Set in the Edo Period Japan (1603-1868), Samurai Champloo is essentially a fictional story that is set in the historical setting where people were bound by the many political and social changes occurring around them. Unlike the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States) period, many things were ending in the Edo Period. For example,the era of warring daimyo house and the legions of samurais who work for them has ended, and it was the beginning of centralized governments (Shogunate) and the 250 years of stability that it had brought.
But due to the changes that the Edo Period has brought upon Japan, many existing social hierarchies like the samurai and the war priests were loosing their places in society. As a result, everything went to shit with in the more rural regions in Japan, as foreignization and all sorts of changes came into place. Soon, Edo Period Japan became a hub for hip-hop samurai, bogus Christian priests with a penchant for guns, homosexual Dutch traders and Japanese war priests that got high on weed and whatnot.
And the Yankees were beaten by a group of Japanese misfits who has never trained in baseball in their entire lives.
If you had any common sense whatsoever, you would already be questioning the accuracy of the above statement. But, let’s see what the show has to say in its defense.
Set in the Edo Period Japan, where apparently everything has gone to shit where crazy warlords, corrupt officials and it is “every man for himself”, Samurai Champloo revolves around a girl named Fuu. She began working at a teahouse after her mother died of a terminal illness. After that teahouse was burned to ground when two samurais fought each other in that teahouse, she decided to set off on an adventure to find someone from her past: The Samurai who smells like Sunflowers.
Apparently, that’s a thing.
So, she rescued the two samurai who inadvertently burned down her teahouse, Mugen and Jin, and got them to come along to assist her in her quest.
And that’s pretty much the entire plot of the show.
If you’ve watched Cowboy Bebop, you might just find this familiar. That’s because the man who directed that was also responsible for Samurai Champloo, Shinichiirou Watanabe. Although he claimed that he was officially over with Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo was eerily similar with his previous work.
The show was similar with Cowboy Bebop, from the vaguely unorthodox/wacky setting to the character design. Even the hairstyle of the Mugen was like that of Spike Spiegel!
First things first, if you are looking for a show with really intriguing plot, then feel free to walk away because as I mentioned earlier, the show has a really, really, really thin plot. Not only does most stuff in this show don’t make sense, but it also doesn’t bother to explain or fill in the blanks for the reader. In fact, most stuff about the main plot like the overarching “Find-the-sunflower-samurai” wasn’t disclosed until the last few episodes. Heck, we don’t even know who that guy really is till the very end!
In fact, even when the plot gets going, it won’t be satisfying enough either. That’s because the plot never made sense in the first place, and it’s not going to start. There’s just too many plot holes and empty blanks everywhere that I cannot imagine how people will like it simply for the plot.
Anyway, Samurai Champloo has the potential to be the next Cowboy Bebop. However, it fell short of greatness in many aspects, not that it was easy to meet the standard set by its predecessor in the first place.
One of the many aspects that just wasn’t good enough was the characters. To be honest here, I was baffled by how the show seemingly reuses the character design as in Cowboy Bebop.
First, you have Mugen, the grumpy, carefree swordsman who uses a very unorthodox fighting stance that combines break-dancing and swordsmanship. Then, you have the straight-faced Jin, who has a traditional mind-set and does not speak much. Sounds familiar?
Lastly, we also have Fuu, who acts like a brat and always complains about how the two samurais were always messing things up. Add a crazy, nonsense-spouting kid and a dog, and you will get the cast of Cowboy Bebop, the Edo Period version.
Not that it’s bad, but it won’t be as good (or fresh) as the original cast. This group of misfits were definitely not as charming as the group from Cowboy Bebop as well. They lack a certain flair and distinctness. In a sense, they were like plot devices, existing only to push the plot forward. They were not memorable, nor interesting enough to register themselves in our memories, even just for a short time.
However, the one thing that was special about Samurai Champloo is derived from the setting. It’s episodic nature allows the absurd/exotic setting to be thoroughly explored. It makes the viewers feel like they want to watch the next episode just to find out what sort of crazy absurdity will the writers spout out next. For something that has so little plot, it was kind of ironic how the lack of it actually provided the motivation for people to continue watching it.
I mean, how can you not feel like watching a show that features dancing samurais, undercover ninja/prostitute/police officers, money laundering warlords and crazy artists who draw lewd pictures to make money? The thing is, the show is so crazy, that you cannot possibly predict what’s coming up next. And that’s the beauty of it all!
Manglobe Inc., the production studio responsible for Samurai Champloo was commendable for bringing the whole thing to life with great animation and slick action scenes. Although at times, the animation quality will dip a little, but when it wants to look good…
In conclusion, this show is really not what I would call an excellent and intriguing show, but if you’re looking for a daily dose of crazy, wacko Edo period humour that would light an occasional smile or two on your face, then you’re in the right place. Wacky, funny and lots of LOL moments, I recommend this to those who are looking for action/adventure with sprinkles of comedy and absurdity in it.
After smashing antique vases, employing my very own Ryuukyu kenjutsu techniques that decimated hundreds of ninja warriors while painting graffiti on the walls of Edo period Tokyo, I have conscientiously calculated the overall points awarded for this show in the aspects of story, characters, animation/sound and my own personal enjoyment. After having Jin slept with 4 middle-aged prostitutes and spraining his back, I decided to award this show with a total of:
7.61 Points (Averagely Good)
And so, with that I end this review. If you enjoyed this show and would like more, I point you towards the heavily aforementioned show Cowboy Bebop, the golden 1990s anime classic. I also point you towards another show, Basilisk, a show is also set during the Edo Period and has a much more intriguing and soul-searching plot, if that’s what you’re after.
So, until the next post, Cheerio!