Since circa 1997 the spark of Toonami aired on Cartoon Network, it shifted a significant impact on western cartoon culture. Bringing about Japanese cartoons better known as anime. A new world for animation bringing an interest to all age groups, like myself at the age of five. Anime brings on a new world of art styles, cultures, fantasy, and drama, some so beautifully scripted creating its own community of loyal followers. Seeing my fair share of anime’s whether you’re a veteran in the community or a curious onlooker one for the books of must see anime’s for me is called Samurai Champloo. With MyAnimeList giving Samurai Champloo an 8.5/10 and myself a solid 10/10. Why do I give Champloo such lofty expectations? The image Shinichiro Watanabe the creator illustrates with his crafty display of unique bold characters on an even more peculiar quest set forth with genius incorporated Hip-Hop inspiration and background music, is what really makes this anime stand out. Naturally from the title one can expect the series to include samurai and with samurai you would expect action and swords. However, with this clever work from Shinichiro Watanabe he paints a very different picture of your honorable samurai with champloo meaning “mixed up” or “stirred together” Wantanabe does just that by cleverly adding Hip-Hop influences on the blend. Wantanabe’s approach delivers a twenty-six-episode series of interesting anachronisms between Edo era Japan and modern day Hip-hop influences with music from the late DJ Nujabes. Samurai Champloo’s not so traditional representations in the mix is really what makes it one of a kind in the anime world.
In many of the action scenes the use of Hip-hop in one of the main character’s fighting style tied in with the background music plays for action I didn’t know I needed to see before. According to a journal article by James Strohmaier Hip-Hop has only recently became a research topic in academia around late 2007. “Approximately 300 university-level classes devoted to the subject, and such universities as Stanford, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Michigan have faculty and academic institutes dedicated to spreading hip hop studies throughout university curriculum.” (Strohmaier) Studies have consisted of exploring the relationship between the music and its effect of local youth culture sparking a global phenomenon, especially as something new to the Asian culture. Strohmaier states “Themes explored in Japanese Hip-hop draw upon the general youth culture themes of American hip hop—partying, dancing, sexuality, and social and political themes—though they also include themes endemic to Japan.” (Strohmaier) These themes are all displayed in the masterpiece Wantanabe depicts in Samurai Champloo. With the Hip-hop culture coming full circle in Japan the show found a home on late night American T.V.
Besides the amazing execution of the Hip-hop influence Wantanabe incorporated in his anime it wouldn’t have been possible without the right artists. One thing I feel like needs more appreciation is the style of Hip-hop he chose for the series. The late DJ Nujabes has a soul and jazz sampling production style, that made him the most renowned in the series, in ways that even if you don’t find yourself a listener of hip-hop I would highly recommend listening to his tracks, as well as the other collaborations for the series. Champloo featured his works and collaborations with Shing02, Force of Nature, Tsutchie, and Fat Jon. In fact, the Late DJ Nujabes was only known in Japan before finding a surprising support from western culture with Champloo’s release according to Wantanabe. (DuBois )
The series consists of three main characters Jin, Mugen, and Fuu all on a hunt to find a samurai who smells of sunflowers. Jin and Mugen being a couple of Ronin samurai chancing upon a girl that ties them on her quest by a coin toss. As Champloo portrays its anachronistic modern influences Mugen and Jin are far from the typical samurai. In Annie Manion’s review on samurai she advocates how samurai were once known as a representation of traditional Japan, but now seen as cool, idolized characters such as American cowboys that now can be represented without being in a traditional setting, like how we see portrayed in champloo. (Manion) Mugen being the prime example in the series, a vagabond with use of crude language, a raw break dancing fighting style and an appetite for those who challenge his blade. [In front of Execution squad] Mugen: “I don’t give a rat’s ass about going to hell. Guess I feel like I’m already there. What I do mind is the thought of being killed by you ugly bastards. I’ve gone my whole life without being helped by anyone else, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you help me into my grave.” (Watanabe)
Our other Samurai in the series is more of the traditional samurai you would expect. Jin a Ronin samurai on the run for the murder of his sensei, who carries himself fresh out of the dojo with cool composure and radiant confidence, making him the complete opposite of Mugen. Jin: “You’re the lowest of the low.” Mugen: “What’d you say?” Jin: “Your stance leaves you wide open, and your moves are totally inefficient. All in all, your fighting style is a mess. Mugen: “You son of a…” Jin: “I swear, you are the most undisciplined fighter I’ve ever known…” Mugen: “Shut your damn mouth!” Jin: “… and the only one I wasn’t able to kill.” (Watanabe)
From the very first episode our characters are immersed into action, which brings Fuu the female protagonist of the story, caught in the middle of conflict while working as a waitress in a tea shop. A shy girl who as fate would grant it finds Mugen to her rescue, not without a bargain of course. Tying the invisible string of fate for the three Fuu, Jin, and Mugen set on Fuu’s long awaited quest for the samurai that smells of sunflowers. [Mugen and Jin are about to fight.] Fuu: Alright, that’s enough! You two made me a promise. You haven’t forgotten, have you? Until we find the “samurai who smells of Sunflowers”, you two are not allowed to kill each other! Mugen: Oh yeah, this smelly guy, I been meaning to ask you about that. Fuu: Huh? Jin: Who is this “Samurai who smells of Sunflowers?” Fuu: Well, he… Mugen: And what the hell is a sunflower anyway? Fuu: Wait a minute… Jin: You don’t know? Fuu: It’s a flower! Mugen: So, what do they “smell” like? [Both turn towards Fuu] Jin: Do you have any other leads? Mugen: Like a picture or something? Jin: What makes you think he’s around here? Fuu: [yells] Stop! [stomach grumbles] Fuu: For right now let’s get something to eat. (Watanabe)
With the impacts of Watanabe’s strong characters and ingeniously incorporated music throughout the series, you really find yourself rooting for their journey to never come to an end. The only thing disappointing with Samurai Champloo was to see it only ran twenty-six episodes. However, don’t let that take away from how it was executed to a reasonable ending, which I applaud Watanabe for. Having a short series can be a challenge itself since I have come across a few short animes that were painfully too short with horrible conclusions. This usually happens when a producer tries to turn a manga (Japanese Comic Series) into an anime without sufficient funds, or simply bad planning. Another interesting thing about Champloo is Watanabe’s work was solely based as an anime. This brings on a creative style I believe to be unique, to script the image of this series and make it come to life with an everlasting impression. Overall if you want to discover a great series of action and comedy, Samurai Champloo is what your looking for.
All images used
Manion, Annie. “Global Samurai.” Japan Railway and Transport Review (2006): 46-47. PDF.
Samurai Champloo. Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe. Perf. Steven Blum. 2004. Dvd.
Strohmaier, James. “Northeast Asian Culture in a Hip Hop World.” (2009): 499. PDF.
Watanabe, Shinichiro. Great-Quotes. 2004. 2002-2013.