June 10, 2008
Historical anime don’t usually interest me, but when it’s as tongue-in-cheek and as full of anachronisms as this, I’m not sure it really counts as a historical anime anymore.
STORY – Like its predecessor Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is a very episodic series, and it’s perfectly safe to miss a few episodes here or there. Even the overarching story remains incredibly vague for almost the entirety of the series and the audience is sometimes left to wonder if there really is a point to all of that searching when they knew virtually nothing to begin with. There’s something about the lack of details that makes this story appealing though — it never seems that important, so you just continue along, but deep in the back of your head, you remain curious about it. So it’s the perfect situation; there’s immediate gratification within each mostly-standalone episode, but there’s also the thread that ties all of those little adventures together, and in the end, there is an ending.
CHARACTER – As with many other slice-of-life or episodic series, much of the entertainment relies on the characters, and herein is a very strong point for the series. All three of our protagonists are rich, interesting characters with backstories that don’t seem to clash with their general personalities. As strangers that all met coincidentally in the first episode, their histories are gradually revealed throughout the course of the series in a perfectly paced, even casual way. Though this involves a bunch of chance encounters with figures from their respective pasts, none of them ever really seem to intrude upon the story for the sole purpose of explaining things, which is great. And their stories all actually do contribute to their personalities as a whole, making them all fully-rounded characters with an enjoyable amount of depth to them.
The characters also really contribute to the sometimes satirical nature of the series. Jin could be, at first glance, your stereotypical samurai. Or maybe he really just is, but the fact that they poke fun at him for it makes his whole stance all the more questionable. Mugen is just ridiculous; after all, his fighting technique is rooted in break dancing. And Fuu… well, I suppose Fuu is the least notable of them all, though I sort of feel like I can conclude her a mockery of typical women in samurai anime if I’d seen more samurai anime. Even given the normalcy of her character, she has enough emotion and perseverance to keep her from being called flat.
ARTSTYLE & ARTWORK – Given the time period of the series and all the anachronistic elements, Champloo’s art style is very fun and unique. The opening and ending sequences are a great example already. The blending of modern ideas with such a traditional setting is brilliant and very interesting to see. One of the best examples within the series would probably be the graffiti episodes, where yes, there’s totally a town in feudal Japan with a street graffiti problem and two rival gangs that won’t stop tagging everything. The animation itself is of good quality throughout and it’s definitely an aesthetically pleasing series.
MUSIC – Yoko Kanno once again demonstrates her musical prowess by tackling genres others generally don’t and mixing them all together. It never ceases to amaze me just what kind of eclectic ensemble the woman comes up with. The music in Champloo suits it perfectly with its clash of ancient and modern, traditional Japanese folk music and present-day hip hop. The opening and ending themes are also wonderfully appropriate to many aspects of the series.
VOICE ACTING – I’ve seen both the sub and dub, and I must say, both are quite excellent. While I wouldn’t necessarily venture to say that the dub is better than the sub (as was certainly the case with Bebop), it definitely stands on at least the same level. Dub-wise, it might have been the easy choice to cast Steve Blum as Mugen, considering Spike Spiegel and Mugen not only had similar personalities, but also looked similar, but damn, the man sure does the job well. (Admission of bias: I love Steve Blum’s voice.) Jin’s and Fuu’s English voices were also quite awesome and actually sounded rather similar to their Japanese counterparts. The characters introduced in each episode also maintained above average voices for the most part, with appropriately sinister voices for the sinister and bumbling voices for the bumbling. All expressed emotion well and were generally convincing all around.
OVERALL – Samurai Champloo was a very fun series. Almost all the episodes were excellent in themselves with a great story, as well as great technical aspects. But the overarching story, when it finally did come together in the end, was actually really nice too. And simple as the ending was, I liked it, was satisfied, and thought it was worth it.