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Blu-ray Review

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 and Up
  • Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 79.98
  • Running time: 625
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 1080p
  • Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
  • Series: Samurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo Complete Series

Samurai Champloo Complete Series Blu-ray Review

By Bryce Coulter     January 19, 2010
Release Date: December 15, 2009


Samurai Champloo Complete Series
© FUNimation

Samurai sword slinging action with a hip-hop punch

What They Say
Let's break it down. Mugen's a reckless sword-slinger with a style that's more b-boy than Shaolin. He's got a nasty streak that makes people want to stick a knife in his throat. Then there's Jin, a deadbeat ronin who speaks softly but carries a big blade. He runs old-school style, but he can make your blood spray with the quickness. When these roughnecks bring the ruckus, it ain't good for anybody, especially them.

Enter Fuu, the dizzy waitress who springs her new friends from a deadly jam. All she wants in return is help solving a riddle from her past. She and the boys are tracking the scent, but there's ninety-nine ways to die between them and the sunflower samurai.

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review!
Audio:
FUNimation breaks from their recent of providing a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track and provides us with some Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless goodness.   Having watched this many years ago, I broke my typical dub preferences and decide to review this in the native language.  The inclusion of a truly lossless track was is a huge addition and it sounds great.   The only real noticeable difference between the two tracks is that the English voices tend to sound a bit softer or muted as compared to the sharp and clear sounding Japanese track.  As for the rest of the mix, both tracks are very similar and there was really no noticeable difference.  The surround aspect of the audio was decent.  However, most of the sound comes from the front and center channel.  You will get the surround effects during the fight sequences, which sound great.  Unfortunately, in the quieter scenes, you will not hear much in the realm of environmental effects.  The hip-hop infused soundtrack will give your subwoofer a thorough workout as the base beats from the music really thump.  The music selection is unlike that of most anime and really fits like its jazz infused predecessor, Cowboy Bebop.  Anyone taking note?

The audio quality is respectable attempt and should not be slammed as it is solid.  However, it will not earn the honors of being one of the best audio soundtracks for an anime Blu-ray release.  Don’t get me wrong, the audio improvements, especially in the Japanese Dolby TrueHD make this workthy upgrade consideration for the purist and fan.

Video:
Originally produced in 2004, Samurai Champloo is presented in 1080p High Definition with a 16×9 apect ratio.  The video footage utilizes the AVC codec at an average bitrate of 19Mbps.  With that, the date of this series should give you a clue as to what you are about to get, which is an upconversion of the original footage.  It looks good and is everything that a Samurai Champloo fan could want.  Keep in mind that upconverted footage will produce some smoothing of the images. 

You will find some who think the improvements are minimal as compared to the regular DVD releases.  Technically, this is possible if the footage was authored incorrectly or if the original source had a lot of flaws.  Nevertheless, comparing this footage with its 480p counterpart will prove that this upconvert looks smoother and slicker.  You will find some minor artifacts, but they are very difficult to observe unless you are sitting real close to screen and focused in one area.  The smoothing is noticeable on a minor scale, but the overall improvement to the color palette is flat out awesome.  The panoramic views of the countryside and evening forests look breathtaking and surreal.  The brightness and the black levels look very appropriate and offer just the right amount of depth in most of the scenes. 

For you videophiles out there, the only major error that I picked up was in the Redeye Reprisal episode.  You will notice that a red dot appears on the cowardly acting samurai’s chin during the hot spring scene at about 32:38.  Again, this was the only real glaring and noticeable error.

Rest assured, the video quality is worth the price of admission.  I don’t think Samurai Champloo can look much better unless it were completely redone from scratch.  This is the best it is going to look.  The source material limitations are what will hold this collection from earning top scores for video quality.  Fans, you will not be disappointed with this release.

Packaging:
Packaging for this collection consists of the standard Blu-ray cases housed within a thin cardboard box.  If there is anything to be disappointed about, it would be the box.  The price for this collection should include a decent chipboard box.  At this point many of us know what Blu-ray is and this is becoming a bit of a soapbox for me as really don’t want that Blu-ray bar strung across the top of the package.  It looks bad and takes away from the true artwork of the box.  If you can ignore the Blu-ray band, you will find that the artwork is very true to the series as it features Jin, Fuu, and Mugan along with a tag (graffiti) that is an icon for the series.  The artwork accurately depicts the personalities of the characters, especially Fuu who is looking back behind herself.  The artwork for the case uses a orange and yellow color palette.  On the back you will find some accolades for the series along with a summary of the series, some screen shots, and a grid of technical information.  I really like how the grid is laid out in that it is very well organized and takes less real estate on the cover.

As for the cases, you will find that two discs are housed in the first case while the third is in a case of its own.  It sure would be nice to have just one case that holds all three.  Again, the standardization of Blu-ray case designs needs to be broken.  Such multi-disc cases exist for DVDs, why not Blu-ray?  The artwork on the two cases uses a bit more orange in the background and features our troupe along with some great Edo period tagging!  The backside of each case provides a list of what is on each disc.  One nice extra thrown in is that the case labels have some really cool artwork that one could reverse if they wished. 
 
Menus:
The top menu design for Samurai Champloo is very well constructed and fits nicely with the overall theme for the series.  The main menu plays a series of clips that focuses around the three characters.  You get clips from some of the more memorable scenes along with some still art.  As the clip begins to recycle, you get a memorable scene that comes from the series.  Not spoil much, but it is a rather humorous clip involving the aftermath of a mass feeding frenzy that is a great source of humor for the series. The menu options appear in the traditional FUNimation Blu-ray style where the menus appear at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.  The pop-up menus are easy to navigate and work without a hitch.  Switching audio tracks worked seamlessly as well.  Overall, the menu design is well laid out.     

Extras:
The extras for Samurai Champloo are nice, but I was hoping for a lot more.  What you get is decent, but nothing that is of real substance as you see in some collections that are packed full of interviews with the cast and directors.

The Battlecry extra is pretty much trailer geared for the English speaking audience.  It is provided in 480p, Dolby Digital 2.0 and runs approximately 1:45.

The Promo Video is also in 480p, Dolby Digital 2.0 and runs nearly one minute. This video is pretty much a midseason recap of the series.  It depicts Fuu, Jin, and Mugan watching it at the drive-in theater..

The final bit of extras includes another standard definition teaser trailer along with two high definition art galleries.  Also included, is a  textless presentation of the opening and closing songs.  As with any FUNimation release, you get a montage of trailers for other releases from FUNimation titles.

There is so much more that can be done with Blu-ray and I am waiting for some Blu-ray live stuff to be added.  Adding live extras is something that could potentially be used to further extend the shelf life of a product and possibly be used as a means to further connect the fan base.  Also, it would further sweeten the deal and entice fans to upgrade to the more expensive Blu-ray titles.  I would love to see some interviews and more extras delivered this way.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers). 
Several years ago I got to watch Samurai Champloo on Adult Swim.  At that time, I wanted to purchase the collection, but didn’t get around to it.  When Geneon went under, I tried to grab the collection and was beat to the punch by other fans who had the same idea.  The price for the collection seemed to skyrocket on eBay and other retail areas.  I really loved the series, but my wallet didn’t love the cost.  My outlook on life was at a dismal low and I thought that I would never be able to get a copy.  But, FUNimation came to the rescue and re-released the box collection.  My hopes began looking upward as rumors about a Blu-ray release surfaced.  So, when the opportunity came, I jumped on this like Mugan, Jin, and Fuu do when there’s the opportunity for free food.  Ahh, great things come to those who wait!!

Samurai Champloo was produced back in 2004 by was created and directed by ShinichirĹ Watanabe.  His previous work, Cowboy Bebop, is well renown throughout both anime communities in the US and Japan. 

Samurai Champloo uses many of the same elements that made Cowboy Bebop such a huge success; a solid cast of core characters, a convincing story arc, and an appropriate merging of music and animation.  Samurai Champloo deviates a little from Cowboy Bebop in that it incorporates a blending of Edo era Japanese history, samurai fighting action, slapstick comedy, and hip-hop culture. You will find that this series is interwoven with revisionist historical facts and anachronistic elements.  Of course, the most readily identifiable anachronism elements include the frequent usage hip-hop culture.  Hip-hop is not loosely used in the series.  In fact, it plays a core element and works well as you will witness lots of rap, break dancing, hip hop slang, and graffiti. Fans of Afro Samurai should take note as this series was the first to incorporate the merging of hip-hop and samurai sword play.

The story begins when Fuu is working as a waitress in a teahouse.  Harassed by some patrons, Mugen, offers to take care of them in exchange for food.  Scrapping for food is a common element that instills much humor and is a triggering point for quite a few fights.  Nevertheless, Mugen starts a brawl that gets way out of hand.  Jin happens upon the brawl as he enters the tea house.  Mugen and Jin end up fighting one another, ignoring the fire that started during the brawl. Both end up fainting from the smoke and are immediately arrested for the murder of the magistrate's son who had burned to death in the fire.  Both are scheduled to be executed the next day.  Fuu comes to their aid and helps them escape and asks them to travel with her to find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers.”  The samurai who smells of sunflowers is a mysterious man for whom Fuu can give little description.  However, she is very insistent on finding him. Jin and Mugen, still wanting to finish their teahouse fight, agree to join her under the condition that they do not to duel one another until the journey has ended.

The core elements of the series just work.  If you come into this series with an open mind you are going to find a very satisfying show with a basic plot that will keep you coming back for more.   The three main characters of the series Fuu, Mugen, and Jin are an unlikely troupe that somehow seems to stick together regardless of the core character differences.

Mugen is wild ass of a man from the Ryukyu Islands.  It’s hard to not compare Mugen with Spike from Cowboy Bebop as they look somewhat alike and have some similar tendencies.  However, Mugen is anything but conventional as he is a wanderer with a wildly unconventional fighting style. He is a rogue that wears metal-soled geta and carries a type of Okinawan sai with a tanto hidden at the end of its scabbard strapped across his back.  He also has a big afro-like haircut.  Looking for a good fight, women, and food is all that Mugen stands for.
 
Jin is a ronin who properly assumes the conventional stoic manner of a samurai from the Tokugawa era. He incorporates the traditional fighting style that was taught in prominent dojos of that era. He carries two swords and uses a defensive style of fighting that is quick and deadly.  Jin is also characterized by the glasses he wears, and it is suggested that he wears for show rather than helping his vision. 

Fuu is 15 year old girl who recruits Mugen and Jin to find a man she calls "the samurai who smells of sunflowers." She is the unconventional glue that keeps the trio together.  She has a pet flying squirrel named Momo.  Momo takes up residence in her kimono and frequently leaping out to her rescue when she encounters trouble.

The most memorable moments of the series come at key times where the plot deviates into some slap-stick side episodes.  Burning a monk village full of marijuana fields, a gay European merchant disguised as a samurai, a graffiti tagging competition, and a  baseball game with some American explorers are just a few of those comedic moments that make this show shine. 

In the latter half of the series, we learn that the samurai who smells of sunflowers is Fuu’s father.  We also learn that he is very instrumental in the Christian movement that is taking place in Japan.  The conclusion of the story is anything but comedic as it ends on a more serious note that is very appropriate.  In fact, the final episodes reveal a dark side of Edo era history.  This is appropriately depicted in how the shogunate persecuted Christians. The inclusion of this in the overall storyline makes this a very appropriate and memorable aspect to the series that I won’t soon forget.  The final episodes also forces Mugen, Jin, and Fuu to decide what is really important in life when their own mortality is faced with near impossible odds.  Overall it gives a very good sense of closure.

Summary

Samurai Champloo is the true essence of blending hip-hop and modern culture in the era of the samurai.  While this is not a true historical perspective on the Edo era, it does give you sense of what life was like in those days.  The hip-hop and modernistic spin on it keeps things fresh and engaging as does the slap-stick comedy.  The plot is easy to follow and the characters are compelling.  Fans of Afro Samurai should take note as Samurai Champloo heavily influenced that series in many ways. The upgrade to Blu-ray is a welcome addition despite the limitations of the source material.  If you already own the original DVD set you may want to consider upgrading for the lossless audio.   If you have held off adding Samurai Champloo, you should go ahead grab this collection as it is a “must have” collection. 

Features
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, "Battlecry" Opening Promo Video, Teaser Trailer, Conceptual Art, Bumper Gallery, Video Game Trailer

Review Equipment

Samsung  UN46B6000VF 120Hz  LED HDTV, Samsung HT-WS1R/XAA  2.1 Channel Soundbar Speaker System with Wireless Subwoofer, and Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 1 of 1
1 
aegrant 12/19/2009 8:22:16 PM

I really like this series - I wish the soundtrack was on this BD

1 

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