Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day One Hundred and Thirty-four - Samurai Champloo: Episode 1, "Hip Hop Samurai in Feudal Japan? Delicious!"

Alright, I'm going to be upfront about this... Samurai Champloo is probably the best English dubbed anime next to Cowboy Bebop. It's certainly the best on Netflix right now.

Is it me or is the sun just HUGE today?
Set in a fictionalized, stylistic re-imagining of feudal Japan where all of the art and architecture is period but heavily influenced by hip hop culture, Samurai Champloo as a series is an exploration both of the gritty samurai adventure drama and underground youth culture.

There's graffiti art and thug archetypes and mannerisms and even the wipes that transition between scenes are record scratches.

With tunes from Nujabes, Fat John, and Forces of Nature, featuring mostly Japanese rappers and DJs with a few Americans (like Fat John) joining to deepen the mix, Samurai Champloo has one of the best soundtracks out there. I still pop the discs in whenever I need something cool and mellow in the background, and am always pleased by the loops found within.

Alright... who wants some?
It's really no surprise that the editorial style, combat dynamics and choreography, and the carefully selected soundtrack gel into a crazy cool series like this. That would be because the writer/director/showrunner Shinichiro Watanabe (not to be confused with Nabeshin, Shinichi Watanabe, of Excel Saga fame) was responsible for probably the greatest anime series of all time... Cowboy Bebop.

It is such a shame that Cowboy Bebop isn't on Netflix, but Samurai Champloo is a decent enough substitute that has plenty of it's own style and doesn't have to adhere as tightly to the former's space-noir genre. Being a hip hop/period samurai adventure mashup does have its advantages.

In this, the introductory episode, all three main characters are introduced and, as far as pilots go, it does this well. There's plenty of action to establish their styles and mentality, and just enough mystery for the three leads to pique one's interest.

This little piggy went to market... *SNAP*
There's the wild man, Mugen, who is all attitude and crazy capoeira and is voiced by Steven Blum (who played Spike in Cowboy Bebop), Jin, the soft-spoken blade master, and Fuu, the quirky ringleader who saves the two fighters and hires them to help her find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers."

Like most period samurai dramas, the story is pretty much inconsequential as the focus is more on style, mood, and sword fighting. It's certainly the case that style is the overall purpose of Samurai Champloo. All the art, framing, and animation is there purely to please one's aesthetics.

Yeah, you can't say "no" to this face.
The standout for the series really is Mugen's capoeira. It's just so random and dynamic that it thoroughly outshines Jin's straightforward traditional kendo.

When it comes to Fuu, I feel a bit mislead by her behavior in this first episode. She's way too cute and straight-forward and not at all the spoiled brat she becomes as the series progresses... but I suppose I can save more on that for when I actually get to those episodes. Here, in the first, she's hip, competent, and just the right amount of assertive to inject her will into the narrative and really push the story. To be honest, without her tea accident and subsequent hiring of Mugen to be a temporary bodyguard, the series probably wouldn't even have gotten started. :)

I think my only beef with the pilot is the flying squirrel. Most anime have a semi-intelligent animal as a sidekick (if not an out-right talking one), so of course Samurai Champloo does. I could forgive the blatant pandering on the part Watanabe when it came to Ein in Cowbow Bebop since there was a believable explanation... but Momo is a completely superfluous character in my opinion, just inserted for the squee-factor.

If you're going to watch any anime on Netflix, Samurai Champloo should probably be at the top of the list. It's one of those series that has just about everything... fun stories, great action and acting, and a hellagood soundtrack. I could easily just put it on in the background and enjoy it for the tunes alone!

Quick shoutout to Kirk Thornton and Kari Wahlgren who voiced Jin and Fuu, respectively. They do a great job, though their voices aren't as recognizable as Blum's.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

1 comment:

  1. It's just too bad the last couple of episodes kinda sucked. The journey was great, the destination was meh.