Samurai Champloo: Volume 5 Review
Cases of mistaken identity, vandalism and crazy missionaries attempt to thwart our heroes’ journey this time around. But there are also many hidden things tucked away that have yet to present themselves. How will Fuu, Mugen and Jin cope with the revelations that lay ahead, especially when their friendship is on the tatters of destruction?
Opening with the continuation of Lullabies for the Lost, volume 5 of Samurai Champloo addresses the previous cliff-hanger with excitement aplenty, as Mugen, Jin and Fuu each have to get themselves out of tight predicaments. Central to this story is a mysterious fellow named Okuru, who authorities insist has been driven mad by illness and has killed soldiers and his own village people. Of course there just has to be more to his story and we end up discovering some interesting truths, not least of which is the opening up of Fuu and her reasons for seeking the sunflower smelling samurai. From this stage on Mugen and Jin question Fuu further about this, unto which she finally reveals the samurai’s identity in the third episode on the disc - Unholy Union. Not wishing to reveal any spoilers I won’t elaborate any further, suffice it to say that the writers are starting to provide more focus on the lead players as opposed to maintaining standalone episodes that bare little relation to the heart of the trio’s quest.
Character relations and particularly individual weaknesses belonging to each are nicely explored in this volume. We’re still seeing new things in relation to Mugen, Jin and Fuu, which considering how far into the series we are is impressive and considerably fresh. We learn that Mugen can’t read in the funniest episode on the disc, entitled War of the Words. This brings into play more of those famed anachronisms by introducing the birth of graffiti and casual threadbare style during the Edo period. It’s a perfect opportunity for Watanabe to go all out crazy and provide parallels to modern gangster lifestyles, while commenting on rolling with the times in a changing world. The secrecy in society which becomes all the more reflective, whilst being particularly true to life, is played in an uproariously energetic and hilarious fashion. The artists themselves are fun characters who bicker over silly things, but it’s the introduction of sensei Bundai that really gets the most laughs. When Bundai begins to teach Mugen romanji, the passion, frustration and banter between the two is a real highlight; completely over the top, grown men crying comedy, which is classic anime stuff.
Jin continues to wrestle with his past, while Fuu and her feelings for him become more apparent. In Elegy of Entrapment (Part 1) there’s a sweet moment in which she sends Jin to guard her new friend Sara, fearing that Mugen would display ulterior motives before an attractive and helpless woman. However, Fuu’s plan backfires and it leaves her heartbroken, which in turn has the viewer feeling a tad sorry for her.
Going back to Unholy Union, this is where director Watanabe uses important historical figures to flesh out his storylines. By coming up with a nice spin on things, he uses the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Jesuit Order) and the Portuguese invasion of Japan during the 15th century as his blueprint. Here we see Xavier the Third, a self-confessed descendent who converts Japanese people to Christianity through corrupt means. Initially it would appear that Watanabe is having fun at the expense of Xavier by supplying a creepy and bizarre man who speaks in stereotypical tongue: Japanese dialect with deliberately accentuated foreign tones. But as the story develops and twists unfold the episode proves to be a clever and unexpected take on another historical moment in time.
The final episode on the disc, Elegy of Entrapment (Part 1) is yet another belter in terms of two-part storytelling. Mugen, Jin and Fuu befriend a blind, saddened Shamisen player named Sara and she joins them on their journey. Watanabe crafts an absolutely stunning and compelling episode that I would dearly love to talk about, but if I did then this entire portion would be contained within a spoiler box. Simply put Samurai Champloo continues to engage the viewer with its uncertainty; reeling them in and setting up false situations that ultimately pay off in the biggest and best ways. Right now the series is doing well to top itself with each subsequent volume and I guarantee that the finale will surpass anything you’ve seen so far.
#17 Lullabies for the Lost (Part 2)
Fuu must make some serious decisions, now that she’s in the company of her saviour Okuru. Meanwhile Mugen decides to help the authorities (or rather himself) by tracking down Okuru; elsewhere Jin deals with an old acquaintance. How will the trio get through all of this and will it compromise their relationship?
#18 War of the Words
Ura-Edo, Aki. The once proud home of martial arts has become a place where youthful gangs leave their mark by defacing public and private properties with graffiti. Times are changing and rivals seek dominance; the police can’t stop them, can our trio of friends? Mugen is intrigued by this new art style and soon Fuu realises that he can’t read. The stubborn samurai refuses to learn, but his attitude soon draws the attention of an angry teacher who vows to help him learn.
#19 Unholy Union
The Nagasaki authorities set up checkpoints in order to identify hidden Christians. There have been several meetings in which converted Japanese have joined a man named Francis Xavier III, who claims to be a descendent of Francis Xavier. Asking for firearms in exchange, he informs these people that it’s their only way to get into heaven and achieve enlightenment.
#20 Elegy of Entrapment (Part 1)
When Mugen, Jin and Fuu seek shelter on one rainy night they encounter a blind shamisen player named Sara. She sings the saddest songs in all of Japan, songs that reflect her own feelings of loneliness and loss. When she’s threatened by some local thugs Mugen warns them off and the trio soon convinces her to travel with them.
MVM brings us Volume 5 of Samurai Champloo on another nicely presented disc. The menu has a snake, 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.
A humourous one minute promo video, featuring Mugen, Jin and Fuu sitting in a theatre and a small conceptual art gallery make up the main features on the disc. There are also previews for the rather good looking Burst Angel and Samurai 7 series.
Two volumes left to go and Samurai Champloo is firmly on track. Another exciting batch of episodes gives way to some superb twists and plot developments as the trio get closer to their target.
Last updated: 18/06/2018 23:44:50