Discussion and exposition of Samurai Champloo is quite difficult for me. Honestly, this is proving to be the most difficult article I have done on the site thus far. That is likely due to Samurai Champloo feeling more like an experience to me than a story. So I will break that experience down into several more coherent parts. Either that, or I am going to end up writing some awkwardly long, thoroughly confusing article filled with words and ideas that give you no clear understanding of my actual experience with the narrative.
The Story: Basically, a young girl named Fuu decides to go on a cross country trip to find her estranged father after she receives a nudge by way of her place of employment being destroyed when two wandering samurai mistakenly duel one another. The restaurant where she works burns down and after aiding the two samurai escape the local authorities they three form a loosely held traveling party which navigates through numerous misadventures on the way to ultimately reaching their goal of tracking down her father. The two samurai are named Mugen and Jin. The two are seemingly the antithesis of each other. Mugen, a native of the Ryu Kyuus, is an unorthodox swordsman with a wild and lawless nature. He is extremely short tempered, irrational to some extent and fearless. Jin, a traditional samurai from a renowned school of swordsmanship, is calm, extremely rational and a model of bushido ethics with one major exception. The funny thing however is that those are all simplistic surface differences. At their cores however, they are deeply similar. They both believe only in themselves and their own strength. They refuse to bow down and be ruled. They both seek freedom from the lives they were tethered to prior to becoming wanderers. They both are disillusioned with the state of man and subsequently the way of the sword in their era. They both know the severe loneliness of being basically unfit for society as it stands. In the case of Jin, he was likely born in the wrong time. In the case of Mugen, he lives with the mentality of a different place. The two maintain a very strange comradery that is thoroughly entertaining. As someone who has travelled a lot, their relationship really struck a chord with me. There is a natural sense of togetherness and friendship that forms when you travel together with a party. It can be fleeting companionship or a lifelong friendship that develops but that fact that you have experienced certain things together links you forever. The small party of three travels together and while moving forward also experience one another’s pasts, helping them to come to greater understandings of themselves. It has a lot of that classic fated storytelling feel in that way. You also get that feeling as well whenever the group disbands for a time. They always find themselves back together.
As I mentioned before, although they are moving forward on their journey their pasts are constantly catching up to them. Jin is a sort of legend in the samurai world because of a certain famed samurai he defeated prior to his journey. In fact, that was the impetus for his wandering and becoming a rounin. Mugen likewise has an interesting backstory. In what is described as the lawless Ryu Kyuu’s he was a wild and dangerous young ruffian. Both men are being hunted to throughout the entirety of the story for their pasts. The interesting thing however is that although Mugen and Jin seem to be the most essential elements of the story, it is actually Fuu who is probably the most wanted. Jin knows he is being hunted by samurai wishing to make a name for themselves. Mugen is untrusting by nature and dashes headlong into confrontation so there are lots of people he has pissed off but he isn’t at all concerned with them coming back to seek any type of revenge. But Fuu is totally oblivious to the fact that her seemingly insignificant search for her father who she thinks of as just a deadbeat runaway dad is actually attracting serious attention from powerful people. In case you may want to watch the anime I feel it best to go no further in any explication of the plot. These are the bare bones and basics of the story at best.
That Music Though: The Original Soundtrack for Samurai Champloo is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. It’s amazing. This soundtrack introduced me to artists such as the late great Nujabes. Seba Jun who performed under the reverse of his name “Nujabes” was an influential Japanese DJ and record store owner who created some beautiful music. Anyone who enjoys reading with music playing should check out his music. No. That is incorrect. Anyone who enjoys music in general should check out his music. Other notable hip hop/ jazz/ classical/ whathtehelleverthatgenrecouldbecalled musicians are on the soundtrack as well. I enjoy Tsutchie, Minmi, Kazami, Force of Nature, and Fat Jon as well. This soundtrack is amazing. The music so beautifully blends together classical and modern styles that is makes a perfect match for the anime. Nujabes is one of my favorite artists. Whenever I read books or comics or just want to chill, I turn on his music. Rainy day, sunny day, windy day, tornado, earthquake. Whatever the weather his music is good for birds of any feather to fly together in any weather. Also, in the music category, I have to add one other artist. This is a beautifully haunting song. Obokuri, by Ikue Asazaki can’t be described. I won’t try. I want to be a writer and honestly I can’t f***ing describe it. Self-burn.
Art and Story: The art and the story are like the music. They blend together the old and the modern in a way that you have never seen before. They have an episode where samurai play baseball in a game against foreigners. They have off beat historical references that somehow fit well within a thoroughly comprehensible narrative. Jin referees a graffiti contest between some kids in which a castle is tagged and you think to yourself “Yo. That’s ridiculous. But also, that’s awesome.” All the while you are able to develop a close connection with the characters. A lot of the humor goes a long way to help develop that connection. It helps the viewer to really feel that a connection and rapport is really growing between the characters. There are so many scenes that had me howling with laughter.
There is a depth in the main characters as well as those characters who wander in and out of the story during this and that misadventure. And although the story is a group of misadventures leading up to an ultimate goal, the twenty five or so odd episodes are fillerless. Each episode is its own story unto itself while fitting perfectly within the overall narrative. The anime also does this amazing job of giving you information without actually showing or telling you. They use every detail with the art and music as an instrument to transmit the narrative. The art stylings are cool as well. The way the characters are drawn is so unique. The expressions of the characters are caricature like at times and majestically artful at others. It adds to the viewers ability to connect with them. And one note about the fight scenes. Fantastic. The fights can be calm and smooth with fluid swings of the sword and they can also kinetically frenetic. The whole thing is just an incredible experience.