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Samurai Champloo: 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: Complete Series and the Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on December 23, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kazuya Nakai, Ayako Kawasumi, Steve Blum, Kirk Thornton
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
» See full cast & crew
Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray Review
One of the greatest anime series of all time is a must-own Blu-ray experience.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, December 23, 2009
Running a total of 26 episodes (spread over two seasons), Samurai Champloo is one of the first television series to seamlessly blend eastern and western cultures into a production that surely seemed preposterous on paper, but became pure television gold upon its release. If you're like me, the first exposure you had to the series was likely midnight showings on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, but given the unfortunate decision to edit elements of the anime, American viewers were forced to wait for a proper unedited release (with the bloody violence, foul language and nudity intact). I passed on the opportunity to add Samurai Champloo to my collection during the initial DVD run (it was difficult to shell out $25.00 a pop for a seven volume series I'd already seen in one form or another), so you can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to own one of my favorite series in high definition as it originally appeared during the Japanese broadcast. I'll provide more detail about the production of the series throughout this review, but in case you only have time to read the introduction, this release was worth the wait, and deserves a spot on the shelf of every anime enthusiast with a pulse.
Set during the Edo period of Japanese history (1603-1868), the story picks up in a tea house run by a young woman named Fuu. Facing intimidation from the cocky entourage accompanying the son of a local politician, Fuu pleads for help from a wild-eyed young samurai named Mugen. After accepting her offer of dumplings, Mugen quickly dispatches a portion of the men within the tea house, before the politician's son threatens to call his father's bodyguards. Viewing this threat as an opportunity for a much needed challenge, the playful young samurai torments the politician's son while his men escape to find help. Instead of the bodyguards arriving, a wandering ronin named Jin strolls into the tea house, proclaiming he's already dealt with the bodyguards during an unrelated matter. This sparks a fight between the two men, who seem more interested in a satisfying challenge than anything else. The ensuing chaos leads to the destruction of Fuu's tea house and the eventual capture of the two samurai by government soldiers. Thankfully, Fuu comes to the rescue and forms a pact with the two warriors, requiring them to help her find a mysterious samurai that smells like sunflowers. Jin and Mugen agree to suspend their fight to the death until they fulfill their obligation to Fuu, and the three wanderers set off on the first of many adventures.
Since the initial set-up of the show is the most important element in knowing what you're getting into, the above synopsis only covers events that take place in episode one. From that point, the trio find themselves in one precarious situation after another, as each member takes turns getting mixed up in the affairs of the local town they're passing through. As the various storylines play out in each episode, we learn more about history of each character and gain a better understanding of their underlying motivations. That sense of character development remains a bit lacking in the first several episodes, but kicks into high gear as you approach the midpoint of the series. Unlike other anime productions that present a linear plot with the passing of each episode, several of the entries during the 26 episode run serve as stand-alone offerings, adding only subtle or non-essential cues to the overall story arch. They still deliver they're intended purpose by keeping each episode fresh and interesting, but if you happened to watch the series out of order, you wouldn't be completely lost. Having said that, there are five instances where the plot in two or more episodes is directly connected. These two-part segments tell the story of a larger adventure and must be viewed in their intended timeline.
If there's one element worth singling out that Samurai Champloo does right, it's the undeniable "cool" factor of the show. Written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop), the series melds traditional and present day sensibilities using influences from eastern and western cultures, to create a final product that's violent, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. It's truly a testament to Watanabe's skill as a writer that he's able to infuse hip-hop themes (breakdancing, graffiti and slang) in a historic setting and not leave viewers scratching their heads. Add in bushels of tongue-in cheek dialogue, poignant narration regarding random events from the Edo period (that often have little to do with the show itself), and a hip-hop soundtrack that's instantly recognizable to most anime fans, and you have plenty of reason to watch one or two of your favorite episodes on a rainy day.
Style and substance are always important, but without competent animation and surreal fight sequences, samurai themed anime will leave most viewers wanting more (Shigurui: Death Frenzy is a perfect example). Thanks to the brilliant direction of Watanabe and the artistic talent at Manglobe Inc., this entry in the samurai universe features some of the best hand-drawn animation in any television production. Rather than opting for the budget-cutting method of delivering crude, unrealistic action, set against backdrops simulating movement, Samurai Champloo shows every kick, punch and slice in amazing clarity, seamlessly blending the attacks and counterattacks of opponents. Likewise, the subtle touches applied to the painted backgrounds create a world that's oddly familiar, yet entirely foreign. Needless to say, television animation rarely looks this impressive, making Manglobe Inc. a studio worth keeping an eye on in the coming years.
Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 19Mbps), Samurai Champloo looks every bit as good as I was hoping for. It's been quite some time since I've watched the full series, so I can't offer an in-depth opinion regarding the improvements in the transition to high-definition. However, stacked up next to other anime offerings from Funimation, this transfer maintains the same noticeable rise in quality that you'd expect from a production that wasn't originally created in 1080p. I've heard some rumblings regarding minimal improvements over the standard definition version, but I find it hard to believe the 480p resolution of DVD is capable of looking this smooth or appealing. That's not to say everything is on the up and up, since I still detected the presence of artifacts from time to time, but when you're viewing the image as a whole, there are rarely any glaring distractions worth reporting. Aside from the smoothing of the image that accompanies the transition to 1080p resolution, I'm also confident we're witnessing a dramatic improvement in the accuracy of the color palette, which appears much brighter than I recall on prior viewings. Likewise, black levels offer abundant depth in all but a handful of scenes, allowing contrast the opportunity to deliver variations in shade depth that surpass expectations from a two-dimensional hand-drawn production.
If you're at all concerned about the visual upgrade on this release, let me be the first to calm your fears and assure you this is the best Samurai Champloo will likely ever look. The limitations of the source material hold it back from earning top marks, but I can't imagine many fans will be disappointed with the quality of the transfer.
Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Breaking from their recent trend of offering a Dolby Digital 2.0 track in the native language of Japanese, Samurai Champloo has been given the royal treatment, in the form of a lossless Japanese mix. As always, I'm a big fan of the native language offering on any foreign release, so the inclusion of a highly competent lossless track on one of my favorite anime series was a tremendous value-added aspect of this edition. Switching back and forth between both tracks, I was a little surprised to find the Japanese dialogue a notch higher than its English counterpart (since it typically seems to be the other way around on Funimation titles). The rest of the elements in each mix sound almost identical; meaning the recording of the dubbed track was likely sampled at a lower volume than the original voice recording. Getting down to the raw elements of the audio presentation, I was slightly less impressed with the incorporation of surround activity in comparison with other anime television productions. There's plenty of activity when the action kicks into gear, but I hardly noticed environmental sound effects during the softer moments of the series. I'm not entirely sure if this was an intended artistic move (to add intensity during the many fight sequences), but the missed opportunities during the emotional sections of the show are a bit disappointing. Getting back to the positive aspects of the audio presentation, you can expect a twelve round workout for your subwoofer, since the hip-hop infused soundtrack provides plenty of bass beats in the sound design. If you're like me, you'll probably wind up bothering your wife or significant other when you spend the rest of the day walking around the house humming the opening theme song (which I still can't bring myself to skip).
Similar to the visual quality of the show, the audio presentation isn't going to earn a spot in the upper echelon of anime productions, but the competent English track coupled with the inclusion of a comparable Japanese offering make this a worthy upgrade over prior editions.
Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Battlecry: Opening Video (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:45 min): This is essentially a glorified trailer geared toward an English speaking audience.
Promo Video (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:01 min): This seems to be a midseason recap showing the three main characters sitting in a drive-in setting.
Rounding out the meager extras, we have a standard definition teaser trailer, two high definition art galleries, a textless presentation of the opening and closing songs, and various trailers for other releases from Funimation.
Samurai Champloo: Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Samurai Champloo is one of my favorite anime series of all time, and continues to be the most accessible Japanese television production to hit western shores. The seamless integration of multiple genres, coupled with excellent production values creates an overall entertainment experience that's just as good on repeat viewings, increasing the value of the series tenfold. From a technical standpoint, this certainly doesn't stand out as one of the better anime releases from Funimation, but given the limitations of the source material, I'm pleasantly surprised with the upgrade in both the video and audio departments. Those of you who've held off on adding Samurai Champloo to your collection until now should dismiss any reservations and make the plunge.
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