Samurai Champloo Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 12, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2005



What They Say
After all, fate brings Jin, Mugen and Fuu back together. They meet a mysterious man, Okuru, a wanted man who has destroyed his own village, but Mugen sees something common in him. While traveling further to the south, the three are involved in a graffiti competition. Who can “tag” the most dangerous place? Can Mugen finally learn how to read? In a small village, Fuu saves a girl who happens to know “sunflower samurai”. With a more reliable clue, they continue traveling to Nagasaki, however, they don’t know a deadly trap awaits them.


The Review!
Continuing to provide split stories as well as some standalone material, Samurai Champloo's journey gains some direction at last.

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, this volume is considerably darker and almost more cluttered than past ones with far less white space available throughout it but it still has the same kind of look and feel as the others as it has Mugen wearing his rag and providing some signage. The background mixes in a lot of details, colors and designs that aren't easy to make out at first but look neat the more you look at it and try to find the details. 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 art director, Takeshi Waki. 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:
The extras included in this volume is a brief selection of conceptual artwork sketches and a brief minute long promo/recap piece for the second half of the series which earns bonus points for ending with the sound from the old Defender arcade game.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Samurai Champloo's actually getting to be a bit more frustrating as it goes on in a way as the two-part storylines continue to find themselves split across volumes. At least during the original airing you only had a week or so before the next episode but here we're talking on average eight weeks. That ends up making the second half of these stories feel a bit more disconnected than they would be otherwise, something we've had the problem with other series as well. Regardless, the show does continue to be a lot of fun and it's moving forward slowly in overall plot.

The concluding half to "Lullabies of the Lost" brings a few things to resolution for the characters as they deal with the main trio being split up after an argument and going their own way. Each of them found their paths easily enough though they weren't exactly the ways they wanted to go. Jin's having to deal with a former friend who studied under the same master that he killed continues to seek him in order to have his vengeance and gain name recognition while Mugen finds himself mistaken for the criminal that's running around the woods. Fuu's run in with that same criminal, Okuru, was done to provide some calming and background to him which is further expanded upon when Mugen catches up to him after Fuu is left behind once again.

As one can expect, everything is resolved fairly nice and tight like with everything close to being reset as possible, which is the only thing that sort of defeats the purpose of the story. It's a good tale and told well but it really doesn't present a change in the characters themselves, especially since in a later story we see how easily they all split up again. With as serious as this two part got, they follow it up with a very light standalone episode that focuses on graffiti of all things which is being painted rampantly around the village they're going through. It's actually a competition of sorts that the two find themselves mixed up in as the participants go to paint their marks in the most dangerous places. It's the kind of story that fits well after the two parter but it's one of the weaker ones in general.

Interestingly, a bit of a revelation comes up in the other standalone episode that you would think would be tied to a multi-part story instead. Fuu finds herself helping a young woman on the run while the guys are off getting supplies and through the usual confluence of events, all three find themselves taking up the night at a nearby village in the mountains that's rather tight on security. As it turns out, there's an amusing ruse being run on the village where it turns out that they're all secret Christians and have themselves a secret underground cavern where they go to pray. And make guns. A distant relative of Xavier is there and has told them that they only way to get into an overpopulated heaven is to build rifles. Beautiful, beautiful rifles. Of which Xavier's "friends" then sell in a gun running gig. It's a bit over the top because of the way Xavier is portrayed but what the episode does provide that's very useful is that the woman that Fuu rescues claims to know of a man named Seizo who smells of sunflowers.

She learns of him being part of an underground group of Christians that had taken up residence outside of Nagasaki on an island some time ago before they were found out and destroyed. A lot of people escaped but she doesn't know what happened to Seizo but she believes that the two could be the same. This gives Fuu some brand new purpose and she even reveals that the reason she's after this man is because it's her father and she has some revenge of sorts to seek upon him. With their journey now more set, and the little interlude with the Christians over with, they head off again and land into the first part of a two part storyline that brings a blind woman who earns her way as a traveling entertainer into the group. The setup for this is interesting as she and Fuu get along quite well after a short bit but ulterior motives abound and before Fuu realizes it, Jin's gone with her on her own journey.

There is a lot of entertaining material on this volume and the fight sequences alone continue to be really well done though with just a touch too much of the hand-cam shakiness to it. The episodes here really do have a hard time really working as a group though because they are so disparate in nature as half of them are part of larger storylines which leaves the two standalone episodes to try and carry more of the show. And of those two, only one of them is really worthwhile since it touches upon the always interesting aspect of the secretive Christians but also because it finally starts providing clues about what Fuu's really after and giving her something of a lead at long last. The opening to the new storyline in the last episode is probably the best of the disc but I already have the fear that it'll feel weak come the next volume just like the first one on this volume felt weak because of the distance between the two viewings.

In Summary:
Samurai Champloo's overall style and mood continues to be quite enjoyable and the characters are just a lot of fun to watch as they go through the motions or into new territory. Mugen's dealing with being mistaken for someone else is priceless and I have to say I absolutely loved the final uttering of "Oh My God" in the Xavier episode. That phrase is something of a running joke for my wife and I as so many series we were watching at one point had characters saying that in English that it lost all value. Anytime we hear it now it brings back fond memories and this one is no exception. The series continues to be a lot of fun but I feel like it's just a bit less so than the previous volume.

Features
Japanese DD 2.0 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,Promo Video

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, 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: B-
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