Samurai Champloo Vol. #7 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
What They Say
In the moving series finale, Mugen, Jin and Fuu close in on Ikitsuki Island. Although the journey's been long and difficult, there is strong bonding between them. In the final stretch of their adventures, Sara had died and the government sends their ultimate assassin to hunt them down.
Meanwhile, three brothers who have a serious beef with Mugen take Fuu hostage. When she's freed, Fuu finally gets to see the infamous Sunflower Samurai. All the struggle, strife and butt-kicking leads up to the most dangerous moment yet in their journey.
With a three part finale, Samurai Champloo comes to a very satisfying close.
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 last cover is nicely colorful without being as busy as some of the previous ones as it goes with a blue shading for the background and has full length shots of the three lead characters all looking good. The series has had a mix of good and mediocre covers but it ends on a positive note with this one. 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 the series director. The back cover provides the episode listings again.
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.
There are a few extras that made it onto here such as more of the conceptual artwork but they also included the bumper gallery from the series and another of the video game trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Samurai Champloo finishes out with a three episode storyline that brings essentially everything in the series to a close with nothing left to deal with from the main storyline points. In a way it's almost surprising that it ends like that since so many series seem to keep a few loose ends open just on the off chance of doing a bit more or having to deal with continuing manga series. The three parter here caps it all of nicely.
The series has had a fairly basic plotline to it since the beginning when Fuu, Jin and Mugen first came together and she got them to serve as her traveling companions while she went north in search of her father who "smelled of sunflowers." The actual journey brought in various elements and subplots that provided for some engaging arcs and over the course of it we got to know the characters better, parts of their pasts and the various things that motivate them. Across each of the smaller arcs we dipped into their pasts and with Mugen in particular spent a lot of time covering his youth. Mugen's past was covered easily enough but it played out more in the present as those who were hunting him continued to come across him and try to take him down. Fuu was typically more focused on the present than anything else but her journey to deal with a problem of the past kept them all moving forward and each event brought them closer together though they didn't realize it for quite some time.
As they move to the last location just north of Nagasaki where her father is supposed to be, Fuu puts her own plan into motion to deal with her two companions at the same time that a power much higher than all of them makes their involvement known. While I've not cared for this kind of occurrence in a lot of other series since it feels like it's coming out of left field and doesn't really fit in well with how the series has gone up until this point, the introduction of Kariya and his "master" with the plan that's been in motion for some time feels like it fits over the existing series almost transparently. The inclusion of this storyline not only ties together smaller pieces from previous episodes that stood well on their own but it gives a very good sense of closure to this last storyline since it doesn't feel forced.
The animation in the series in general has been solid and the action sequences among some of the best samurai shows of recent years. The final arc which brings in a very strong player to deal with Mugen and Jin allows for some very creative fight sequences at the docks. The differences across the three styles is all readily apparent as is the way they all know that the time of the samurai is indeed coming to a close and that these kinds of opportunities are going to be less and less. Another couple of players from a previous arc that show up provide a mix of more rough and tumble styles but also a scythe like weapon that when used you just would love to see be used in real life since the person using it would either get it stuck all over the place or decapitate himself within the first couple of minutes of swinging it around. Visually though, all of the fight sequences in this finale are just fantastic and have a great level of tension to them since you don't know exactly how they will finish out.
Samurai Champloo had a huge level of expectations on it when it started for a lot of people since it was following up another popular series by the creative team here. I do my best to avoid comparing series since each one is a creative endeavor of its own and should be able to stand on its own regardless of what the people behind it have done. That said, Samurai Champloo is one of a few series that I'm actually sad to see end and wish there was more of. The mix of the modern bits worked well in it, the animation and action scenes are gorgeous and the characters became more and more interesting and fun to watch as it progressed. It's a very accessible show that we've been able to introduce anime to others with and as we know now at the end, it has a very complete and satisfying ending to it. Samurai Champloo is one of the few shows that I know I'll be able to watch again easily and enjoy just as much if not more the next time around. Fantastic stuff, very highly recommended.
Japanese DD 2.0 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Conceptual Art,Bumper Gallery
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
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.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai Champloo