Monday, November 23, 2009

Samurai Champloo (2004-2005)

I'm back with another anime show review, because you all cared so much the first time around :P *cries*


Following the destruction of the tea shop she works in, Fuu saves the lives of two violent samurai, in exchange for their help in finding "The Samurai Who Smells of Sunflowers." On one hand there is Mugen, born on an island of criminals he is not a true samurai, is often sought after by the police, and has a very wild, constantly moving fighting style. On the other hand is Jin, a quiet ronin, born and bread to be the perfect samurai warrior, often giving him the appearance of being cold on the outside.

It's difficult to watch Watanabe's latest anime without bringing up comparisons to his first, and legendarily influential Cowboy Bebop. On some level it is quite obvious Watanabe learned from different mistakes his first outing, doing a better job of time management, and character development. Though at the same time Champloo is a much more cheerful affair than Bebop. That's not to say it's without heavy handed emotion, many of its episodes (especially the arc ones) are, but it doesn't dwell so heavily on the painful pasts of our three main characters. Instead it deals with their journey, the trouble they get into, and the different tasks they must complete along the way.

Though perhaps best of all in comparison to Cowboy Bebop is this time around we really get to spend a lot of time with the main characters. They're there from the first episode, and each episode deals with displaying another aspect of their character. We see how Fuu becomes both a mother and a task to Mugen and Jin, while the two struggle between their sense of freedom, and personal commitment to Fuu. We see them fight, their subtle moments of emotional attachment, and their strange sense of duty despite their volatile attitudes. It's quite amazing how well created the characters are. Each appealing to a different group, all filled with emotional moments, and a sense of care and uncaring towards one another at the same time.

Of course when it comes to Watanabe everyone is always curious about one thing: the style. Here Watanabe combines modern age hip hop with classical Edo attitudes to create a very intriguing style. Often side characters will beat box, talk in modern slang, or even discuss modern events despite them not fitting with the time period. For the most part this works, though at times I found the transitions to be a little distracting. Even then though Watanabe is fully aware of when to, and when not to, use certain aspects of Hip hop. During the show's more emotional moments Watanabe goes for standard dramatic techniques to build a connection with the audience.

As narratives go, Samurai Champloo is rather straightforward. Combining absurd tales for amusement's sake only with deep emotional backstories and tales interwoven. It's a good combination that really allows you to go through the entire range of emotions throughout the series. It never sacrifices plot for action, nor action for plot. Watanabe has a great eye for momentary story telling. By that I mean when the moment comes for the characters to do something that matches their developed character they do it. Even towards the later episodes as they develop certain bonds, they still show signs of disconnection given their harsh pasts.

Unlike Cowboy Bebop though this time around the show's highlight episodes are not found in clumps or story arcs. Instead they're well balanced throughout the series, with each new character arc constantly being brought to the attention of the viewer. While with some shows you can skip entire episodes, Samurai Champloo probably only has maybe 2-3 episodes that bring nothing to the table story wise, but they're probably the most entertaining (including an absurd baseball side story). It's just pure entertainment from beginning to end, great for any anime fan.

At times absurd, and other times deeply moving, Watanabe's followup anime series is a viewer's delight.

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