Imagine, if you will, a big old box of fireworks. There are all kinds of fireworks in this box, with some that are bright and colourful, some that go off with a really big bang, and others with complex patterns. But even with such a big box, it’s inevitable that every so often you’re going to come across a dud or two.
The second episode on this disc is one of those duds. Mugen, Jin and Fuu stumble upon a group of people trying to recover lost ninja treasure, all because some dude decides that it’s rightfully his due his ancestry (and has the family tree to prove it). Things are not as they seem on the site, especially when people seem to somehow grow back severed limbs and rise from graves. What we have is a feudal Japanese take on the zombie story, and while it all sounds very interesting, the problem is that it just feels very out of place. The supernatural element is completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the series, and although it goes for a creepy, weird atmosphere, it instead comes off as dull, meandering and utterly forgettable. Watanabe’s special blend of herbs and spices seems to be missing from this one for some reason.
On the other hand, if you ask any Champloo fan about the best episodes, “the baseball one’ is pretty much guaranteed to get a mention – and with good reason, as it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. The Americans have come to town, and challenge the locals to a game of baseball. Cue some hilarious hijinx as the hapless trio are recruited into the Japanese team, despite knowing nothing about the sport. It’s here that Samurai Champloo’s offbeat sense of humour really shines, as we see Mugen’s incredible destructive pitching arm, Jin wielding baseball bats as though they were katanas, and a thoroughly unpredictable game of ninja baseball. For best results, you’ve got to watch this episode subbed, because of the terrible English used by the Americans – whether intentional or not, it only makes things all the funnier. The dub, while perfectly competent, doesn’t quite have the same impact, particularly when both teams speak with American accents.
This volume represents both the highs and the lows of the series, but serves to remind of Samurai Champloo’s nature as an experimental medium. Even if the tests here aren’t entirely successful, you’ve got to respect it for trying something a bit different. As it rolls on towards it conclusion, this is one title that proves it’s still an enjoyable way to pass the time.