Animation Quick Look: Samurai Champloo

Welcome to animation quick look, where I watch several episodes of something animated and tell you if it’s worth your time.

I’ve seen some of the anime that crossed over and became a hit in the US, but Samurai Champloo evaded me, most likely because it was on at odd hours as part of adult swim, which admittedly I rarely watched. But this came stateside in 2005 and had a lot of buzz, but 9-10 years ago there wasn’t the easy access to anime we have today, so I as wondering how it would hold up.

The storyline itself is pretty basic, in ancient Japan two wandering Samurai, Mugen and Jin, don’t really care about much except fighting worthy opponents (or anyone who pisses them off, really). This gets them in a load of trouble up to the point they are set to be executed, but they are rescued by a plucky young waitress named Fuu, on the condition that they help her find a mysterious samurai who “smells of sunflowers”.

Samurai Champloo is tagged as a “hip-hop anime”, but whoever did that probably has no fucking clue and was just trying to make it “hip” to American audiences. It’s supposedly unique hook is these “record scratch” moments where it’ll make the sound of a record scratch like a DJ was playing and either pause or rewind for a second. I just found it off-putting and annoying, and there’s nothing else that would fit the label of “hip-hop”, the music is solid but nothing that stands out as particularly “hip-hop” style.

And it’s too bad that Samurai Champloo feels it has to do this stuff to be different, because it’s a perfectly solid and fun anime. The trio of characters are fun and interesting, the swordfights are stylish and great to watch, and the humor is mostly well done, albeit with a few bits that run for whole episodes and fall pretty flat (like one where an artist who tricks girls into slavery suddenly becomes comedically panicky or the episode with a “European” disgusing himself as a samurai). That record scratch stuff just feels completely unnecessary. If you are looking for a deep and complex story you won’t find it here though, through the six episodes I watched, there wasn’t much in the way of character or plot development to the point where I occasionally forgot  what the protagonists main goal even was. Often the episode has them coming into a town and something distracting them like a rice eating contest or Mugen and Jin getting bored and tired of Fuu and going off to do something else for a whole episode before happenstance brings them together again, with maybe one bit of info thrown in about the samurai they are searching for at the end of the episode. Up to this point, it’s not even explained why Fuu is looking for the Samurai, but admittedly it’s only 6 episodes in of a 26 episode run, that’s plenty of time to explain things. And I enjoyed their distractions, but I could see it be maddening to somebody who wants to find out the mystery behind the samurai and why Fuu needs to find him. I suspect you could watch the first episode to get the basic setup and watch the last few episodes and not miss out on much in the way of important developments. But I would also argue that Mugen, Jin & Fuu are a fun trio to watch no matter what they happen to be doing in a particular episode so it makes up for the overall pacing.

Final Rating: 3.5/5 Samurais who smell of sunflowers…