So as I do all things slowly and well after other people… I watched Samurai Champloo years after it debuted. But it was like a 2 day sit down because I love the show. Of course it was the first thing that was recommended to me when I decided to get back into anime. And people were right. I love it. I enjoy the way it mixed in hop to the show. It only lasted one season but there is a lot of action packed into those 26 episodes. I should say it only needed one season. Not to mention the awesome soundtrack which I still bumping to. So I figured I would create a blog about what I enjoyed about the show.
Samurai Champloo is set in an alternate version of Edo-era Japan with an anachronistic and mainly hip hop setting. It is considered to be an example of the popular Chanbara film and television genre. The genre’s staples include the Edo setting, a focus on samurai or other swordsman characters, and lots of thrilling, dramatic fights. Chanbara was used in the early days of Japanese cinema (when government political censorship ran high) as a way of expressing veiled social critiques. So that was a fun thing that I learned.
The plot is a simple one. Three strangers coming together and head off on a journey. We get Mugen, a freedom-loving vagrant swordsman; Jin, a stoic rōnin and the exact opposite of Mugen; and Fuu, a brave girl who asks them to accompany her in her quest across Japan. It is all laid out quite nicely in the first epic episode.
I have yet to find another anime where I am intrigued by all the main character’s stories. I usually love one character or one character catches my eye and I watch it for one character and one character only. I hopped on it when I learned that it was directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, the same guy who directed Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy. I am all for it. So I am going to take a look at some of my favorite moments. So let’s jump into it. And as always spoilers ahead…
- The Jin/Mugen Battle: Tempestuous Temperaments (Episode 1) – I mean what else can hook viewers in the first episode but two awesome swordsman going head to head. Not even wanting to leave even when the building they are battling in catches fire. The animation is tight and the battle is epic. There was no point where I knew what may happen next or who would win. Fuu is working as a waitress in a teahouse who is being intimidated by the village prefect’s son, Ryujiro and his guard. She begs 19-year-old vagabond Mugen for help. Mugen easily dismantles the competition after agreeing to help with the promise of free food. Across town, the skilled 20-year-old Jin kills the prefect’s bodyguards as they prepare to kill a peasant. When Jin enters the restaurant, Mugen mistakes him for the prefect’s elite bodyguards and determined to have an actual battle, engages him in combat. One of Ryujiro’s guards sets the restaurant on fire but that doesn’t stop the battle between Jin and Mugen… at least until the last possible moment. It burns to the ground. The local authorities capture both Mugen and Jin, who were knocked unconscious by coal gas. They are sentenced to death for their crimes. Things look bleak for the two but both men remain defiant until the very “end” basically giving the executioners the finger. Fuu helps them escape but with the promise that they will accompany her on her quest to find the man who smells of sunflowers. Mugen stands for chaos and freedom, while Jin stands for justice and the order of the world.
- Oniwakamaru Versus Mugen: Redeye Reprisal (Episode 2) – So this one is set up like a lot of the episodes… they don’t have enough money to eat. This is usually the start of the trouble. While trying to get food, the trio overhear from a group of samurai about an ogre who kills people. Mugen offers to kill the ogre after obtaining information from an innkeeper. It is a ploy to lure Mugen out and to lead them to Ryujiro, the prefect’s son out for revenge against Mugen for chopping one of his arms off. Ryujiro hired the ogre name Oniwakamaru who attacks Mugen off guard and kidnaps Fuu to lure him. One some level you feel bad for Oniwakamaru, he is not actually an ogre just disfigured. He has suffered countless instances of unkindness by people who call him an ogre. Fuu is the only one who treats him with any kindness even though he has kidnapped her. Fuu befriends him and in turn she is protected by him when he kills Ryujiro. But he is still killed by Mugen. It is a sad end for Oniwakamaru.
- Mugen and the Ganja: Beatbox Bandits (Episode 9)– Our trio needs to cross the border but they don’t have proper passes to do so… The issues is that they bought passes which turn out to be fake. So our group is sentenced to death. The guards offer Mugen a chance to save his friends; if he can deliver an object through a forest full of bandits and return in time, Jin and Fuu will be spared. At this point, you wonder if Mugen cares enough to even return to save his companions. Have they been together long enough to forge that kind of bond yet? Mugen struggles through setback after setback, then Jin and Fuu begin to believe that he won’t be back in time either. Mugen notices he’s followed by a warrior priest group who wears Tengu masks, and is captured. One of the border patrols sends out a man named Yamane to meet up with Mugen, and frees him. Although they inadvertently set a field of crops on fire which causes Mugen to hallucinate and be late. We find out later that the crop is marijuana. Just as Fuu and Jin are about to be sentenced to death, the odor of the devil cabbage makes the border patrol hallucinate. Fuu and Jin manage to get away, and are angered to see Mugen hanging out with the warrior priests. He may not have succeeded in his mission, but this episode was hilarious and memorable. I laughed my ass off at the final look at Mugen in the field.
- Mugen’s Pride: Lethal Lunacy (Episode 10) – We are back to trying to get the trio some food. They meet a priest who will buy them food and supplies if he cleans their dojo. Lack of food gets them into all kinds of trouble. Fuu is sent to do errands when she encounters a group of people discussing a string of mysterious killings where the victims are all skilled samurai, with a bounty of 10 ryō being offered for his capture. Mugen is the only one interested, and while going to a bar he meets a man named Shoryu. They talk about the mystery killer but Mugen soon realizes Shoryu is the mystery killer, and jumps in to attack. My goodness Mugen always had me at a loss for words because he jumps right in. During the battle, Mugen is briefly overwhelmed by Shoryu’s non-contact attacks before the police arrive, with Shoryu promising to fight Mugen in the next full moon. It was startling to watch Mugen struggle for even a bit. Mugen starts training in preparation for his fight. And I mean it is a bit intense. Running, chopping wood, carrying heavy loads. Fuu seems a bit worried about him but Jin seems to know the intent behind Mugen’s actions. The full moon appears and Mugen heads off to his fate. Shoryu is impressed with Mugen’s skill, but still manages to disarm him. It looks like death for Mugen. But Mugen always comes prepared.
- Jin’s Love Life (Or Lack thereof) Gamblers and Gallantry (Episode 11) – Our trio is in town on an extremely rainy night trying to find any work they can because food. Mugen trains a rhinoceros beetle for a bug tournament and I could not imagine him doing anything else. Jin meets a woman on a bridge and gives nonchalant advice on how she can drown herself. The two go to a stall where the stall-owner leaves the running of it momentarily. The two share an intimate moment together until she reveals that she will become a prostitute the next day to pay for her husband’s gambling debts. If I had 1000 guesses I would not be able to come up with that. She tells Jin her name is Shino and he visits her the next day at the brothel. Jin buys time to be with her and then insists that the two escape together after witnessing Shino’s husband beat her. She follows Jin and the brothel guards are hot on their trail. Shino meets her husband one last time, buying her own freedom from him before Jin puts her on a boat to find shelter on the next island. While Shino watches from a distance, Jin kills the guards. It is one of the few times that Jin isn’t cold and distant. It was great to see but I was way sad for him.
- Misguided Miscreants (Parts 1 and 2) – We get a bit of backstory on Mugen and I am here for it. The trio meet Mugen’s childhood friends Koza and Mukuro. Koza tells them that the three of them grew up on a small section of the Ryukyu Islands together. Unfortunately, it was an island where criminals would be exiled to, forcing the three of them to grow up only knowing a world of crime. Something about this story set me on edge but I was still not prepared for what actually happens. Because there is something about his friends just doesn’t ring true, especially after it is revealed that Mugen was sentenced to death. But escaped by diving into the ocean. Seems true to his character of wanting to die on his own terms. Mukuro also laughs at the idea of Mugen helping to protect Fuu. Didn’t like him at all. The feeling gets worse when Mukuro forces Mugen to join him on a job after winning a bet. The job is to go on a government ship and try to steal gold. Mukuro secretly reveals to Koza that he plans to kill Mugen to tie loose ends. While Mugen is fighting the government officials, Mukuro blows up the ship Mugen. Fuu screaming Mugen’s name ends the episode and it is so poignant. Fuu and Jin aren’t thrilled with the idea of taking the job for any reason and it seems for good reason. In part 2, Koza asks Jin to kill Mukuro to avenge Mugen. Something about her I couldn’t put my finger on. Fuu finds Mugen’s body near the shores and nurses him back to health. Mukuro and his associate Shiren are discussing matters in a hidden area that they plan to use until it is safe to escape but Jin appears and kills Muruko. Jin realizes a bit too late that he has been used. Jin believes he is the only one worthy to kill Mugen (and by this time I am inclined to agree.) It would seem that Koza has been manipulating both Murkuro and Shiren. Mugen confronts Shiren and Koza, and effortlessly kills Shiren, while sparing Koza. Realizing that with Shiren and Mukuro being the only ones knowing where the location of the gold was, Koza breaks down crying. That loser deserves no one.
- Elegy of Entrapment Parts 1 & 2 (Episodes 20 & 21) – Fuu, Mugen and Jin meet up with a blind woman named Sara who is a traveling musician. She is able to sense emotions of those around her. Something about Sara made me believe she was a nice character but was I wrong. Sara asks Fuu which of the men (Mugen or Jin) can accompany her on her journey through the woods. Fuu chooses Jin, thinking Jin would refuse. However, much to her horror, Jin accepts and leaves with Sara. But Jin almost pays the price immediately when Sara attacks Jin on a bridge. In the second part of the episode, we get a shift from Jin to Mugen (who I have dubbed as the savior of the group). Jin and Sara fight, but Sara manages to overpower him. Just before Jin is about to be killed, he cuts the old bridge, with both falling down in the river. My feelings were wrecked. Poor Jin. The next day, Fuu and Mugen find Sara, and Sara lies that she couldn’t find Jin. It is Mugen that figures out that Sara is a big fat liar by finding Sara’s damaged instrument and cane. Mugen is initially overwhelmed by Sara’s raw strength, but just before Sara kills Mugen, Fuu steps in to cover Mugen’s body. Sara is wandering until she encounters a masked man who says she needs to finish her job or her son will die. It seems her son is the reason she is on this path. Did that make my feelings towards her change? Sure. Mugen meets up with Sara again at nightfall, and they fight once more. Although initially evenly matched, Sara overpowers him. Sara gains the upper hand, stabbing and slicing Mugen a handful of times. Fuu eventually comes across the fight, completely distressed at what she’s witnessing. Mugen’s attempts to fight back fail as his injuries become too severe and he collapses to the ground, helpless as Sara goes in for the kill. Mugen and Sara both try to strike together, but at the last second, Sara pulls back on her strike allowing Mugen to fatally wound her. Mugen asks her why did she hold back, and Sara reveals that she has nothing to live for now that her son is already dead. Angered, Mugen tosses her weapon in a fit of rage.
- Baseball Blues (Episode 23) America vs Japan – Let me just say I enjoy baseball so this episode was both fun and funny. The trio is trying to get to the Ikitsuki Islands where the Sunflower Samurai (Fuu’s Father) lives. As Mugen his famous dine and dash gimmick, he gets hit in the head with a baseball. It is thrown by an unknown man who later captures the whole group and strikes up a deal with them. The man needs a team to help him play a game of baseball against another team composed entirely of American travelers. Evidently, an American trade company was looking to do business with the area (chiefly by force), but Japan’s isolationist policies outright forbid this. Mugen agrees almost immediately. Kagemaru spends the night training our heroes in the art of baseball. The game starts and it looks like our trio is going to be slaughtered especially since they have a dog on their team. The game starts with Kagemaru and Jin getting things off to a nice start, but Mugen gets an out due to running bases past his teammates and Fuu gets struck out in her turn. The village elder breaks his back just getting up to bat and is out of the game, and when the dog goes up to bat, it gets struck with the ball and runs away. As the game goes on, the American team eventually resorts to playing dirty, doing everything they can to injure and incapacitate the Japanese team, even managing to kill Hanzo at one point. There are actually a few more deaths than you think would actually occur in a baseball game. At one point, Mugen is the only player left on the Japanese team. he decides to give the Americans a taste of their own medicine, throwing viciously powerful pitches that knock out all but one of the American players. In a one-on-one standoff, Mugen throws another hard pitch at the same time that the batter swings and lets go of the bat, both hitting their targets at the same time. Miraculously, Mugen survives and scares off the Americans back to where they came from.
- Evanescent Encounter Parts 1-3 (Episodes 24-26) – This had to be one my favorite endings to a series… EVER. Mostly because I genuinely feared for the trios lives. Would they all make it out alive? Jin duels with the most powerful shogunate. Mugen faces off against three brothers holding a grudge who have kidnapped Fuu. It is a lot to take in and I wasn’t sure that it could be done in 3 episodes. Fuu, Mugen and Jin have finally arrived in Nagasaki to find Ikitsuki Island in search of the Sunflower Samurai. A trio of assassins (Denkibou, Umanosuke, and Toube) are tracking Mugen, Jin and Fuu, and killing people who are nosey or stands in their way. A powerful samurai name Kariya Kagetoki is being recruited by a shogunate councilor to deal with Fuu, Mugen and Jin after hearing one of them killed Sara. Kariya Kagetoki meets Mugen and Jin, and states that Fuu’s father was one of the leaders of the Shimabara Rebellion, and that the shogunate was tracking the heroes to find Fuu’s father. Kariya Kagetoki challenges them to fight, and Fuu is attacked by the trio of assassins. That girl gets kidnapped a lot for 26 episodes. I am just saying. Mugen fights Kariya Kagetoki, with Kariya Kagetoki praises Mugen’s raw talent and unpredictability, but notes that Mugen doesn’t have the skills to defeat him. Kariya Kageoki easily defeats Mugen, and Denkibou arrives, telling Mugen and Jin to go to the church on Ikitsui Island, or Fuu dies. Jin convinces Mugen to go after Fuu… I wanted it to be Mugen who saved her too. And Mugen did not disappoint. Mugen finds Umanosuke holding Fuu captive, and Umanosuke reveals he, Denkibou, and Toube were government officials that were in the shop when Mugen and Mukuro blew up (in Misguided Miscreants Part 1 and 2). Umanosuke agrees to give up Fuu if Mugen gives up his sword, and Mugen agrees. Umanosuke lets Fuu go, and attacks Mugen viciously while Fuu goes to see her father. Meanwhile Jin fights with Kariya learning that Jin’s master met with Kariya Kagetoki, and Kagetoki forces Mariya to turn his samurai school into assassins. When Jin refused to do be apart of this as he saw it as dishonorable. Kariya commanded Mariya to slay his own pupil (Jin) in the middle of the night for fear of Jin creating a rebellion in the future. Jin quickly but unexpectedly kills his master, which causes Jin to run away. Fuu confronts Seizo Kasumi the Sunflower Samurai (her father), and finds her father dying from an unknown illness. Fuu is angry that her father left her. Kariya shows up and allows Seizo Kasumi to say his last words with Fuu before killing him with Fuu watching in horror. He tries to go after Fuu but is surprised to see that Jin survived their encounter. He and Jin battle again with Jin coming out on top using his secret weapon. Mugen, on the other hand, is having a bit of trouble with the band of brothers. Mugen is attacked relentlessly but uses his hidden dagger to wound Umanosuke, giving him enough time to get his sword. The two continue their battle, and the church collapses. Mugen barely manages to kill Umanosuke, and Toube uses a bomb in his wheelchair to try to kill Mugen, but it doesn’t work. Fuu and Jin hear the explosion, and see Mugen barely alive. Since they successfully led Fuu to her father, the two agree to fight each other with Fuu trying to get them to stop. Both of their blades shatter when they hit, and Mugen admits that he doesn’t want to kill Jin because he sees Jin as his friend, with Jin agreeing much to Fuu’s relief.
In the end, this is a great series. Humor, heartbreak and an impressive journey. The ending was epic. I love it. There is not a lot of anime that I rewatch scenes from and this is in the top 2. So that is it for me for now. If you haven’t seen it… watch it. Let me know your thoughts on it. That is all for now.