“Sharp like an edge of a samurai sword…”
If you’re into anime filled with samurai swinging their swords to the sound of hip hop beats, then Samurai Champloo is definitely one to check out. Samurai Champloo (2004) is a series directed by Shinichiro Watanabe under Manglobe animation studio. Watanabe was also responsible for the production of the Cowboy Bepop, so if you enjoyed watching that classic, how about giving this one a watch? The anime follows the journey of Mugen, Fuu and Jin, on their quest to find “the samurai who smells of sunflowers”.
The audience is first introduced to the main characters in a tiny village tea house where Mugen and Jin save Fuu from being attacked by local government minions. A fight then ensues between Mugen and Jin, resulting in the death of a governor’s son. They are both condemned to be executed, but Fuu saves them under the condition that they agree to be her bodyguards on her mission to find “the samurai who smells of sunflowers” who she believes may be her father.
So here’s the team; there’s Mugen, a criminal and former pirate from the Ryukyu Islands who fights his enemies with his break dancing martial arts style. Then we have Jin, a wandering samurai who’s on the run from his dojo and finally there’s Fuu embarking on a journey with two random sword-wielding guys. Amazing travel companions right? What could possibly go wrong?
The anime is set in the Edo period (1603-1868) and explores the political relationship between Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom, societal hierarchies and the conflicts associated with corruption and religion. The word ‘Champloo’ comes from the Okinawan word ‘chanpuru’ meaning ‘to mix’. The title Samurai Champloo cleverly relates to the mix of cultures shown in the anime as well as the combination of the hip-hop music in the soundtrack, adding a modern twist to the anime.
Historical themes are cleverly incorporated into the series. Episodes 6 and 23 show the presence of Dutch and American foreigners during a time when Japan was a closed off country. You get to see the different attitudes that the Japanese characters have towards them. As the episodes progress, viewers can observe a change in the trios’ dynamic through the development of a stronger bond, as they face adversity wherever they go.
The influence of hip hop
Any anime fan will agree that soundtracks can either contribute to the success of an anime or take it away. Not only did Samurai Champloo’s hip-hop influenced soundtrack elevate it closer to the “early 2000s- classic” status, it secured a place in the nostalgia of many fans. The collaboration between Nujabes, Tsutchie, Shing02 and MINMI is responsible for the creation of this amazing soundtrack. Had I not watched this anime, I would have never discovered these artists or been introduced to the fusion of jazz and hip hop beats which is lofi hip hop.
Once you hear the opening song “Battlecry” featuring Shing02 and produced by Nujabes and the closing song “Shiki No Uta” by MINMI you can’t skip it. You’ll find yourself bopping to the tunes each and every time. I guarantee it! When you hear the lyrics “sharp like an edge of a samurai sword the metal blade cut through flesh and bone”, it hypes you up and makes you think, daaaamn, what’s happening in this episode?
The music soundtrack is carefully placed within the scenes of each episode. At times, simplistic, sombre beats are used to match the tones and the vibes of each scene. Record scratching sounds are heard throughout the episodes, often used before the change of one scene to another. The influence of hip-hop is not only present in the music but also in the art style of the animations as well.
The ending of Samurai Champloo was good because of its simplicity, although some people may feel disappointed with it, expecting more or wishing for an alternative ending. Episode 26 signifies the end to the trio’s journey, for which they were brought together for a single purpose. Viewers watch Jin, Mugen and Fuu approach a field, say good bye to each other and walk off in three different directions without looking back. As the ending theme song “San Francisco” plays in the background, viewers wait and hope that they’ll turn back to look at each other at least once, but they don’t. It shows a direct reflection of reality where people come together for periods of time and before continuing on their own life journeys. Their encounter at the tea house brought about new friendships and lessons across the series. The journey allowed Jin to leave the samurai world and make new friends. Mugen gains an appreciation for the value of life and Fuu learns the truth about her father’s past.
Viewers are left wondering, will they ever meet again? While it would have been cool to watch the trio embark on another adventure, I believe that it was the best decision to preserve the awesomeness of the anime and is proof that some series should be left as they are. I’ve watched the series 4 times; I’ve enjoyed listening to the soundtrack and analysing each episode further each time, which is why I’d give Samurai Champloo a solid rating of 7/10. Add Samurai Champloo to your watch list if you enjoy watching historical anime infused with modern twists and touches of hip hop influences.