Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Samurai Champloo

Mugan is an undisciplined, unpredictable, and seemingly unstoppable manic swordsman on the lookout for somebody, anybody, who can challenge is wild style of erratic hack and slash fighting. Jin is a mature and schooled ronin, trained in the martial arts, and seemingly invincible, wandering the country also searching for a worthy opponent. The two coincidentally meet in a fiery conflict at the heart of a burning teahouse, they are thrown into a power struggle that leads to them being captured by a greedy corrupt governor. Heads on the chopping block, and still defiant, the pair are rescued by the efforts of Fuu, a teenage girl who worked at the aforementioned teahouse, who literally explodes to the rescue and assists their escape. The young girl then gambles on a coin toss to see if the two samurai will resume their duel, or accompany her on her quest to find the mysterious Samurai Who Smells of Sunflowers. She wins and the adventures begin.

There are 26 episodes of Samurai Champloo. The unlikely trio travels from Edo to Nagasaki, and along the way spend a lot of time distracted and involved in many adventures with as many unique and brilliantly designed characters. I like how the majority of the show, the story revolves around how hungry the main characters are, and that the catalyst of a lot of the conflicts they find themselves in is that they were just trying to find food, or make enough money to eat. Thematically, it’s a great device. The fundamental aspect of just basic survival that permeates this epic set in a world of changing times. There is a lot of good solid character building, as every now and then an episode will reveal just enough of a character’s past to placate even the most hard nosed critic, and add to the familiarity of the three as they travel with and learn to depend on each other. There are a couple episodes that revolve around just one of the main characters, which helps to develop the plot through their own perspective and adds to the overall density of the world this piece is about. Then, there are just good old fun episodes that have a fairly self-contained story presented and realized that often exhibits and examines some specific piece of culture that is unique to that time and place. There is an episode about a Baseball game that was pretty funny, and an episode about a group of secret monks that had a giant pot field that Mugen set on fire, and everybody got high. There are even episodes that have elements that revolve around specific aspects of hip hop culture that is completely unrealistic, but still amazingly fun. For instance Mugen’s style of fighting had a lot of break dance moves, or there was an episode about graffiti writers in this one province. This series barrowed heavily from modern hip hop, and it’s core ideals.

The thing about Samurai Champloo that makes it so amazing isn’t necessarily the amalgamation of hip hop elements and Edo Era Japanese culture revolving around Samurai, but that these ideas, among many others, serve as ultra-cool decoration and dressing for a deeper, more philosophical journey story that follows three unique and enthralling characters as they search for, and ultimately find, what they’ve always lacked: friends.

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