Samurai Champloo Vol. #4 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, May 12, 2006
Release Date: Monday, April 10, 2006
What They Say
Every plan is perfect. At least, until it meets Mugen, Jin and Fuu! Mugen runs into a couple of childhood friends and gets talked into a plan to raid a merchant boat on the stormy sea... Then, a man being chased by a ninja throws a bag into the lake to hide it. The next day, Mugen and Jin go fishing... until they wind up fighting for their lives! Will fate allow them to be apart?
13 - Misguided Miscreants (Part I)
14 - Misguided Miscreants (Part II)
15 - Bogus Booty
16 - Lullabies of the Lost (Verse I)
A trip into Mugen's past before the gang go their separate ways " is this the end of the road for Fuu, Jin and Mugen?
A good selection of audio options are provided here. The Japanese audio is provided in both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 formats, while the English dub is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. I listened primarily to the Japanese DTS track, which was a joy to behold - while the dialogue doesn't make too much use of the surround channels, background effects make good use of the soundstage and provide depth and atmosphere to the audio. There's not a huge amount of background music, but what there is makes full use of the soundstage. There were no obvious problems with the audio track.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Samurai Champloo looks as good as it sounds, with vivid colours, nicely details backgrounds and nothing obvious in the way of problems or encoding defects. Subtitles are provided in both song-and-signs and full translation tracks - MVM's standard yellow-on-black font is clear, although possibly a little on the small side.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus are in the same general style as previous volumes, this time with a patterned green background with an aquatic theme and options for Play, Episodes, Extras and Setup. A clip from the show's soundtrack plays in the background. With no transition animations, everything is quick to use.
2 slideshows of conceptual artwork are provided, with a total of 28 images between them. There are no other extras included.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
A shortcut through a forest soon turns into a long cut for Fuu, Mugen and Jin, although it does have the advantage of leading Fuu to the beach. The beach holds a surprise for Mugen, too, as there's a girl there, Koza, who seems particularly surprised to see him alive. She's part of a group of bandits who are planning a large-scale heist, and along with their leader Mukuro has had dealings with Mugen in the past " and Mukuro reckons Mugen's just the sort of person he needs to carry off his heist. Problem is, Mugen's changed quite a bit since last time he and Mukuro met, and he's not overly interested in Mukuro's plans. Koza, meanwhile, has never been overly keen on the life of an outlaw and would quite like to be as far away from Mukuro's influence as possible, preferably in Mugen's company, but if Mukuro's scheme goes as planned, neither Mugen nor any other of Mukuro's men will be alive for much longer.
It's always nice when a two-parter is completed on one disc, as there's nothing quite as annoying as the old "to be continued..." banner " although that does sadly make an appearance at the end of this volume anyway. Grr. Misguided Miscreants is a tale of betrayal in Mugen's past " his last meeting with Mukuro couldn't be described as having a happy ending " and of history repeating itself in the present. Mukuro's a thug through and through " having discovered that his ruthless streak allows him to pretty much have his own way and being adept at manipulating others, he's become very successful at what he does. He's also very quick to dispose of any of his followers who are no longer of use to him. Koza, on the other hand, really doesn't fit the stereotype of "ruthless gang member" and is looking for a way out. Jin and Fuu don't approve of Mugen getting involved in Mukuro's plan and sit out most of this story, only getting involved again when Mugen lands himself in serious trouble (again). The story turns out to be one of Samurai Champloo's better moments, with some telling glimpses into Mugen's past (not very savoury, as you'd expect), some genuinely unexpected story twists " and one very surreal "is he dead or isn't he?" scene
Episode 15 brings us back to more typical adventures for the gang, when Jin's woeful fishing technique lands the gang a bag of gold coins instead of fish. It had been thrown into the river by a young thief who has been trying to escape from a group of pursuing ninja, and opted to get rid if the evidence, but Fuu & the others aren't to know that and decide to make good use of their good fortune. Unfortunately, the coins were minted by a counterfeiting gang and they're quick to come looking for their money back.
Forget Fuu and the gang " the star of this episode is Yatsuha, an investigator who's been working undercover in a brothel, and was Mugen's woman of choice just when she finally figured out who the counterfeiters were. The way she makes use of Mugen " or at least, his hormones " in helping her wrap up her case is great fun to watch. He's quite prepared to go along with anything Yatsuha wants, on the promise of what she'll do for him (or to him, or with him) later, and it's very hard to keep a straight face while watching their antics.
The final episode begins another multi-parter. The gang's route to Nagasaki takes them through the mountains, where there are rumours of a strange beast preying on the local wildlife. Other rumours say the ghost of Yoshitsune, a fighter, is roaming the area. Mugen likes the idea of tracking down a monster, Jin is curious about Yoshitsune's ghost - and Fuu just wants to know when the boys will stop taking detours and help her find her sunflower-scented samurai. One blazing row later, and the three travellers have each gone their separate ways. Fuu's solo wanderings lead her over the edge of a cliff, where she's saved by a man named Okuru " the truth behind the rumours and a man who's wanted by the local authorities. With the net closing in around him he's aware it's time for him to move on, and with him conveniently planning to head towards Nagasaki, Fuu's keen to tag along. Mugen, meanwhile, has been mistaken for Okuro by the authorities. To be continued...
Quite a slow episode, this one, and by the end of it I still couldn't really figure out where it was heading, other than that I can't see our three "heroes" being separated for long " although I can see Fuu's point about wanting to get on with the search for her samurai, as we're well past the half-way point of the series now and there's still be no movement on that little plot thread.
This is possibly the best disc of Samurai Champloo so far, with the opening two-parted providing the darker storyline and Yatsuha's appearance balancing that out with a healthy dose of comedy. There's a definite emphasis on Mugen for most of the disc, which may upset fans of Jin and Fuu, and while ending on a cliffhanger is always a frustration there's enough good about this volume that I'll forgive it. I wasn't too sure about this series when I first started watching it, but the more I see the more I like it " definitely worth a look.
Japanese Language DTS 5.1,Japanese Language DD 2.0,English Language DD 5.1,English Subtitles,Conceptual Artwork
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai Champloo