Samurai Champloo Review
Synopsis: Samurai Champloo is a Japanese anime series developed by Manglobe. It featured a production team led by director Shinichirō Watanabe, character designer Kazuto Nakazawa and mechanical designer Mahiro Maeda. Samurai Champloo is set in an alternate version of Edo-era Japan with an anachronistic, predominantly hip-hop, setting. It follows Mugen, an impudent and freedom-loving vagrant swordsman; Jin, a composed and stoic rōnin; and Fuu, a brave girl who asks them to accompany her in her quest across Japan to find the “samurai who smells of sunflowers”.
Title: The Cadence of Sunflowers
Episode Count: 26
Original Language: Japanese
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Historical, Samurai, Shounen
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
And as if I were to dive into an ocean wave, Samurai Champloo envelops me inside its charm and wit. Flowing in the rhythmic waves of this piece is enjoyable with every tide.
Shinichiro Watanabe, known for directing such popular works as Cowboy Bebop, Sakamichi no Apollon, and the more recent Zankyou no Terror, has a gift for creating a superb combination of quirky characters, immersive music, and entertaining plot lines. Samurai Champloo embodies Watanabe’s recursive blended style by merging Japanese Edo culture and contemporary nuanced hip hop. What results is a hip yet sophisticated story which is complemented by its loveable characters.
The convenience of an episodic series lies in its ability to delve into all sorts of short narratives. And though convenient, this does not mean easy. Champloo masterfully tackles the episodic medium because it manages to captivate the viewers’ emotions through its corresponding array of interesting characters and plot lines. One episode will utilize mature content to complement its sophisticated atmosphere, while the next episode will entertain a somewhat frivolous but fun idea to complement its funky atmosphere. One cannot help but enjoy the broad range of narratives it has to offer. Whether it’s an enthralling fighting sequence, an absurd attempt to get food, or a bittersweet goodbye, Champloo elicits engagement, amusement, and heartache.
One of the central themes of Champloo is represented by the Holy Grail of the story: the man who smells of sunflowers. Sunflowers symbolize adoration and loyalty. Not coincidentally, each character seeks to fulfill these facets of their identity. Fuu’s loyalty and adoration of her mother is the initial reason for her desire to find the man who smells of sunflowers. In essence, the story is faithful to the themes it wishes to communicate to its viewers, while simultaneously faithful to the historical principles of the Edo period. The proper joining of symbolic and meaningful motifs as well awareness of historical accuracy allows Champloo to transcend past what could be a simple “hero on a quest” tale.
The allure of Champloo’s characters manifests itself in our ability to relate to them. I believe the characters in which we empathize with are also the characters in which we see ourselves in. We hope for their success despite the obvious flaws they possess. Champloo’s characters have no lack of flaws, but their charm invites us to love them. And, like any good characters, their trials shape them into higher forms of themselves.
Though each character may be represented by clichéd stereotypes, it is in keeping with the prevalent Buddhist elements that influenced Japanese philosophy. Respectively, Mugen, Jin, and Fuu embody fire, water, and earth. This dynamic beautifully underlines the theme of friendship. Though each have their “modus operandi” and their forces are contrasting, they ultimately set aside their differences to work together (most of the time). And although this message is basic, it is fundamental to a proper “quest” structure, and conveyed well in these characters.
Champloo admirably handles its side characters throughout the episodic portion of its run. Quirkiness and diversity is exemplified in their various stories. Each character serves as a contrivance that ultimately underlines the major themes of the series. Unfortunately, in the latter and “unepisodic” portion of the show, the characters, particularly the villains, devolve into annoying caricatures. Luckily this is one of the few weak points of the series but notable enough to give mention to.
One of the obvious highlights of the series is its OST. The compositions are an amalgam, the beats a pulse, the melodies a river, circulating your mind and soul back to fields of sunflowers and peaceful nights, submerged under the cadence of a melancholic moon. There is a sense of nostalgia and coolness that vibrate through the chords and beats of Champloo’s songs. Every piece accentuates the mood of a scene and exquisitely blends the actions on screen with its mellow air. Champloo’s anachronistic quality is so effective because the music draws its audience into an odd but splendid amalgamation of non-contemporary and contemporary, lending itself to modern viewers. There is no doubt that the soundtrack was masterfully created, and Nujabes, MINMI, Fat Jon, etc. all receive my praise for their art.
Champloo is a journey. Within all of its elements, we find a lesson to be learned. Every person we meet in our lives has a story. And although the friendships we encounter may be temporary, they surely leave an imprint on our souls, as we travel our own path to the man who smells of sunflowers. show less