would be like in his rabble-rousing samurai action series called Samurai Champloo. It takes Edo and incorporates new urban concepts, such as hip-hop and graffiti, while taking viewers on the smooth ride of two samurai who are bound to a young woman by a promise. They are expert samurai who tend to cause a lot of trouble wherever the road takes them and, with the masterful styling of creator and director Watanabe, they rarely disappoint.

This short 26-episode series offers some of the best samurai action around. It makes a point to incorporate styles that didn’t even exist in the Edo period, unless there was some break-dancing ninja clan that I’ve never heard of. There are also intermittent facts about the period that the viewers can usually deduce, but some are very tricky and witty for the non-Japanese history expert. While one of the main characters incorporates break-dancing and other non-denominational fighting techniques, the other uses ancient Mujushin Kenjutsu style in accordance with the era.

The film is definitely of the chanbara, or action samurai, style, but comes off as more clean and crisp than violent due to its heavy incorporation of hip hop culture. Hip hop has glorified violence since its roots and could not be a better match for the genre. Each scene is very well in tune with the music, which has a fantastic list of contributors. The blues mixes of the now late Nujabes and Voice of Shing02 make for one of the best openings in all of anime. Nujabes also either did or later mixed the ending himself, however Wikipedia and other sources attribute artist Minmi. The mix of blues into hip hop sounds so much like Nujabes it’s hard not to believe he wrote the music while she sang. Also it’s the song “Beat Laments the World” on his Metaphorical Music album.

It’s pretty rare for a show this violent to make viewers feel so good. The style is impeccable with studio Geneon and animator of the award-winning 1998 Japanese epic Cowboy Bebop. It is similar in the violence and music, but Cowboy Bebop just uses straight blues rather than mixes and has more of a cowboy feel. However, the life and dress of a space bounty hunter is much different than that of a samurai, even though the main characters in the two series have the same haircut. I actually found the sequences of Samurai Champloo to be much more stylized and enjoyable to watch. I also thought that the plot verged on genius while, in comparison, Cowboy Bebop’s seems underdeveloped at times. A samurai’s justice is more steadfast than an outlaw’s.

When Samurai Champloo aired on TV in America it was heavily edited for violence language and nudity. Sometimes the slapstick comedy seems to overstep its bounds, but I thought that much of the editing was unnecessary, especially the editing of main character Mugan’s poop. It received a massive following for its uniqueness with adult audiences in America regardless of the horrendous edits. The edited content continues to be some of the worst around. It enough for anime killing studio Funimation to rerelease the series after Genon dropped it. Anyway, people who think any of this sounds interesting should definitely check out the show, but not the edited version.

You can watch Episode 1 online.

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