Samurai Champloo Volume 1

Shinichiro Watanabe’s highly touted follow up to Cowboy Bebop, a series regarded by many as the zenith of modish, anime science fiction, has finally arrived on our shores. This time round however, intergalactic space cowboys are out and urbanised Samurai executioners are in.

Simply put, Watanabe has done it again, delivering another series that exudes quietly controlled cool. A mindfully hip helping of feudal flavoured action that saunters onto the television set before pulling you into its surreally realised world of brotherhood, bloodshed and, yep you guessed it, Hip-Hop!

Mugen isn’t you average ronin, nope; this guy’s a feral fighting machine with two things on his mind: women and of course, having a good scrap. Forget honour, Mugen is a madman masquerading as a warrior; he has no master and relies on nothing but his own skills. And if relying on his own skills means killing a whole lot of people, well I wouldn’t put it past him. 

At the other end of the spectrum is Jin, a samurai perhaps more deserving of the title, quiet, well spoken but boasting some impressive sword skills of his own, he is quite literally the Yin to Mugen’s Yang. As you can imagine the two don’t exactly hit it off and it isn’t long before our mismatched samurai cross swords. Unfortunately their sword swishing antics get them into hot water and it’s not long before the prickly pair get arrested.

With the threat of execution hanging over their (soon to be cleaved) heads, Mugen and Jin agree to help teahouse worker, Fuu, find a samurai whom “smells like sunflowers’. Will the skewed ensemble be able to find their quarry, and more importantly, will Mugen and Jin stop trying to kill one other long enough for us to find out?

Every once in a while a series comes along that reminds you just why you fell in love with anime in the first place. Champloo may not be particularly deep or profound and there’s no real plot to speak of, but these are minor misgivings when you consider just how ingenious the series really is. Splicing the rough and ready nature of hip hop culture with the relatively, stately setting of feudal Japan, Watanabe has hit upon an intriguing hook allowing the undisputed king of anime cool to expound his unique brand of irreverent style.

Everything about this series simply exudes style. The characters all speak like they’re in a Sergio Leone film, and Mugen and Jin are given an ample repertoire of wisecracks and sneeringly cool dialogue they dispense in true anti-hero fashion. Of course we all know actions speak louder than words and Champloo has the chops to back up the “cooler than thou attitude’ of its trash talking characters.

Combining up-tempo digital trickery – shaky framing, stuttering camera moves and kinetic editing – with amazingly crisp and superbly choreographed fight scenes. Each set piece is a whirlwind of raw, style-heavy action. Whether it’s Jin’s traditional swordplay or Mugen’s Capoiera-esque brand of lethal break dance, each and every showdown is a frenetic delight.

Visually the series is no slouch either, combining a bold calligraphy-esque art style with alarmingly silky animation. Character design has an emaciated look that captures all the gangly charm of the Lupin series, whilst paying lip service to the series pronounced hip-hop aesthetic, by way of some cutting edge costume design. All in all, this has to be one of the most visually arresting, distinctively flavoured series, released this year.

Extras wise, the disc is another bare bones affair. For your delectation we get a Nujabes’ promo clip a couple of teasers and the requisite helping of trailers for MVM’s usual suspects, R.O.D the TV and Gungrave.

In Summary

It may be a touch episodic, but the opening volume of Champloo is a cracking slab of no holds barred, irreverent samurai action. I can’t think of many opening volumes that have left me so excited about a series. Perhaps it’s the Bebop connection; perhaps it’s my love of pulp samurai movies, whatever it is I find that I can’t recommend Samurai Champloo, enough.

8 / 10