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Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series(TV) (2004-2005)
Mugen is a fierce animal-like warrior with a unique Bboying (break-dance) inspired fighting style. Jin has a more traditional style but donĺt think of this as a weakness because his skills are amazing. The two contrasting samurai warriors are far from friends, yet their separate paths seem to cross anyways. Mugen is wandering aimlessly through the city when he stumbles upon a teahouse where he meets Jin and Fuu (A ditzy waitress, but donĹt think she doesnĹt have anything hidden up her sleeves). Fuu convinces them both to come with her in search of a mysterious samurai that smells like sunflowers and their journey begins. This modernized hip-hop tale breaks the barriers of the common, historical, samurai anime.
For more about Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series and the Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 21, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kazuya Nakai, Ayako Kawasumi, Steve Blum, Kirk Thornton
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
» See full cast & crew
Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray Review
Could this anime be any cooler?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 21, 2011
In the 1950's filmmakers like Anthony Mann started trumpeting a subgenre called "the Adult Western." This distinction was made to differentiate more mature oaters from the cowboys versus Indians fare that appealed to the kiddies, often in the Saturday morning theatrical events that included serials and at least a feature or two which were still popular in that era where television hadn't quite taken over its stranglehold on the public consciousness. It's similarly tempting to call Samurai Champloo an "Adult Anime," although any anime fan will be able to list many of their favorite projects which probably appeal at least as much to grown-ups as to kids. But Samurai Champloo is a very interesting enterprise with a very real "cool factor" that certainly should make it a prime attraction for the late teen crowd on (if parents don't mind occasional nudity and profanity). And the series first came to American renown as part of Adult Swim, that often provocative and envelope pushing line up of sometimes outrÚ fare, a lot of which shares Samurai Champloo's inventive quasi-graphic animation style, as well as its flamboyant storytelling style and mÚlange of cultures and even time periods. This is an anime that, while ostensibly set in Japan's Edo period, still draws in a number of radically disparate elements, including hip hop, to craft an entertainment which is in a very real way both literally and figuratively timeless.
If you've seen any of Michel Ocelot's acclaimed animated features (Azu and Asmar: The Princes' Quest, Kirikou and the Sorceress), you know how brilliantly some contemporary animators have begun weaving purely graphical elements into their creations. Of course this approach is nothing newŚDisney was doing it generations ago in such disparate fare as Fantasia and, years later, Sleeping Beauty, as well as any number of shorts. But there seems to be a new wave of younger animators now who are exulting in the purely visual aspects of their art, and they are bringing a freshness and innovation to a lot of projects that help to elevate episodic television above the time honored minimalism of, say, Hanna-Barbera. Samurai Champloo is the brainchild of Shinichiro Watanabe, whose Cowboy Bebop proved his love for genre-blending and forging a surprisingly seamless whole out of individual elements that might on their individual faces seem completely ill equipped to blend with each other.
Like Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo combines weirdly asynchronous elements and somehow manages to make them all make sense within the confines of the show itself. The series is basically an adventure involving three characters, Fuu, a feisty and inventive young girl of 15 who finds herself in the first episode about to be attacked by a gang of ruffians in the tea house where she works. The two other characters are introduced via one of the series' best style featuresŚrapid cutting between two simultaneously unfolding storylines. At the teahouse, a sort of sullen punk samurai named Mugen shows up and agrees to solve Fuu's "gangsta" problem for the payment of 50 dumplings. Hey, he's hungry. Intercut with this plot is the introduction of the other main character, Jin, a much more reserved and traditional samurai who is busy dispatching the goons who protect the local Warlord, himself of course a hiss-worthy villain. Watanabe brilliantly edits this sequence, cutting (no pun intended) back and forth between the two unfolding battles, and then equally brilliantly revealing that the head of the tea house goons is the son of the nefarious Warlord. Ultimately Mugen vanquishes most of the teahouse vandals, taking the son hostage and telling the survivors to get the Warlord's goons there for a battle. But instead Jin, who has of course already vanquished those bad guys, shows up, and instead of celebrating together, they're off on a whirlwind battle of their own.
But the real achievement of Samurai Champloo is its invigorating style, something that is immediately apparent from the audaciously graphic opening credits sequence and which carries on through virtually each and every moment of the subsequent 26 episodes. The visual style here is brilliantly detailed and culls from two radically different timeframes: the Japanese Edo period, and today's hip-hop culture. The character designs (courtesy of Kill Bill's Kazuto Nakazawa and Mahiro Maeba) themselves show evidence of this disparity, with Mugen coming off as a sort of moody neo-punk, and Jin being designed as a spectacles-wearing introspective martial arts master. Both characters and backgrounds are lovingly detailed throughout Samurai Champloo, and there are a number of really fun "meta" elements added from time to time, everything from ironic interstitial scrawled notes that let us know no one is taking any of this very seriously, to more outright gags like the animation suddenly showing a modern day scene and then "rewinding" incredibly fast to get us back to the "proper" Edo period.
Adding to the visual ingenuity is a remarkable soundtrack full of great Japanese hip-hop artists like Nujabes and Force of Nature. The soundtrack just thumps massively at times with thundering bass riffs and there are a number of outright funny interpolations like record "scratches" to cover expletives. This aural soundscape thrusts the audience into the disparity of the Edo period clashing with a modern day sensibility, but it works beautifully and makes Samurai Champloo all the cooler.
The series is also to be commended for very subtly weaving in actual historical elements and even characters, even though the series itself starts off with a disclaimer that it's pure fiction and the filmmakers "don't care" if it's not the stuff of historical fact. But Samurai Champloo reveals itself to be actually much, much smarter than that wiseacre crack, and it manages to give some very interesting background about a tempestuous period in Japan's history, when the clash of religions and cultures could mean certain death for people if they didn't profess to believe the "right" way, either in politicians or in Gods.
Animes are too often dismissed as the Eastern equivalents of mass produced animated fare churned out for mass consumption here stateside. Anime fans know that this is more often than not not the truth. Anime is an incredibly varied genre that includes everything from post-Apocalyptic hyperbole to outright slapstick comedy. Watanabe is at the forefront of blending all sorts of unusual elements into one of a kind entertainments, and there's probably no better example of that than the thrill ride that is Samurai Champloo.
Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fans of Samurai Champloo were more than a bit nonplussed that the original BD release of this was upscaled from an SD master, but of course given the genesis and era of the show's creation, there was no other alternative. This new BD release appears to be the same AVC/1080p upconvert port, but don't let the term "upconvert" scare you away unnecessarily. Despite the doomsday prophecies, Samurai Champloo actually looks pretty darned spry on this Blu-ray set. Line detail is excellent and color is especially robust and well saturated. This is one of the most inventively visual animes in recent (maybe not so recent) memory, and while it's not at the absolute peak of hi-def wonderment, it looks sufficiently sharp and well detailed here to rate a well above average score. Sometimes people just like to complain.
Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Samurai Champloo is granted two excellent lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes, one in the original Japanese and an English dub. Both of these tracks are excellent, but the English dialogue to my ears seems clearly mixed louder. Voice work on both tracks is superb, bringing the characters fully to life, but the most remarkable thing about both of these soundtracks is the bass-heavy music, which thumps with impressive power throughout every episode. Fidelity is excellent, though surround activity is somewhat limited, tending to be most noticeable in the underscore as well as some of the battle sequences which manage to get to a fair level of immersion.
Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are at least a few extra supplements on this new Blu-ray release, though two of them would not play properly for me (see below):
Samurai Champloo: Anime Classics Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Samurai Champloo is just incredibly cool, there are no two ways of saying it. A remarkable blend of disparate cultures and timeframes, this is a samurai adventure unlike any you've ever seen. Bolstered by one of the most inventive visual approaches in recent memory, and aided and abetted by a whomping-good hip-hop soundtrack, the show also deserves kudos for very subtly working in actual historical elements, despite its makers' protestations to the contrary. Even if you're not particularly an anime fan, you may find quite a bit in Samurai Champloo to your liking. Many anime fans already know just how incredible this series is. Highly recommended.
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