Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Samurai Champloo (2004) 26 episodes

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: action packed, delivers a wide array of genre without being jarring, professionally natural acting, endearing characters, top quality animation, interesting blending of different narrative and art styles.

The Bad: art issues in a couple of action heavy scenes, the intentional mixing of familiar genres might not appeal to those seeking entirely novel ideas

Current Availability Status: On code 1 DVD boxset and blu-ray but not available in singapore

Extras include:
- director and staff interviews and write ups.
- art gallery
- trailers
- clean opening and ending videos.

DVD Value for money Grade: B+

Six years after his western styled science fiction anime series "Cowboy bebop" became an international hit, Director Shinichiro Watanabe returns to his Japanese roots, employing his trademark style to 2004's Samurai Champloo. The entire structure of Samurai Champloo's setting, characters and story seems to mirror that of the Okinawan stir fry dish the show is named after; the word "champloo" in the title itself means "to mix" and mixing is what Director Watanabe apparently does best. Somehow, he manages to blend real historical events of ancient Japan with modern contemporary western elements like "hip hop" culture and gang land graffiti in a near perfect mix. Ordinarily, the different elements might clash with one another but under a director familiar with his own style, the amalgamation of all these different elements, and even different narrative styles, intermingle nicely, giving form to a brave new anime world.

Watanabe's recipe for success is simple: Take a rude crude breakdance-fighting dude with a bad attitude, a stoic "by-the-book" ronin and a spunky young waitress who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Throw them together into the sizzling wok of a world where ancient meets modern and stir in a wide array of other interesting characters. Mugen (the breakdance-fighting dude) and Jin (the ronin) are "recruited" by Fuu(the waitress), after she saves them from execution. Together they must journey through this intriguing new world of a stylized Edo Period on a quest to seek out a mysterious samurai who smells of sunflowers. The narrative follows more along the style of American TV series; episodes are largely stand-alone but with an overarching storyline to tie one episode to the next while preserving the distinct Japanese flavor. Every episode is not only able to develop the story of the three characters but also flesh out this unique world as envisioned by the director.

On their own, each" ingredient" tastes great; each character has their own unique charm and distinct personality which might just end up growing on you within the first episode alone. But it is their interactions with each other and the different situations they are thrown into that this "dish" is really about. The script weaves the three different personalities together in and out from one misadventure to the next, covering a complete spectrum of genre from the funny and lighthearted moments to darker and even sad ones. Our heroes go from competing in a rice eating contest and beating down gangsters to getting swept up in a plot to overthrow the government and settling an old vendetta. Their wildly different personalities make for some timely comic relief especially the ongoing bickering between the serious Jin and the brash Mugen. The voice actors were able to bring such chemistry to the the characters as their dialogue flows very naturally, almost like real life. Performances are equally strong both on the Japanese audio track and the USA English audio track, and seeing how the show is a mix of both western and eastern styles, it makes it all the more difficult to recommend one over the other.

To complete the dish, Samurai Champloo is garnished with some of the most awesome animation, stunning action sequences and artwork seen in a 2004 anime series. Though not up to the standards of a animated movie, Samurai Champloo's animation is along the lines of a high budgeted OVA; fluid, smooth and with almost no reliance on the usual animation "short-cuts". A stunning achievement for the comparatively "young" anime studio "Manglobe". The artwork combines modern anime aesthetics with a style similar to the traditional Japanese paintings. A few action scenes look a little "flat" thanks to the stylized minimalist color shadings, but they do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the show.

So once again, master "chef" Shinichiro Watanabe managed to produce one delectable delicacy of an anime series. In interviews, he made clear his intent on taking familiar ingredients and giving a novel twist through blending. Evidently he seems to have succeeded and produced a lip smacking blend of old and new, funny and serious; there should be more than enough style and substance to satisfy almost everyone in this series. Arguable a true spiritual successor to his 90s hit "Cowboy bebop" and perhaps even a time honored classic in the making.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like anime series that shatters expectations by bending ideas about pre-set genre and establishes its novelty in its combination
Avoid it: if you are used to anime genre being distinct from one another or prefer to look at the novelty of the components and not in the combination

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Characters: A
Animation: A-
Art: A-
Voice work (Japanese): A
Voice work (English USA): A
Replay Value: A
Brains: B+

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