Samurai Champloo Volume 4

Mugen, Jin and Fuu are still on their journey towards the west, but the trip is a slow on as at every turn they are confronted with all manner of problems. Lack of funds, perpetual hunger, and a seemingly endless supply of people trying to kill them are just part of the daily routine.

If you’ve seen any Samurai Champloo up till now, you’ll know what to expect. Volume four continues the melding of samurai action and feudal Japan with a tight hip-hop soundtrack and striking urban visuals. As an exercise in animated coolness there are few contemporaries that even come close, although sometimes it seems that all this style comes at the cost of substance. But wait”¦ what’s this? Character back-story? Gasp”¦

In a surprise move, Samurai Champloo finally begins to give the characters some actual background instead of just dropping little clues here and there. Mugen’s murky past is put under the microscope in the first two episodes, when the trio find themselves near the village he grew up in, and meeting old acquaintances forces long-forgotten memories and emotions to resurface.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s worth it, and a great deal of light is shed on Mugens’ character. He finally comes off as a bit more of a sympathetic character than the wild spirit we’re so used to seeing, because we get to see how he grew up and the conditions that shaped him. His method of revenge on the person that betrayed him is also surprisingly cold and demeaning, and it’s nuances like this that prove Mugen is a much more complex character than he initially appeared to be.

Elsewhere, it’s business as usual – and that’s never a bad thing. The series’ unorthodox sense of humour shines through and there are some great laughs to be had, such as when the trio happens across a bag of money, and Mugen and Jin ditch Fuu to go to a geisha house – only for them to be caught up in the chaos when one of the girls turns out to be a government agent investigating a counterfeiting ring.

In Summary

Proving that it does indeed have the substance to back up the style, Samurai Champloo still manages to surprise. The fight sequences continue to impress with superb choreography and animation, and the music proves to be provide a unique and effective backdrop to the action. The unique mixture of east and west, old and new, makes this stand out from the crowd; the fact that it also happens to be immensely entertaining is something of a bonus.

8 / 10