After much hype and anticipation, Samurai Champloo finally aired. Generally when expectations are this high, the actual unveiling tends to be somewhat anticlimatic. I am happy to announce that Samurai Champloo does not disappoint.
Samurai Champloo takes place in feudal Japan. Petty members of the ruling class arbitrarily order executions and brutal acts of sadism to amuse themselves. However, although only one episode has aired, I do not think that the subjugation of the common man by the ruling class happens to be the focus of Samurai Champloo. That is, this show does not appear to be about class or politics, but is instead a tale about two master swordsmen and their promise to help a tea house waitress in her quest. The politics involved are merely incidental.
The first of these swordsmen is Mugen, the apparently younger and more hotheaded of the two. He enjoys fighting, and is confident enough in his abilities to challenge perfect strangers to duels to the death. He presumably lives by a code of justice and honor, as he is the one who steps in and protects the waitress character, but seeing as how he offers to dispose of a roomful of loudmouths for some food, I think it is safe to say Mugen probably also kills for fun.
The second of these swordsmen is Jin, the bespectacled cool-headed one whose more level-headed wisdom allows him to refrain from brawling, and fight to right injustice. Well, that may be assuming a bit much after only one episode. After all, Jin is a bit of a braggart, and agrees to duel Mugen to the death simply to determine which of them is the better swordsman. Jin is a bit vexed by the fact that Mugen was the first man thus far that he was unable to kill.
The aforementioned tea shop waitress is Fuu, voiced by the always welcome Kawasumi Ayako. Ayako Kawasumi is in rare form here, and breathes real life into Fuu, our feisty and engaging heroine. Fuu is Ayako at her best. The Ayako Doctrine dictates that you will watch Samurai Champloo, and it will be radical.
The great anticipation and hype for Samurai Champloo is well deserved. Samurai Champloo is reportedly created by the team that gave us Cowboy Bebop, and is poised to become The Next Big Thing. It is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus. Samurai Champloo also apparently comes pre-funded with American money, and has already been licensed by Geneon Entertainment. This is good news, as Geneon's DVDs are generally very high quality, and no longer appear to suffer from low episode count as they once did years earlier while using the Pioneer label.
Samurai Champloo is not a perfect show. I really do not like the rap-ish opening credits. As near as I can tell, it is performed by Japanese artists rapping in English, with dubious results. The editing is also somewhat unsettling at first. It's somewhat like watching Pulp Fiction in fast forward. However, these are minor complaints, and are easily offset by the great elements of the show.
I particularly like the contrast between Mugen's and Jin's fighting styles. Mugen is constantly in motion, and at times it appears he is either breakdancing or practicing some form of capoeira with a sword. Contrasting Mugen's frenetic style is Jin's more efficient style, which focuses more on economy of movement and sure strokes.
However, the real joy here is Fuu. Ayako Kawasumi plays her perfectly. And while I would have liked to have had Megumi Hayashibara in Samurai Champloo as a nod to her work as Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop, Ayako Kawasumi appears to be as perfect for the part of Fuu as Megumi Hayashibara herself was perfect for the part of Haruka in Love Hina.
The official website for the show can be found at http://www.samuraichamploo.com/. Given the fact that it's already licensed by Geneon, and considering the amount of English-friendly material on the website and in the show's credits, I think it's pretty safe to assume Samurai Champloo is heavily targeted for western audiences.
P.S. Yeah, yeah. "Sonditioner."