Retro Revival: Samurai Champloo

[Image via The Find Mag]
[Image via The Find Mag]
If I could describe Samurai Champloo in three words, it would be “cool”, “stylish” and “badass”. In my previous post I briefly mentioned that Samurai Champloo was considered my favourite anime of all time. I felt, however, that I had to do the anime justice and explain why it holds a special place in my heart. It’s not only the stylised action sequences that won me over, but also the character and storyline development as well as the amazing soundtrack.

Created by mastermind Shinichiro Watanabe, who created the critically acclaimed Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is set in an alternative version of Edo Japan, where Japan is inspired by hip hop culture. The series follows the story of Fuu, Jin and Mugen; three strangers who go on a journey across Japan to look for “the samurai who smells like sunflowers” (For the rest of this blog post, I’ll simply refer to him as “The Sunflower Samurai”). Fuu is a 15 year old girl who usually works in tea houses in order to save up for her trip to find The Sunflower Samurai. She has a very bubbly personality and cares a lot for Mugen and Jin’s lives during their adventure. Mugen is a vagrant who loves picking fights with people and can be described as the antihero of the series. He is crude, rude and sometimes selfish (especially with food). Jin is a ronin (masterless samurai) who is wanted by his school for killing his master. He wears glasses (which was not common in Japan during the Edo Period) and keeps calm and collected throughout most situations (which sometimes annoys his companions) – he represents the traditional samurai, rooted in bushido values. The Sunflower Samurai is someone of great importance to Fuu, who doesn’t even know herself why he is important, but we find out his importance near the end of the series. So how do Jin and Mugen land up in all of this?

From left: Mugen, Jin and Fuu
From left: Mugen, Jin and Fuu [Image via Tumblr]
In Episode 1, Mugen gets caught up with the village prefect’s son at the tea house Fuu is working at and mistakes Jin for one of the prefect’s elite bodyguards. They soon get into a fight with one another and burn the tea house down. Jin and Mugen are then arrested and sentenced to death at sunset the next day. Fuu then attempts to break them out so that they can become her personal bodyguards on her journey to find the Sunflower Samurai. They successfully escape the execution and thus begins the exciting journey of three unlikely companions across Japan.

[Gif via Tumblr]
Where else would you see someone using capoeira in a sword fight? [Gif via Tumblr]
Although the storyline seems simple, the way in which the series progresses is handled beautifully by the creators. Not only do you follow the characters on their journey but you feel part of that journey as well. When it all comes to an end, you feel as though that journey came to an end for you too. Even though the story is set in an alternative Japan, the story is still rooted in Ancient Japanese history and makes references to real life events that happened during the Edo Period. What I also loved about the series is that during the journey we learn more about the individual characters and their circumstances leading up to who they are at the present time. Even though we only learn more about Fuu at the end of the series, Mugen and Jin’s stories are very interesting and add more depth to their characters; sometimes showing another side of themselves that we never knew before.

[Gif via Tumblr]
[Gif via Tumblr]
If there is one thing that makes this series thoroughly entertaining, it’s the fight sequences. Never in my life have I seen sword fights handled so stylishly and fluidly as I’ve seen in Samurai Champloo. There are many sword fights in the series that I enjoyed watching but my personal favourite was in Episode 2. Not only are they entertaining to watch, but it is interesting to see the characters learn more about each other just by fighting; which also helps to enhance the plot of the episode.

Amazing and beautiful is not enough to describe Samurai Champloo‘s soundtrack. It is, personally, one of the best anime soundtracks I’ve heard in my life. The music can range from soothing to funky and even epic. The soundtrack is a fusion of hip hop and traditional Japanese music that helps to enhance the world of the series – you can see that Mugen’s attitude and fighting style is inspired by hip hop culture. It is a unique fusion of sounds and music that blends and compliments each other very perfectly. The opening song itself sets you up for something unique and amazing.

Samurai Champloo will always be considered my favourite anime of all time. With its mix of comedy, hip hop and action, Samurai Champloo offers you something unique and fresh that you won’t see in any other historical fiction series. It’s a series that you shouldn’t take too seriously, but still be taken seriously enough to appreciate and enjoy. The episodes range from serious to plainly outrageous. Three outrageous episodes that stood out for me were the baseball episode, the graffiti episode and the weed episode (yes, there are monks that grow weed in Samurai Champloo). With interesting characters, brilliant swordplay and a beautiful soundtrack, it’s no wonder why it is considered an anime classic. If you are interested in Japanese history and Japanese culture and looking for an alternative view on it, then Samurai Champloo is definitely the anime to watch.

 

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