Samurai Champloo Vol. #2 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, March 24, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005
What They Say
No cash! Mugen, Jin and Fuu need money fast. Fuu tries to model, but it turns out to be a trap. When they arrive in the capital city, they delay their quest to join an eating contest, but find out the hard way they need to watch who they hang with! If some guy they meet isn’t wanted by the cops, then he’s trying to kill them or take their wallet- either way, you know they’re going to wind up in the middle of a fight...
The outstanding animation directed by SHINICHIRO WATANABE (Cowboy Bebop, Animatrix), designed by KAZUTO NAKAZAWA (Kill Bill Vol.1) and MAHIRO MAEDA (Last Exile, Blue Submarine No.6) and powered by fresh sounds from Tsutchie, fat jon, Nujabes and FORCE OF NATURE! Outstanding animation and music done right with anamorphic widescreen video and surround sound audio (5.1 English, 5.1 Japanese)!
As they continue their journey to search for the sunflower smelling samurai, the trio finds themselves in various standalone adventures that play up a wide variety of coincidences.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The release is interesting in that it features not only the stereo mix for the Japanese track but also a DTS 5.1 track. As we've learned in the last few months, more and more shows are being released to their rental version with a DTS 5.1 mix to attract people to renting the show in addition to buying or to rent it after seeing it on TV so they get something new there as well. The 5.1 mix isn't extremely active but it does a great job of adding to the depth of the show and enhancing the overall directionality. The music probably makes out the best by this but there are plenty of moments throughout that the ambient sound effects are well placed. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions on this track.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Not completely unexpected, but the transfer here is just a great looking piece of work. The animation features a wide range of colors and detail to it that's vividly reproduced here and generally free of problems. Backgrounds are solid throughout and don't show any manner of blocking, but one or two characters showed a bit for like a second or two in one or two scenes, but that's with the upconversion set on our player. The colors are reproduced here beautifully with some very lush looking reds for the sunset early on and later with the blue skies and rolling fields. Once things kick in and the story gets you, the transfer just serves to make it all flow beautifully and you just get lost in it.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, the cover is a dark and very stylish piece with a focus on shades of blue that lets Jin take the center stage and mixes in secondary characters from the various episodes in the foreground. The white background adds a lot to it and overall it's a good looking eye-catching piece that will jump out to those looking for something violent. The back cover provides a small sample of small shots from the show but gives a good idea of the premise with the summary. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed as are the discs features and extras. Production and technical information round out the bottom half though I wish that Geneon would adopt the grid system once more so that there'd be something close to a standard showing up on US releases. The insert replicate the artwork from the front cover but with a few less logos and opens up to a two-panel staff interview piece with some of the musicians involved in the scoring of the series. The back cover provides the episode listings again as well as the release dates for the rest of the series.
When that 5.1 light comes up in the menu, I know it's another Nightjar piece. The menus here use the look and style of the cover artwork with the logos and the jitter to create a very warm feeling piece that has a bit of animation that's red filtered playing through the center. Using a bit of instrumental music from the show, it's done up in 5.1 and sounds really good here for the brief loop that it plays through. This is probably one of the more average looking menus from Nightjar but that alone puts it ahead of many others both in ease of use and visual design. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets without any problems.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the rather fun first four episodes of the series, Samurai Champloo settles into its routine a bit and loses some of it steam. When taken as individual episodes though, each one continues to be quite a bit of fun but when marathoning four of them in a row it doesn't seem to have quite the same energy it did with the first four, but this does happen with a number of series. These episodes allow for a bit more exploration of the characters as they settle into the routine on their journey and also provides for a bit of history for at least one of them to tantalize us with.
One of the biggest problems the trio continually faces, and can serve as something that can turn some people off from the show, is their continually broke status. Arriving in one town where they need to take a ferry to cross the river, they find themselves out of luck again and needing to get some cash fast so they can cross. Naturally, the three of them find their own ways of making money and the stories all slowly wind towards each other. Fuu ends up becoming a model for an up and coming ukiyo-e artist but ends up in a slave trade situation, Mugen lives for roughing up local punks for their money so he can eat well while occasionally remembering that he's trying to get ferry money while Jin is drawn to the challenge of a board game with an older gentleman. Like a lot of stories done in this manner, each of the subplots have links to each other, some obvious and some not, and it's fun to watch how it all comes together, especially when you have things like Jin chasing a punk and running across Fuu somewhere in town. The coincidences are both simple and complicated.
Another episode has a bit of luck coming to the trio and they end up with some winnings in a round of gambling and are all excited about the prospect of good eats and lodging for the night. To their surprise, they get hit by a pickpocket and the two guys have little chance of actually catching him, though Jin spends much of his time scrounging throughout the city for him. The same thief ends up hitting up a low level yakuza type thug and inadvertently steals a container of white powder drugs that causes a significant increase in the number of people looking for him while he tries to fence it. We get to know about the thief and the rough life he's had and they even haul in the sick mother for sympathy. Most of this part of the plot is fairly weak but it leads up to a really fun hostage situation later on with some good action moments to it.
The best episode is the last one though that simply hits up the comedy and the absurdity level at times really nice. The new focus in this one is with a samurai type named Nagamitsu who is traveling around the country looking for anyone with glasses who looks like he could hold a sword. He's trying to make his name big in the world and become the best of the best and he's found that a man named Jin who killed his master and slaughtered his school is the current baddest of the bad so he's set to take him down and take over his reputation. Nagamitsu is big, bold and boisterious and his introduction reminded me of a Baz Luhrman graduation song. Even better, one of the guys who follows him uses the pommel of his sword on command as a microphone and does the whole rap sound with it. It's a beautiful moment of absurdity that just fits so perfectly.
This episode lets us get familiar with Jin more, especially since we get to see him being forced to give up his glasses and he ends up in some amusing situations because of it. He's probably just glad it wasn't giving up his swords again which seem to be the only valuable thing that the trio ever really has on them. Since we get to see some of Jin's past as told through the eyes of Nagamitsu, it's hard to tell if it's really how it went or not but it does darken him up a bit more and explains his manners. The episode also goes heavy on some very amusing sexual innuendo and verbal sparring with a mature woman that's brought into play who ends up making Fuu feel non-existent. Watching the two guys really get drunk is rather amusing as well.
Though lacking some of the energy of the first volume, which isn't surprising since new releases tend to have that "new relationship energy" to them, this one carries on well in moving the trio around in their search for the sunflower samurai and gives them several fun relatively stand alone episodes. The action sequences do continue to be far too short for my liking but they're so well executed and tie well with the music that it's just too enjoyable when they come up. The interactions between the trio is getting better and better as they travel more together and they're all playing off of each other well for their own purposes. This is simply a lot of fun, beautifully animated and with a really great sound to it.
Japanese DD 2.0 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai Champloo