Samurai Champloo: Volume 4 Review
Nagasaki is just over the horizon, which is just over some mountains that are quite far away from some hills and forests. Mugen, Jin and Fuu still have a ways to go, but they’ve almost completed half of their journey. Now they head toward the Kansai region, but it won’t be a peaceful trip, what with mercenaries chasing them and Fuu still banging on. Just who is worse?
If I had any complaints over the previous volume then it was down to the storyline and characters not really going anywhere during a series of individual episodes. However the present volume addresses all concerns by presenting us with some very deep and personal character developments. The disc kicks off with a wonderful two-part story entitled “Misguided Miscreants” which sees the ghosts of Mugen’s past come back to haunt him. That was horribly clichéd, sorry. When Mugen, Jin and Fuu arrive at the coast they run into a girl named Koza, who instantly approaches Mugen and seems joyous by this reunion. Granted this moment relies heavily on coincidence, but nonetheless it sets up what is to be an intriguing story. It turns out that Koza is a childhood friend of Mugen’s, having grown up alongside him and her elder brother Mukuro on an island situated near the Ryukyus. This island was a home to exiled criminals and has proved to be a hellish land without signs of any promise. It’s not long before Mugen is in the presence of Mukuro – the man he hates with a passion. Mugen is eventually drawn into a plot to rob a Shogunate transport ship carrying a load of gold coins, despite knowing better. To be honest I’d be spoiling things by saying any more, suffice to say that parts 1 and 2 are held together nicely, with some solid character interactions, culminating with a shockingly good twist.
Watanabe disbands the serious tone of the earlier episodes when we reach the start of the Kansai chapter, as the trio make their way to Kamigata. When Fuu balloons to orca proportions after eating all she can possibly eat (we’re talking about Fuu here remember) the guys ditch her so they can have some fun in the red light district. Mugen is only interested in the ultimate lay and when one such women appears he ends up with more on his hands than he bargained for. Of course when it comes to women - attractive ones at that - he often finds himself wrapped around their fingers. And so Mugen ends up doing the bidding of the sexy Yatsuha, as she chases after the leader of a counterfeiting ring, known as Ginsa Momochi – leader of the Negoro Militant Monks. The episode is all round playful, predominantly centring on Mugen once more, while Fuu walks through town disgruntled as usual. Not only that but the overall quality of “Bogus Booty” is stunning: for a short story it’s a well fleshed out piece, delivered at an unrelenting pace and showcasing some jaw-dropping animation, which sees the animators go from strength to strength. The way in which we see Mugen and Jin do their boppity-bee-boop moves is remarkably fluid and filled with the kind of excitement and unique approach that we don’t often see. “Misguided Miscreants” may have showed off a little, but it’s fun to see how Watanabe manages to eclipse his previous efforts.
Rumours abound for the final episode on the disc as locals whisper of a mysterious beast roaming in the forest; Mugen, Jin and Fuu get an ear full from a passing group as they perform a hilarious rap before disappearing. But it isn’t long before Mugen and Jin sidestep this and start quizzing Fuu once more over the sunflower-smelling samurai. This results in yet another row between the trio, prompting Mugen to piss off and leave Jin to go in the opposite direction. As we’ve come to discover these separations leave them all the more vulnerable and now certain parties are picking out their prey. This time the story turns toward Jin and Fuu. Jin is being tracked by a fellow named Yukimaru, who just happens to be after revenge. Meanwhile Fuu is rescued from drowning by a man named Okuru. Little is known about him at this stage, other than he’s being chased by the police. Elsewhere Mugen find himself in a case of mistaken identity when he’s suddenly arrested.
This ends the first part of a tale which sees Samurai Champloo’s storylines becoming more ambitious the further the series continues. Although this cliff-hanger approach isn’t always the best one in terms of individual anime releases it does generate enough tension to have us eagerly wanting more, and it just turns out that it’s bad luck for us considering each volume has had four episodes each and two of them have already managed to wrap up their lengthier episodes in one hit. Five would have been nice here but we’re just going to have to be patient.
#13 Misguided Miscreants (Part 1)
Mugen, Jin and Fuu find themselves at the coast as the draw nearer to Nagasaki. There Mugen runs into an old friend named Koza and is troubled by her presence. Soon the trio are ambushed by pirates, who turn out to be led by Koza’s brother and Mugen’s enemy Mukuro. Mukuro manages to convince Mugen to help him carry out one big, final mission – to rob a Shogunate ship carrying a fortune in gold coins. Mugen should perhaps know a little better…
#14 Misguided Miscreants (Part 2)
Mugen is left for dead when he’s once again betrayed by Mukuro. As he sinks deeper below the ocean, flashes off his past come back to trouble him. Meanwhile Jin has learned of Mugen’s betrayal and seeks revenge.
#15 Bogus Booty
The gang arrives in Kamigata, Kansai region. While doing a spot of fishing, to little avail, Jin finds a bag of gold coins and shows it to Mugen and Fuu. The trio see no other way but to spend their new found, not so hard earned cash on lots of food and women. However the money belongs to a counterfeiting ring, led by some nasty mercenaries. They want their money back, while Mugen’s new lady friend is after the group leader.
#16 Lullabies for the Lost (Part 1)
While up in a mountain forest another argument breaks out between the trio. Fuu is sick of constantly being asked about the sunflower-smelling samurai and decides to leave. Mugen and Jin each go their separate ways which signals the end of their adventure. But the forest isn’t such a quiet place; things lurk here, like bears and strange men. Mugen, Jin and Fuu are about to be confronted by some – of these things.
MVM brings us Volume 4 of Samurai Champloo on another nicely presented disc. The menu has some fishies, backed by some Hip-Hop grooves.
Presented in its natural 1.78:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced Samurai Champloo looks very good indeed. Colours throughout the series consist of very warm hues, with black levels looking very pleasing. Detail is considerably high and every portion of the quality animation is complemented greatly. There are some minor banding and Edge Enhancement issues, but otherwise this is very respectable.
For sound we get three audio options. In a rare case for anime series we have a marvellous Japanese DTS 5.1 track, along with Japanese 2.0 and a newly created English 5.1 Surround. Naturally I opted straight for the Japanese DTS track, and it sure does impress. The series’ hip-hop score gets a good amount of exposure throughout the surround channels, while dialogue is suitably forwarded to the central speaker and remains crisps and clear throughout. The rears get a healthy amount of effects work, particularly during the impressive sword fights, in addition to creating some nice ambient effects. The English 5.1 option is a very respectable rival to the DTS option, but lacks that extra punch. Not much should be expected of the Japanese DD2.0 option, although it does a nice enough job of maintaining surround coverage.
The only things to be found this time are two small conceptual art galleries and trailers for Tenjho Tenge and Ikki Tousen.
Volume 4 is without a doubt the best release to date. While the animation has always been impressive it simply stuns here when it comes to its action set pieces; furthermore its attention to detail is commendable and its characters get the attention that they deserve. Having passed its mid-way point Samurai Champloo raises its head high and looks to deliver some equally impressive content in future.