The spiritual cousin of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo mixes hip hop with Japan’s Edo period. Surprisingly this mix with a dash of punk and graffiti creates an entertaining stew. Samurai Champloo relies on actual events from the Edo period such as the Dutch trade exclusivity in Japan and Ukiyo-e paintings. It also tosses in fictional depictions of various historical figures such as Miyamoto Musashi, the famous swordsman.
It all begins in a typical teahouse on a typical day. The waitress, Fuu, is dodging the advances of various thugs. Her clumsiness lands her into trouble this time, however. Another thug, Mugen, enters the brawl that ensues in return for food. In the middle of the fight, Jin, a ronin samurai, enters the teahouse only to be drawn into a fight with Mugen. A fiire breaks out and the two faint from the smoke. Shortly later, they awake to discover they are about to be executed for the death of the magistrate’s son in the fire. Fuu helps them escape and demands they travel with her to find “the samurai who smells of sunflowers.” They finally agree with Fuu’s one condition: they are not to kill each other until the journey is finished.
Throughout Samurai Champloo hip hop and street elements are present. Rappers show up, and “gangsta” bandits even appear strangely natural with how the surrounding characters consider it normal. Other than the general framework of the journey and multipart episodes, the series has the same general mishmash feel that Cowboy Bebop’s episodes exhibited. Most episodes stand on their own and can almost be watched in almost any order. Several episodes are off tangent like Cosmic Collisions and Baseball Blues.
Mugen is a rascal from the Ryukyu Islands. His fighting style is erratic, and he cares little about his own safety. As a lone wolf, he is rough and uncaring toward all but a select few.
Jin is a man from another time. Trained in the traditional kenjutsu style, he is stoic but kindhearted. Like Mugen, he cannot avoid his past.
Fuu is a feisty 15 year old who coerces Jin and Mugen to help her find a man she calls “the samurai who smells of sunflowers.” Her mother’s death from an illness a year before haunts her dreams. She is accompanied by her pet flying squirrel named Momo. Both she and Momo have the uncanny ability to be kidnapped.
Samurai Champloo’s main theme centers around friendship and how every journey must end. Also, one of the driving factors of the characters is hunger during their travels. The gulf between the poor and the rich is vivid throughout the story as the rich use their wealth and muscle to get what they want. The three often throw wrench into the natural order of things as they seek money for their food and lodgings. There is a feel of easy come, easy go. Everything must end so just bid it goodbye when the time comes.
The show is a pleasing mix of modern and Edo. Crisply animated, the fighting scenes explode with fast violence and end with a flourish. They nicely capture the ferocity of sword combat and the speed of death. The backgrounds have a wonderful watercolor look that contrasts the more modern styled characters. The dialogue is well done and entertaining. “No one’s going to relax their ass with you around. ” Mugen tells a homosexual foreigner.
If you are a fan of Cowboy Bebop, don’t miss this one.