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Samurai Champloo? More Like Pan-Fried Shampoo! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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March 16th, 2008


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11:55 pm - Samurai Champloo? More Like Pan-Fried Shampoo!
I had never heard of Samurai Champloo until I discovered it listed as one of the influences on Avatar, in addition to Cowboy Bebop and FLCL. Then, when I started my recent anime kick, multiple people recommended I watch it after Cowboy Bebop, including rachelmanija, who named it her second-favorite anime ever, and that woman has seen fifty billion of the things.

One reason I hadn't heard of Samurai Champloo is that it only came out in 2004. But I have a feeling it will eventually reach Cowboy Bebop levels of layman saturation; the two shows have the same creator, Shinchiro Watanabe. But this one also employs the guy responsible for the anime sequence in Kill Bill, Vol. 1!

The gimmick for Samurai Champloo is that it's a samurai drama...with hip-hop music and anachronisms a-plenty (the show had me from the first title card, which states, "This work of fiction is not an accurate historical portrayal. Like we care. Now shut up and enjoy the show."). I would say I'm not really a hip-hop fan, but what I'd mean is that I'm not a fan of most incarnations of rap; I do enjoy the beats and record scratches when used properly. And Samurai Champloo uses them to good effect, putting a modern sensibility on a traditional story. Well, mostly traditional (see: anachronisms).

As is true of most anime, you can get a feel for the show by watching the opening credits. They also give you a sense of the characters. Mugen is the breakdancing wild man. Jin is the cool, collected samurai. Fuu is the adorable girl who can't throw a punch.

What are these three people doing together? In the first episode, Mugen and Jin have a little run-in with the law, and Fuu saves their lives. To repay their debt, she asks them to accompany her on her quest to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers. And then they have lots of wacky adventures. The setup is indeed similar to that of Cowboy Bebop, but it has a stronger sense of continuity; I never got the sense that the previous episode had simply never happened. Also, each Cowboy Bebop episode tried to set up a whole new world or environment for the purposes of that one episode only, which, although an impressive endeavor, resulted in a somewhat disjointed narrative. Samurai Champloo remains firmly in Edo-era Japan, with the villages looking more or less the same. I think it's this familiarity that made the poetic moments more effective for me as well. Another problem I had with Bebop—finances—also works out better here: we're kept pretty aware of how much money they have and how they spend it (mostly on food), and they often make do by trading their services for room and board. Also, they never nobly refuse payment or whatever because these dudes are hungry.

I was told by people who preferred Champloo to Bebop that they were more invested in the characters, and I found that to be the case. In Bebop, the only character I was truly invested in was Spike (and to a lesser extent, Ed), and even he was such a cipher, so detached from everything, that it was hard to feel for him. But I cared about all three main characters in Champloo, to my surprise.

Mugen is like a wild animal (his fighting style is a mixture of breakdancing and capoeira), and he seems to get off on fighting, period. Possibly because he's a total badass and he feels the need to prove it whenever possible. Not for glory, but for his own sake. He snarls every sentence, and he's pretty much a big jerk to everyone, so he took the longest to love, but I did. Because there's more to Mugen than what's on the surface. Or what's on his feet, which are these awesome metal-soled sandals.

Jin, in stark contrast, is a wandering samurai. Who wears glasses. He's very soft-spoken and polite, even though he can also be a jerk since he's rather self-centered. He is also a total badass, and the problem is that both he and Mugen are the kind of people who are preternaturally compelled to kill anyone they think is better than they are. So this results in hilarious scenarios where one has to save the other solely because they want to be the one who kills him.

Fuu is utterly adorable (and she has an adorable pet flying squirrel named Momo!). She looked distractingly like Jin from Avatar (and shared several character traits), but I got over it in a few episodes when she became her own character. At first, she reminded me unfavorably of Faye Valentine based on her voice/speaking style and the fact that she was usually complaining, but she was complaining with good reason; Mugen and Jin were supposed to be in her debt (as opposed to the freeloading Faye). I can't quite describe what makes Fuu more than Just Another Girl, but there's something hopelessly naive about her, the way she always keeps a positive outlook on things. It makes you want to give her a hug. Especially because she gets kidnapped in every other episode.

Toward the end of the series, I realized that Fuu was supposed to be the audience surrogate: she was the normal character, the one we could relate to. So it was Fuu's story? Except Jin's backstory plays an important role throughout the series, so maybe it was Jin's story? Except Mugen is the unlikeliest character to show any sort of growth over the journey, and yet he does, so perhaps it was Mugen's story? The truth is, of course, is that it's all their stories: it's not only about how they individually develop but how three strangers form a bond and learn from each other.

It's also about changing cultures. Although the show admits it's not a historically accurate portrayal, most of the actual historical events are straight out of Japanese history, and Jin, Fuu, and Mugen take us through a transitional period. The occasional narrator comments on the developing cultural trends and societal shifts, which turns the anachronisms into more than a gimmick. By incorporating elements out of time (and incorporating them so cohesively, just as Watanabe was able to mash together genres in Bebop), you can see how the more things change, the more they stay the same. As they say. Honestly, I just didn't know how to end that sentence, but I had to make my observation about evolving cultures because it makes me sound smart without doing the work of being intelligent.

Because this is a Watanabe samurai drama, you expect the fighting to be awesome. AND IT IS. The swordfights are so amazingly fast I sometimes rewound to watch them again to see what the hell happened. Mugen is such a badass he sometimes takes out his opponents without even drawing his sword. The fights are brutal, too; the body count is high, and I found myself wincing at times. Nearly every cliffhanger in the middle of a two-parter (of which there are several) ends in the middle of an attack. Like, mid-sword swing. Literally.

The overall plot moves fairly slowly, but it's always in play since the characters are on a journey with a defined endpoint. And as they move closer to their destination, the stakes become higher. The three-part finale is awesome and exciting and intense and sad and beautiful. And there is LOTS AND LOTS OF FIGHTING AND BLOODSHED AND DEATH. Like a good finale should have. Plus, emotional moments that tug at your heartstrings, but come on: FIGHTING.

Samurai Champloo will probably always be in Cowboy Bebop's shadow. And while I did really like Cowboy Bebop, I loved Samurai Champloo. I got the impression I could only take so many adventures with the Bebop crew, but I wanted more and more and more adventures with Mugen, Jin, and Fuu. Whenever they threatened to break up, I yelled at my television screen. Whenever an episode ended with one of them in peril, I yelled, "Fuck!!" And this is what I want from my stories: I want them to engage me. (I've also neglected to mention that Samurai Champloo is more deliberately comedic than Cowboy Bebop, and that certainly increases its enjoyment value.)

This post of pimping may not have been an accurate critical portrayal. Like I care. Now shut up and enjoy the show.
Current Mood: mellowmellow
Current Music: Cirrus - Boomerang

(40 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:chasethestars
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:02 am (UTC)
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I've watched a couple of episodes on Adult Swim, and always meant to continue watching but kept forgetting to. I like the way "Champloo" sounds, and almost even started saying that instead of shampoo!

For the fifty millionth time, *recommends Bleach* :D
Also has lots of fighting and bloodshed and lovable characters that you can't help but care for.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:07 am (UTC)
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AND THREE BAZILLION EPISODES.

Also, re: Adult Swim. I don't know what the dub sounds like, but I think the Japanese voices are really important in defining the characters. Especially Mugen. I can't imagine what an English Mugen would sound like.
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From:peri_peteia
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:08 am (UTC)
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I love Samurai Champloo!

OT3 forever...

THE END
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:11 am (UTC)
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Now the question becomes:

The Bride vs. Jin and/or Mugen. Who loses an arm?
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From:kiya71677
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC)
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I've added Samurai Champloo to my list of must-see anime; my husband has been dying to see it too. The premise does indeed sound more interesting than Cowboy Bebop, except for the hip-hop music aspect of it (not my kind of music either).

I have to second chasethestars recommendation of Bleach. I know it's like a million (164 to be exact, close enough) episodes so far, but it is so good. It's the first anime series I've watched all the way through, and I believe it's the in the same genre of the anime series you've viewed already. It takes some time and patience to make it through, but I think it's worth it. :)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:40 am (UTC)
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Don't let the hip-hop put you off. It's really not as prevalent as I expected, and it's not like there's any hardcore gangsta rap. It's mostly evident in the musical score. And there's some beatboxing hilarity. And a trio of men who rap a legend.

I've heard a lot about Bleach (and the concept really does sound pretty cool), but I don't know that I would attempt to tackle it in the near future. I have many other shows to watch!
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From:the_narration
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:36 am (UTC)
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I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have a lot of love for this series, although I still love Bebop more. But then, I was loving Bebop for years before Champloo even existed.

I rewatched Champloo recently, after you started talking about the whole Avatar's-Jin-looks-like-Champloo's-Fuu thing, and it was even more fantastically fun then I remember. I went through the whole thing in a few days because after each one I couldn't wait to watch the next. Which is a nice change of pace from when I was originally watching it and had to wait for the latest episode to be fansubbed each week (not to mention the several months' wait between the first 17 episodes and the rest of the series).

It's such a great series. I mean, I don't like hip-hop at all, but the music was good and more than that, it's got this hip-hop sensibility, with the mixing and mashing of elements and the record-scratch transitions. And the anachronistic tidbits of modern culture added into what's clearly a well-researched historical setting are hilarious. (It's a little like Blade of the Immortal in that way, with anachronistic speech patterns and fantastic elements in an Edo-era samurai setting.) It looks stunning, with just the right mix of realistic and stylistic animation.

And the action? Incredible. A mix of classic samurai movie tropes and anime super-badassery. And just like everything else about Mugen and Jin, from their visual design to their personalities, their fighting styles illustrate how opposite they are. Red versus blue, fire versus water, yin versus yang, wild versus controlled, angry versus calm, nobility versus criminal. Likewise, in fights it's a home-grown mix of styles and improvisation versus a single, formal style learned to perfection. And then, of course, there's Sara's fantastic blind spear-work, especially that last fight in the rain.

It's a great series. Thanks for giving me an excuse to watch it again. :D
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:March 17th, 2008 07:48 am (UTC)
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But then, I was loving Bebop for years before Champloo even existed.
Heh, yeah, I'm sure that helped.

it was even more fantastically fun then I remember. I went through the whole thing in a few days because after each one I couldn't wait to watch the next.
Right? Sometimes I would sit through the ending credits, wondering whether I should watch another episode, and then the opening credits kicked in again, and it was like, "Okay! If I have to." It's very enjoyable.

had to wait for the latest episode to be fansubbed each week
So do fansubs come out that fast? I was wondering how long I would have to wait to watch the second season of Haruhi.

I mean, I don't like hip-hop at all, but the music was good and more than that, it's got this hip-hop sensibility, with the mixing and mashing of elements and the record-scratch transitions.
Exactly!

And the anachronistic tidbits of modern culture added into what's clearly a well-researched historical setting are hilarious.
I love the giant mechanical crab. Because it took me a second to even identify it as an anachronism.

And the action? Incredible.
At times, it felt like Mugen and Jin were just unfairly MORE BADASS THAN ANYONE EVER. But...I didn't care because it was awesome.

It's a great series.
I agree!

Thanks for giving me an excuse to watch it again.
You're quite welcome.
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From:catalyst2
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
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I've only managed to see a few episodes of Samurai Champloo but I really liked what I saw. It used to be on Thursday nights at about 11.30 and then it went to 12.30 and then it was on intermittently and then ..... I think I just gave up. Sadly, it's not on here (Australia) any more but I'd love to see some more.
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From:etherealclarity
Date:March 17th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)
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Awesome review. You sure do have a way with words, Sunil! That really summed up everything I loved about Samurai Champloo. And I'm glad that you liked it better than Bebop too :)
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From:allsunday
Date:March 17th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
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One of my favorites! I forget, have you seen Last Exile?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Never even heard of it.
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From:evilstmars
Date:March 17th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
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I've been meaning to get back into anime, it being incredibly popular at my school. I <3 your reviews a whole lot, and now I really need to see this one.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:March 18th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
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I'm glad you've been enjoying my anime reviews! You do really need to see this one. It's awesome.
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From:catatonia00
Date:March 18th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
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Huh. I didn't think that they'd spell "champloo" like that. Weird.

Even if this post is far from being food related, you still manage to get my stomach grumbling. Now craving for <a href="tofu or even goya champuru (which could be gross bitter when badly cooked)</a>... mmmm...
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From:k_olefin
Date:March 18th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
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Ooh! Now I really want to watch this. Hmmm. I'll have to get my hands on it over Spring Break next week. Thanks for the recommendation!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:March 18th, 2008 02:33 am (UTC)
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Yay!! I'm glad I convinced you. Tell me what you think!
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From:aveline
Date:April 1st, 2008 09:44 am (UTC)
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I confess that I love Cowboy Bebop more - it was one of the first animes that I watched (the third actually) so it will always be near and dear to my heart.

The fighting in Champloo is a thing of beauty. I didn't realize just how much I loved this show, and how much the characters meant to me until the final few episodes. The final scenes of the anime - so moving, it's my favorite anime ending.

Whenever they threatened to break up, I yelled at my television screen. HA HA yes absolutely!

Also, do you mind if add you to my friends' list? Because you have a stack of 'fanboy' type of posts that I just know I'm going to enjoy reading :P
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 2nd, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC)
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I don't mind at all! I'm glad you enjoy my fanboy posts!

it was one of the first animes that I watched (the third actually) so it will always be near and dear to my heart.
I completely understand that. I feel the same way about Princess Tutu. And even Evangelion, I think.
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From:magnetic_regina
Date:May 7th, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
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I came here through a link on TWOP.

I have to agree with you about pretty much all that you wrote, but especially why Cowboy Bebop versus Samurai Champloo. I love Samurai Champloo so much more than my like for Cowboy Bebop because I care for all the characters. Hell, even if it was just an episode of them sitting around sniping at each other and trying to think up ways to make money I would love it.

... Um... I was going to say more but I just realised I have to run off to a History tutorial.
From:fallingscribble
Date:May 9th, 2008 01:25 am (UTC)
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Hey, ya know, I think you have the Champloo characters down more perfectly than anywhere else I've ever read a recommendation for that show. You hit all the high points of the series perfectly, too, as I see them, particularly in contrast with Cowboy Bebop. (Though I do have to say that I think Bebop should be watched before Champloo, because Champloo works better with a sort of frame of reference, due to the similarities between the two.) So: I agree!

And actually, I think Champloo has one of the best dubs I've ever seen. Seriously. Mugen in particular has a great voice. (If you saw the Bebop dub, I think it's the same guy who did Spike. He's a way better Mugen.) They translate the jokes pretty damn well, and in fact, I think it's one of the only dubs I've ever seen to actually insert a Japanese cultural reference that wasn't there in the original.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:May 9th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
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Hey, ya know, I think you have the Champloo characters down more perfectly than anywhere else I've ever read a recommendation for that show.
Thanks!

You hit all the high points of the series perfectly, too, as I see them, particularly in contrast with Cowboy Bebop.
Thanks again!
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From:kissyboots13
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)
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Duh. I should have read your entries more carefully. I am shamed. Now go watch Hatenkou Yuugi. It's sort of similar to this, but not in the Edo era, very supernatural, and dark dark dark.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 27th, 2008 07:41 am (UTC)
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And it's only ten episodes! I will keep it in mind. Thanks for the rec.

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