Samurai Champloo Vol. #3 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 23, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, May 31, 2005



What They Say
Money & Blood! Whether a fake promisory note or an empty wallet, a variety of challenges face Mugen, Jin and Fuu in their strugle to survive. Not even, monsters of legend, murderers or never-ending rain can shake their iron will and confidence! Then Mugen and Jin find Fuu's diary…

The Review!
Moving on towards Nagasaki, the trio have a few more adventures, some of which make amusing entries in the history books.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, the cover is a dark and very stylish piece with a focus on various reds that lets Mugen and his dark look take the center stage and mixes in a number of roosters 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 series writer Dai Sato. The back cover provides the episode listings again as well as the release dates for the rest of the series.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The further I get into this series the more I enjoy it. With this set of episodes, they even got me to enjoy a recap episode at the end due to how well it was handled. This set of episodes brings us to just about the halfway mark of the series and the recap at the end manages to serve as a way of reinforcing what they're after and setting things down that path again, but before that there are three episodes that are just a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Each of the standalone tales are well done here and I like how they're still all set with the "to be continued" at the end which almost implies a continuation of the story you've just seen. One episode focuses on the trio making their way further to the outskirts of the Edo area where they have to pass through one of the toughest checkpoints. Of course, none of them have travel permits and Mugen doesn't even seem to know what one is, which makes it all the more amusing that he made it into Edo in the first place. Luck does go their way and they come across someone who sells them a permit as well as some travel safety tokens.

Naturally, it's all forgeries and they're all quickly caught and their executions are to be set by crucifixion in the next day or so. A screw-up on the part of the watch there though leads to a potential way for the three to gain their freedom. Due to their executing of a criminal before determining he was one, they have to send his head off to another location quickly for confirmation in order to clear the books on it. So they give Mugen the head and tell him to be back before sundown or the other two die instead. Mugen's great in this piece as he heads off and has to deal with being trailed not only by one of the checkpoint people but also an entire group of Tengu.

The Tengu are priceless here. The entire chase scene alone throughout the forest is fun to watch and done with some great choreography and sense of fun with the bird-like nature of their outfits. Even better is when Mugen wanders into their domain even more and into a huge field where they're growing their crop. Their crop. Very few shows even really touch the realm of drugs and I certainly didn't expect it to show up in this series, but the entire range of events as it goes down is hilarious due to this and Mugen's inability to do anything right but still leads to things turning out the way they do. I couldn't help but laugh a lot as this one played out.

Another episode that worked really well finally turned the focus on Jin in probably one of the most dedicated pieces to him yet. The trio haven't been able to continue on with their journey due to a lot of rain coming down for several days so they're taken to working odd jobs here and there. Well, except for Mugen who gets into beetle sumo wrestling and trains his beetle by tying a big rock to it and forcing it to walk around carrying it for training. Jin ends up on a job that requires blades but finds that it's actually for an eel shop and the owner simply turns it over to him and walks off, promising that due to the rain it'll hardly be visited.

Watching Jin have to deal with this is very amusing, but he lucks out as a young woman he came across earlier arrives there and she helps him and in the end the two are practically running a very busy stand like a husband and wife team. It's all just a preamble though as the young woman reveals that she's giving up her life in just a few hours as her husband has sold her off to the local brothel. Surprisingly, this really strikes deep with Jin but the manner in which it does is kept relatively off screen and without discussion. He's a quiet man to begin with but this has him even quieter as he just seems focused on trying to do what he can for the young woman even though it causes him nothing but trouble. His way with this woman confuses both Mugen and Fuu though Mugen is at least glad that it proves that Jin isn't gay. There's a great little conversation about that between Mugen and Fuu where he almost gets her to reveal herself to him. Mugen may not be able to read or have book smarts, but he's slick when he wants to be.

I'll even say that the recap episode on this volume was rather enjoyable. These are often the most hated things that I have to go through and very few of them are worth watching. The recap for Samurai Champloo is a bit of fun as it has Mugen and Jin swiping Fuu's diary so that they can find some answers about the samurai that they're after since she clams up about revealing much about him. As they go through the entries, they recap the various episodes with new voice over summaries by Fuu, such as her complaining about how often she's kidnapped and held hostage, to other thoughts on people she's met and her feelings about her bodyguards. It mixes in some new animation with the recaps and along with the new narration for it, it's actually a good recap that nicely sets the tone for the show going forward and reminds the writers just where they are and what they need to do.

In Summary:
Samurai Champloo continues to be an enjoyable show and the episodes here kicked things up a bit more than the previous volume with its humor and seriousness. The shows sense of style continues to be a strong point but the substance to it is what helps move it along. The three new full episodes here provided some solid self contained stories in the larger tapestry and continue to make the characters all the more enjoyable and fun to watch as it progresses. It's a bit hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that draws me to it but the overall package is one that in the end I spend a hundred minutes with and find myself smiling and laughing throughout. Samurai Champloo entertains me quite well.

Features
Japanese DD 2.0 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
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.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai Champloo