Samurai Champloo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Samurai Champloo

 

Similar: Afro Samurai

Michiko and Hatchin

Rurouni Kenshin

Katanagatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stylised art and animation.
  • Great dub.

Negatives:

  • Bit boring.
  • No reason to care for main goal.
  • Plateaus early.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have overheard this exchange many times: “I haven’t seen much anime. Mainly just what everyone has watched – Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, you know.” “Oh man, you should totally watch Samurai Champloo! It’s like Bebop. You’ll love it.” I thought it finally time to test this oft-mentioned recommendation.

Well, it’s little like Cowboy Bebop. For one, Bebop is excellent; Samurai Champloo is not. The two series share a director and similar music…and that’s about it. Bebop too didn’t have a stellar overarching story, but its self-contained arcs each episode had depth to engage the viewer. Champloo’s episode arcs are half trying to move the feeble plot while not giving enough in its mini stories.

The adventure kicks off when ditzy waitress Fuu saves Mugen, a wild warrior, and Jin, the well-mannered ronin, from execution. In exchange, the two samurai agree to help her find a samurai “who smells of sunflowers.”

Things seem fine at first. The setup is solid, the character quirks play well off each other, and they had direction. Several episodes later though, with no progression in sight, my engagement swan dived off a cliff into the blistering barnacles below. If this were like Cowboy Bebop, where the creators could rest everything on each individual episode’s story, it would work. I would conclude with “The overall story is average, but the smaller stories are worth your time.” Unfortunately, Champloo’s smaller stories are mediocre alternations between dealing with someone trying to kill the heroes or them helping a local in exchange for food. A few episodes are better, even pretty good, but none even comes close to the Bebop’s weakest episode.

As for the overarching story, it’s Champloo’s weakest element. The story never gives a reason to care for finding the sunflower samurai and it turns out weak at the resolution – a goal for the sake of having a goal. It lacks the gravitas to drive a story.

This weakness similarly bleeds into the characters. Each of the trio has a secret, as most characters do in fiction, but since the writers didn’t weave these secrets throughout the story, they have no impact when illuminated at the end. If Edward Elric’s big secret were that he wanted to be a flamenco dancer all along, the audience wouldn’t see this as some amazing twist. Was Ed liking flamenco a recurring element in the story? No. So why the big reveal? Champloo’s secrets aren’t as bad as a Flamenco Ed, by any means. They do leave a lot to be desired though. It goes get a bit better in the second half – certainly funnier.

What I wish for most here is an increased intensity, both in comedy and drama. What you see in the opening episodes is what you get throughout, save for a few good fights in the finale. It frustrates me to see a project with potential that needed one person to say, “Make it more intense.” Samurai Champloo doesn’t have bad ideas, just weak execution.

Art – High

Samurai Champloo’s stylised art reminiscent of Afro Samurai and The World Ends With You DS game has good animation. I like the ‘knobbly’ character design. Mugen looks an inch from starvation, which is fitting.

Sound – High

Modern DJ scratches and jazz replace the traditional music for a medieval setting. This works with the story style. Great dub.

Story – Medium

Two polarising samurai help a ditzy waitress find a mysterious samurai “who smells of sunflowers.” Reaching its peak within a few episodes, Samurai Champloo doesn’t escalate the comedy or action enough to overcome the weak motivations.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Perhaps you may find Samurai Champloo more interesting than I did – the three-episode rule is all you need to know if it is so. The modern art/music meets samurai dichotomy may be off putting, whereas its very unusualness will be its appeal to others.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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