A new week, a new anime in our HotSpot! This time, I’m going to be talking about Samurai Champloo. This is an anime with a quite unusual style: it’s set in the Edo period in Japan, and yet it has very modern hip hop style music and the world is chock full of modern references.
It is a bit of an odd mix, with your usual tale of samurai and other skilled fighters in a very cut throat era, overlaid with modern music and filled with modern references. And yet, somehow it all works and it gives Samurai Champloo it’s own unique flair.
The story of Samurai Champloo is fairly standard fare, as a good of three travel together in order to find “the samurai who smells of sunflowers”. What makes this story more interesting, other than the unusual mix of a traditional setting with a modern overlay, is the characters and the friction between them.
Two of the three main characters are a ronin named Jin and a rogue named Mugen with a very unusual fighting style. Jin and Mugen actually begin the story as strangers, and want nothing more than to fight each other as they both realise the other is a worthy opponent. What brings this unlikely pair together is a young woman named Fuu, who gets dragged into their squabble.
After that, she asks them to help her on her journey for the “samurai who smells of sunflowers”. The dynamic between the group, with it’s very different clash of personalities is amusing and definitely makes for an interesting watch.
Naturally, Jin, Mugen and Fuu get dragged into various battles and get involved in some strange events as they travel across the country, scraping for every bit of money and food they can get their hands on. The theme of them being broke and struggling to keep themselves fed will definitely be a familiar one, but it doesn’t feel too stale thanks to the well written main characters.
The clash of personalities between Jin and Mugen, Jin being very stuffy and traditional and Mugen being very “rough around the edges”, certainly adds an interesting flavour to everything they do.
What also ties in very nicely with the unique feel of the anime that I discussed at the start, is the animation style and how the battles flow. It’s here that the choice of music really shines and works in tandem with the animation style to make the battles truly a treat to watch.
Add to this the contrast of the different battle styles of Mugen and Jin, and you have a very cool combination that lends the battles a lot of agency. Even though Mugen and Jin are both very skilled fighters, they by no means have “main character syndrome”. Although most opponents are fodder for them, they are often challenged by difficult opponents, which is refreshing after years of unkillable main characters.
For any fans of Cowboy Bebop, the feeling of this anime will definitely be a familiar one. This was Shinichirō Watanabe’s first directorial effort for an anime following the hugely successful Cowboy Bebop. His skill and talent is definitely on show here, and there will be some reoccurring themes here for those of who’ve watched his previous work.
While the beginning episodes are very much self-contained, as their journey continues, a more overarching plot begins to surface and the danger level definitely increases as the group gains more of a reputation.
Each element of Samurai Champloo works together to truly elevate it above a lot of very similar anime. There is an air of true uniqueness over the whole thing, despite the fact that it’s exploring familiar ideas.
From the well-executed fights, the brilliant choice of music, the interesting characters and setting, it all comes together into an excellent package. Samurai Champloo manages to feel both familiar and refreshing, with its traditional samurai setting and veiled social themes laid beneath. It’s also a fairly realistic anime, with its fights (no kamehamehas here) which is also nice given how oversaturated the anime genre is with supernatural elements.
All in all, Samurai Champloo is one of my favourite animes of all time, and is well worth a watch. All 26 episodes are available on Netflix in the US, Canada, France, Germany and Austria.