Samurai Champloo: Volume 7 Review
“All good things must come to an end.”
I do like that phrase, Chaucer coined it I do believe. Nice one Chaucer. And while it’s thrown around a lot it often says it all really. Certainly it’s apt of Samurai Champloo which finally draws to a close after an epic journey across the land, shared by three lost souls who may just end up finding what it is they’ve been seeking in life. We’ve journeyed with them all over Japan; witnessed their ups and downs, playful bickering and their attempts to hide their feelings and past from one another, but their obviously strong bond has safeguarded them throughout their adventures.
It strikes me how simplistic the entire series has been, despite being blanketed by contemporary references, semi-factual and loose connections to Japan’s overall movement during the latter part of the Edo period, when the Samurai were becoming a dying breed. Of course anything I might say now when re-addressing the main arc may come across awfully convoluted, what with so many names and factions involved and all. But as with all previous reviews relating to this series I shall save the reader from disappointment and not mention the number of twists and turns and is he/isn’t he musings that frequently crop up. All the reader needs to know is that the series comes around full circle, whether that be sealing fates or forging friendships, learning valuable lessons and understanding what it all means. In the end Samurai Champloo is simply about a trio who happened to cross paths at the right time, paving the way for a significant life-altering experience.
Director Shinichiro Watanabe makes sure that these final episodes wrap things up accordingly, while also showering plenty of focus on several wonderful set-pieces. Believe me when I say that Watanabe and his team have saved the best until last as Mugen and Jin square up against a gang of deadly assassins, whilst being hunted by Kenjutsu master “The Hand of Gods” Kagetoki Kariya. Never before has the series been this tense, with our protagonists up against their toughest foes to date. Lives truly hang in the balance and Watanabe leaves us with as many cliff-hangers as he can possible squeeze in. The beautifully animated fight sequences just scream big budget, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the director held some of it back specifically for these moments. Crazy altered ninja weapons and ridiculous bouts of athleticism make for some impressive and memorable action sequences. You don’t complain about only three episodes on a disc when they’re of this calibre.
It’s nice that while Mugen, Jin and Fuu have been relatively ambiguous people, the series has fleshed them out at a pleasant pace. It’s never been forceful in feeling the need to accommodate the viewer with hard facts in order to get us to like these characters; very early on they won us over and it gradually became clear that we’d have to wait for them to open up. The final volume allows some breathing room away from all of the action. The first of a three-part episode on the disc Evanescent Encounter sees Fuu ask Mugen and Jin about their life before they became wandering spirits, and while clearly they’re taken aback they oblige her request. And that’s what has really drawn us toward them in the end; they learn as they go onward. It’s not just Fuu’s search, but a quest of self discovery for all involved. Even though they might fight amongst themselves and share little in common, they’re linked by a spiritual need to take care of one another. It’s in Mugen and Jin’s selfless acts that they grow nearer to acquiring accommodation in Heaven, rather than suffer eternity in the pits of Hell. Learning to live for others is far more a rewarding fate than looking out for one ’s self. Perhaps that’s the ultimate message throughout. Or maybe we can just interpret Samurai Champloo however we see fit. Regardless it has been a thoroughly entertaining series, filled with plenty of humour and poignancy. There’s not a whole lot more you could ask for.
#24 Evanescent Encounter (Part 1)
Mugen, Jin and Fuu realise that they’ve already passed Nagasaki, so swept up in their adventures have they been. It turns out that they’re at Ikitsuki Island, situated north of Nagasaki. Given that they’re already at their destination Fuu takes it upon herself to try and get to know her bodyguards a little better. Meanwhile a Shogunate councillor seeks a man once involved in the Shimabara rebellion who fled to Ikitsuki some time ago. The councillor employs the service of his trusted servant Kagetoki Kariya - the fiercest swordsman in all the land, who also happens to have a score to settle with Jin.
#25 Evanescent Encounter (Part 2)
Fuu throws Mugen and Jin off her scent when she takes to Ikitsuki Island by herself and the truth is finally revealed when Jin encounters Kagetoki. Catching wind of Fuu’s lonesome act Jin tells Mugen to head after her while he contends with the powerful Kenjutsu master.
#26 Evanescent Encounter (Part 3)
The end of their travels is in sight for the trio of loyal friends. Fuu’s search for the Sunflower-smelling samurai has taken her as far as it can. Solace awaits her, Mugen and Jin - if only they allow it to.
MVM brings us Volume 7 of Samurai Champloo on another solid disc. The menu has some frogs, 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.
Again the extras aren’t much to boast about. We have a USA teaser for the Playstation 2 game which never saw the light of day over here, an art gallery which features eleven pages of character designs and an “eye catch” gallery. The eye catch gallery includes 32 images which were used during T.V. broadcasts. They’re the title cards that you see at the half way point of each episode. Finally we have trailers for other MVM releases: Saiyuki Reloaded and Gantz.
What a journey it’s been. Samurai Champloo has been a consistently entertaining series and I certainly had early reservations about it. Go with the flow, that’s all I can say. Take it for what it is and enjoy the absurdities as old Japan gets injected with new flavours. When an anime show leaves you hankering for a second series you know it’s something special. That’s not going to happen here, but at least it’s gone out in style.