Samurai Champloo Vol. #6 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, November 22, 2005



What They Say
In this volume, the unexpected and often perilous adventures continue for Mugen, Fuu and Jin. Fuu elects Jin to accompany Sara on her journey, but no one is aware of the danger that awaits them on their journey. Later, Mugen, Jin and Fuu inadvertently land themselves in the midst of an interesting excavation site, where countless numbers of miners work around the clock hoping to unearth Heike’s buried treasure. The group then finds itself in the middle of a high-stakes ballgame after Mugen’s baseball skills are discovered and all three are forced into a crash-course in baseball and recruited to join Kagemuru’s baseball team.


The Review!
Samurai Champloo finishes out the latest two episode arc before jumping into a pair of really wacky adventures.

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 the trio wearing their big floppy hats with Fuu's being the cutest with some bunnies on it. 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 character design director. The back cover provides the episode listings again.

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 only extra included in this volume is a brief selection of conceptual artwork sketches.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the way the episodes have been laid out for this series, it may have worked well for the Japanese release but when it comes to the US release it's been sort of awkward with the two part episodes being split across volumes and then ending up with some lighter fair taking over the bulk of the volume. Of course, it's nothing compared to the broadcast run but that's neither here nor there in the long run for release in this region.

The second part of the "Elegy of Entrapment" comes to a rather good conclusion though it doesn't reveal too much in the long run. The first episode that brought the blind Enka singer Sara into the picture certainly was interesting as it moved the characters down some unusual paths and locations. Having her travel alongside them for some time provided a change in how the group dynamic worked, particularly since the men were interested in her in general while Sara seemed to lean more towards Jin in the long run. With the last thing we saw being the fight between Sara and Jin, that moves along fast as they fight along the rope bridge. When Mugen ends up fighting her eventually, it takes an interesting twist in that he's finally met someone whose skills are actually better than his and has a really good shot at taking him down. There's only one minor revelation along the way but this episode is so beautifully choreographed in the fight scenes that it's worth all the sword play to get to that point.

The next two episodes deviate heavily from things we've come to expect as it brings in some very different elements. The first one is an entirely forgettable and altogether far too slow episode that has the trio falling into a supernatural event where someone who believes he's a descendant of the Heike lineage is excavating a massive area for a hidden treasure. The trio end up working alongside them for a cut of the prize but there's more to things than meets the eye as the seemingly walking dead are being used as slave labor. There are a couple of cute moments along the way but with the external narrative about the impending meteor crash and the weird supernatural angle it all just hangs together in a strange and not compelling way.

The last episode on this disc is so completely wrong in so many ways but it manages to be hysterical to watch that I can't really complain about it. The group tries to do a cut and run meal but they did it in one of the worst places as a former ninja is watching nearby and as Mugen makes his run for it he ends up being beaned on the head with a baseball. Ok, let's ignore all baseball history here for the duration as well as the arrival of a group of ships from America that's come to conquer the local village. The village has managed to convince the ships commander that they can play baseball to determine whether they'll be invaded or not and the American's are all up for it.

This will have a different view depending on which language you watch it in as the American's speak English in the Japanese track outside of the interpreter character. The dialogue is mostly well matched when done in English but there's more of an impact to it when you have the rest of the characters speaking Japanese. The American stereotypes used here are priceless and had us laughing out loud several times as they made their way through the game and in dealing with the locals. The episode simply has so much wrong with it in historical terms but it more than makes up for it with the comedy. Samurai Champloo has certainly pulled in plenty of modern elements into its run and some of the rap and music stylings have been amusing but it's never really taken over an entire episode like this. I was particularly amused that there was more of an issue in the dub though by going with the phrase "Freaking Japs" as spoken by one of the American sailors instead of the original "Fucking Japs". I can understand it from a broadcast perspective but it's interesting that they didn't step back from softening that bit of dialogue.

In Summary:
In a way, this is a real mixed bag of episodes since we have one that's a standout in terms of the larger storyline with great action sequences, another one that's just slow and meandering and the last one that's just far too funny for its own good. The good outweighs the mediocre in my mind for this since I found the baseball episode to be hilarious and a good counterbalance to the number of more serious stories that we've had recently. The only thing that's really odd about the placement of these episodes is that we're now three away from the end of the show so it doesn't give you too much of a warm and fuzzy about how everything will be resolved in the end.

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

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: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai Champloo