Aug 16, 2017
Adi (All reviews)
Substance over style, style over substance? Pretty visuals, or powerful plots? Glamorous production, or memorable themes? Sometimes it feels like writers and producers often ask themselves this question as a way of deciding what part of the show to sacrifice in service for another—a tightly written, genuinely complex narrative or brilliant visuals, dizzying cinematography and a high-flown music backing? Sometimes as a viewer it feels like we have to ask ourselves the same question—what I just watched, did I enjoy it superficially or was it something deeper than that? Why does one matter more than the other? Sometimes I have to ask myself if I simply liked the way a show looked, or did it affect me on a more personal, genuine level?

But sometimes I’m left asking myself... was it both?

Samurai Champloo is one of these rare, no-compromise, all-inclusive anime experiences that leaves you feeling every conceivable emotion. It leaves you feeling warm because of its sincere themes, it leaves you inspired by the gorgeous, vivid visuals and it leaves you entranced by the dazzling soundtrack. It’s a show that you can enjoy in any capacity, in any mood, and under any lens. Do you like audiovisuals? Do you like action? Poignancy? Romance? Satire? It’s all there. If there was ever a show to embody the concept of universal enjoyment, in theory Samurai Champloo would be it.

A show can only go as far as its characters, so how far does Samurai Champloo go? The three main cast members were all treated fairly (although admittedly Mugen was given more treatment, being the main, main character) and they all had contrasting personalities. It's hands down one of the best use of character foils I've personally seen in anime; Mugen the big-mouthed and rogue criminal; Jin, the ice-cool and disciplined ronin; and Fuu, the brave yet petite teenager. Each of the characters are polar opposites of one another and because their personalities are written so consistently, their interactions are spectacularly entertaining to watch. The fashion in which they all bounce thoughts, dialogue and emotion off of one another is always enjoyable, but most importantly, natural as well. While as an anime emotions are dragged out and overplayed, it still feels oddly authentic—the characters are always true to how they are written so it never feels superficial.

Following the characters was the plot; it was kept simple: look for the “sunflower samurai” and in the process embark on an action-packed, treacherous adventure of smiles, laughter, tears and blood. The core theme of the narrative is the notion that the journeys we travel in life are more often than not more enjoyable and important than the destination or goal we arrive at. The emphasis is on important, because, if our trio of a cast simply found the Sunflower Samurai without their arduous journey, none of them would have progressed as characters like they did in the original story.

This is truly a special theme because of how easily it can be extrapolated to our lives—we all have dreams, ambitions and aspirations that we one day hope to achieve and while we fantasize and drool over the thoughts of achieving them, more often than not it won’t be the end goal itself that will give us the gratification. No, it’s something much more deep and sincere than that—it’s the shaky, uncertain path that you took to get there. The work, the emotions, the doubts, the failures, the small successes, everything that made reaching the end goal seem so impossible and difficult, that is what is truly gratifying. And like the show conveys to you… sometimes the end goal itself isn’t that special after all, and what is actually valuable, and what you actually take away from that long, exhausting journey… is the journey itself.

In terms of format, Samurai Champloo is episodic, and it uses that format to its advantage. By making it very obvious that the events in each episode were self-contained tales, the show was able to drastically change its tone from suspense, action, poignancy, etc. without seeming jarring. It was able to tell tales of heartbreak, tales of redemption, tales of hilarity, all without seeming like it didn't know what it wanted to be, and in the process take you on a roller coaster of emotions that leave a lasting mark.

The soundtrack of Samurai Champloo is phenomenal. It’s the part of the audiovisual experience that has to be addressed. Some of Nujabes’ best work, with low-fi beats and subtle hip-hop influences that juxtapose brilliantly with the traditional and orthodox Edo setting of the show. The ED song of Samurai Champloo, "Shiki no Uta", is also one of my favourite ED song of all time.


~ Roads were made for journeys; not destinations.

I hope this review was informative and helpful.