Samurai Champloo Volume 2

Like cheese and jam sandwiches the very thought of Samurai mixed with Hip Hop is enough to turn one’s stomach. It’s only after you’ve taken your first bite that you realise it’s not all that bad, in fact it’s kind of nice, and before you know it, you can’t get enough. To put it simply, Samurai Champloo is an acquired taste, but one that is well worth acquiring”¦ at any rate it’s a lot more digestible than cheese and jam sarnies, not too mention more socially acceptable.

Despite a premise that’s distinctly off the wall Champloo is a deceptively straightforward series that concentrates on loosely intertwining standalone stories rather than multi episode epics. Shinichiro Watanabe makes no secret of his love for Western cinema, as a result Champloo, like Cowboy Bebop, is extremely easy to settle into – it’s the kind of series that will immediately click even with the most casual anime fan. Unfortunately that accessibility comes with a price, at times Champloo can feel very trite and more than a little derivative, especially as it retreads many cinematic ideals immediately recognisable to a generation weaned on decades of American filmmaking.

Having said that the series keeps a close eye on its own samurai heritage, cross referencing Zatoichi style adventure with themes of a much deeper nature, the ambiguous sexual nature of the Bushido, is touched upon for example – something famously exploited by director Nagisa Oshima in the wonderful Gohatto – unfortunately, and in spite of Watanabe’s best intentions it comes across more Kill Bill than Akira Kurosawa. In lieu of these misgivings however, the series manages to retain a veil of authenticity, one that will no doubt appease any hardcore Chambara enthusiasts out there.

Another thing that struck me whilst watching this volume was the truly wacky vein of humour that cuts through the show. Whether it’s a Buddhist Monk whose slogan is “Death to Vegetarianism’ or an overzealous detective with a lurid work ethic and a worrying workout regime, Champloo is teeming with hilarious characters and sharp throwaway gags that never fail to raise a smile. By and by, this is a series you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy, thanks in no small part to the wonderful sense of fun that runs throughout, highlights of which include, Mugen roughing up Yakuza for their lunch money, the normally stoic Jin getting plastered on Sake, and a gay Dutchman keen to explore Edo’s more liberal side – even the subtly familiar storytelling and episodic leanings are of little consequence, because, in all honesty, a lot of the time you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to care. Samurai Champloo really is that rarest of gems, a series that allows the viewer to let go, sit back and just, come along for the ride.

For a series with such a fine rein on style, it comes as no surprise that Samurai Champloo fares so well in the eye candy department. The lean, harsh lines of Kazuto Nakazawa’s spiky character design are a brazen reminder this isn’t your average historical action series. The cast themselves may lack the diversity found in that “other’ Shinichiro series, but they look every bit as iconic – just check out Mugen’s ferrety facial hair, punkish earrings and armfuls of tats, he the walking, not to mention break dancing, sneering and leering, definition of anime cool.

Along with all that visual pizzazz Champloo boasts an equally fine soundtrack, comprised of ethereal trip-hop, bass shaking breaks and smooth beats it’s not the first thing you’d associate with a show centring around samurai. Now, Hip Hop’s not exactly my cup of tea, to be excruciatingly honest I can’t stomach much of what passes for rap nowadays, but thankfully Champloo’s soundtrack has an inconspicuous old school flavour that takes its cues from artists such as Dan the Automator rather than Eminem, making it infinitely more palpable to non fans such as myself.

In Summary

Whilst the storytelling may be inherently flawed due to its predilection for obvious narrative trappings, Samurai Champloo makes up for its shortcomings with some truly zany humour, crowd-pleasing sword skirmishes and a gloriously unhinged central conceit. If you’ve seen the first volume of Champloo you’ll know what to expect, and if you haven’t, well, what’re you waiting for?

8 / 10