Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Samurai Champloo review

Mugen is a cocky, rebellious, bandy-legged fighter who incorporates break-dancing techniques into his unorthodox fighting style. Jin is more your typically calm and stoic samurai (or ronin, to be more precise), steeped in martial tradition, who finds satisfaction in the perfect execution of his warrior craft. Mugen and Jin aren't friends - in fact, they are contentious and want to test their skills against each other - yet they find themselves joining forces, thanks to Fuu, an insistent and kinda quirky waitress who inveigles the two into helping her search for the Samurai Who Smells Like Sunflowers. For 26 episodes, the discordant trio undergo many adventures, some serious, some hilarious, some just plain out weird. The only constants are the bickerings amongst the three, the scrounging for food, and the intrusion of modern day sensibilities. Oh, and the rampant butt kicking as done by Mugen and Jin.

On the heels of his popular Cowboy Bebop anime series, Shinichiro Watanabe decided to put a new spin on the samurai anime with his irreverent, hip Samurai Shamploo. Shamploo means "stir fry" or a mix, and this is certainly what this series is about, as it fuses the traditional samurai credo and decorum with the unexpected modern day incursions of hip hop attitudes, beatboxing, street tagging, and baseball. The episodes are supported by cool Japanese hip hop music soundtracks and blazing hip hop scratches for scene segues. Watanabe also makes beautiful use of visual metaphors, thereby adding more depth to the shenanigans. The ripping animation and dynamically constructed fight scenes are guaranteed not to disappoint.

Kudos, too, to the voice actors, especially Steven Jay Blum (aka Daniel Andrews, who also voiced Cowboy Bebop's Spike) as the bestial Mugen. Kirk Thornton as Jin and Kari Wahlgren as Fuu are both excellent. The voice actor for the sometimes series narrator Policeman Sakami Manzou ("the Saw") is also very good.

These episodes are definitely rated PG-13. This anime series doesn't hesitate to throw in scenes of drug use and graphic violence. Some episodes even contain mild sexual scenes.

My favorite episodes are "The Art of Altercation" (for the rapping samurai and his beatbox backup), the atmospheric "Cosmic Collisions" (where the trio fight the undead), the hilarious "Baseball Blues" (where the American pitcher couldn't find the strike zone with the dog at bat, and he ends up inadvertently hitting the mutt - not to worry, no animated dogs were hurt in the making of this anime), and the concluding 3-episode arc "Evanescent Encounter" (where Mugen and Jin are challenged to their very limits, resolve their rivalry, and Fuu at last catches up to the Sunflower Samurai).



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