Samurai Champloo 1-4

1 Tempestuous Temperaments

The wild, irreverent Mugen (Kazuya Nakai) and the reserved, principled Jin (Ginpei Sato) are slated to be executed by the corrupt town prefect. The episode rewinds to show the events leading up to their arrest. Mugen extorts a waitress named Fuu (Ayako Kawasumi) into paying him in food to fight thugs that bother her and one of the thug’s ends up being the prefect’s son. Meanwhile, Jin fights the prefect’s bodyguards when they attempt to bully a local peasant. Jin and Mugen end up fighting each other in the burning restaurant that Fuu works at before both end up being arrested. Fuu launches a plan to rescue them on the grounds that neither of them kill the other until they help her find a samurai that smells of sunflowers.

One of the interesting aesthetic choices of the show is the hip-hop music influence. Besides influencing the soundtrack, the flow of the episode has some clear hip-hop influences. The warble scratch sound of hip-hop influences the show’s interesting transitions of cutting back and forth between two scenes in rapid succession as if in the editing room rewinding and fast-forwarding between the two scenes several times. Also, the episode toys with structure by having the beginning of the third act as the open scene. It’s an interesting way to anachronistically take one style and transpose it into a historical setting.

As Shinichirō Watanabe’s follow-up to Cowboy Bebop, a lot of the art-style has a similar style. It’s got that vibrant use of colors without being poppy. Here, the tones stick to a more earthy hue to reflect the tribal Japan setting. The character design is quite strong, in particular the contrast between Mugen and Jin down to the smallest things like Mugen wearing the more passionate hue of red while Jin wears a muted blue.

2 Redeye Reprisal

One of the men Mugen injured in the restaurant fight in the previous episode attempts to hunt down and kill him. The hunter enlist the help of an ogre that is mocked and reviled for his looks. He kidnaps Fuu and she ends up showing sympathy instead of fear to the ogre.

Now setting into the second episode, there’s a better chance to get a sense of the characters. Mugen and Jin play well against each other and their constant desire to fight one another is only lightly kept in check by the promise they made to Fuu. As for Fuu, she seems like a typical cute female with a bit of a backbone to her. She has a bit of spunk, but still is on the more vulnerable side of things, which isn’t always a bad thing as this episode demonstrates. The plot here is okay. The setup plays out as expected and there’s nothing truly noteworthy about it.

3 & 4 Hellhounds for Hire

Mugen and Jin are sick of Fuu already and when they reach a fork in the road, both bolt down opposite roads leaving Fuu to fend for herself. All three end up caught in the conflict between the two local gangs. Jin becomes the bodyguard of the son of the weaker gang while Mugen becomes second in command of the stronger gang after getting into a fight. Fuu is captured and sent to the brothel run by the stronger gang.

This two-part story works best because of the setup: the old-school gang driven by a sense of honor and responsibility being driven out by a new gang that does just about anything to grasp power. Also, the story does a good job of fleshing out the bosses and the characters close to them to the point that each character has a believable personal motivation for their actions and those actions affect the entire situation. It’s such a strong story that it feels like it could be the plot of a classic samurai film in the vein of Yojimbo.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing