Samurai Champloo Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • 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: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Samurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     December 27, 2004
Release Date: January 11, 2005


Samurai Champloo Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
Mugen's a buck wild warrior - violent, thoughtless and womanizing. Jin is a vagrant ronin - mysterious, traditional, well-mannered and very strong as well. These two fiercely independent warriors can't be any more different from one another, yet their paths cross when Fuu, a ditzy waitress, saves them from being executed when they are arrested after a violent swordfight. Fuu convinces the two vagrant young men to help her find a mysterious samurai "who smells of sunflowers." And their journey begins. This is a story about love, friendship and courage... NOT!

The Review!
With a sense of style all its own, Samurai Champloo throws three very different people together in a time of change and events simply ripple forth from it.

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, the cover is a dark and very stylish piece that has the main image of Mugen twirling around with lots of blood spraying and the other cast members showing up in across the incidental imagery. The white background adds a lot to it and overall it's a good looking eye-catching piece that will jump out to those looking for something violent. 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 chief writer, Shinji Obara. The back cover provides some cute artwork and 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 are pretty minimal for the opening volume. There are a couple of promo teasers that run either 15 or 30 seconds that are here plus there's a bigger promotional video that runs a few minutes and plays out a bit more like a music video to sell the series than anything else. This is already more than the Japanese release, at least going by listings online for the release where no extras are indicated for any of the volumes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When word of this series came out as it was entering production, it was the kind of show that was being hailed as being worked on by a dream team that had last done a big show called Cowboy Bebop. Right from then, the show was doomed in a sense because the association given to it, even just by the same director working on it, was going to be applied to every little aspect of it. This is unfortunate because Samurai Champloo is in no way trying to replicate that show and it's silly to think it is. If Watanabe wanted to make a knock-off of his own thing, he'd just do more Bebop. And if all people take away from Bebop is that it had jazz music to make it cool, then they missed a lot more of that show than most already do.

Samurai Champloo drops us back in time to after the Warring States period. It's not calm and civilized but there is an element of control still out there. The people are still living in a strict caste system and lives are taken at the whim of those above them. The peasants live in fear of not only their own lives but that of their families. Upset the wrong Lord with the wrong thing and he can demand the death of an entire family. Lose a particular job and it's all over for all of you as the shame can drive you to utter despair. Best to end the thread than to extend the shame and dishonor. If you're the offspring of a noble though, you practically walk on water in the town where the control extends, doing what you please and getting away with it and never called on it. The breakdown of the code of honor is most definitely happening here.

It's in this setting that we meet the two primary characters and the third that binds them together. In separate incidents that bring them together, the two swords man get brought under a promise that has them working together. Mugen's the wild child type, the rogue type that uses his charms to get what he wants from the women but backs it all up with a very deadly blade that he wields with a real sense of style to it. It's not all flash as there's a heap of substance behind it but you can see that he enjoys the swordplay. He ends up in a fight inside a local teahouse after some of the ruffians in the employ of the governor's son there cause's trouble. For a hundred dumplings, he takes on the numerous men there and goes at it with a wild thrill.

Jin is more of the traditional type, a ronin by nature now who dresses appropriately, speaks with intelligence but keeps it to words that are necessary but has a real sense of justice that doesn't allow him to leave too many things alone. But there's still usually some price attached to things and it's not all altruism that keeps him going. When he sees a worker being harassed by the local lord and his entire family threatened by the loss of his job, he's got the sense to intervene. What seals the deal is when someone warns him that the lord's bodyguards are hired fighters that are Yagyu in origin. The challenge is there and it's something that he really lives for but keeps under control.

The two end up in the same teahouse after some time and events there go wildly out of control due to Mugen's style and the two men find themselves being held captive and tortured, ready to be executed publicly the next night. With nothing left to lose, the young waitress from the teahouse who has nobody left decides that she'll break out the two fighters. Convincing them that they have to work for her in payment, she wants to find a samurai she's been looking for that "Smells like sunflowers." With plenty of violence and bloodshed, the real story starts moving along from this point as the trio break out of captivity and head on their road trip for find this mysterious samurai.

While that comes across as your somewhat basic samurai/ronin drama series, what helps it to rise above is the sense of style to it. The first and most obvious aspect is the music which headlines the show from a number of popular and famous artists that give it a Japanese hip-hop feel. Since it's not a common thing to anime series, it's definitely adding a new feel to the action sequences and to the quiet moments as well. As said before though, this wasn't all that Bebop brought to anime and too many series took just that aspect and went forward. Champloo's music score is really fun to listen to and they make it a fun part of the show as well, such as shifting between scenes like moving a record back and forth.

Another bit of style to it that I really like is the character designs themselves. Most of the men in this world look like they do in those old dramas; skinny, lithe and generally unsavory. While Jin keeps some amount of refinement to his features just in how he dresses and carries himself, Mugen feels like he's just a step away from crawling in the muck at times. Even when you start getting to some of the "Boss" level figures in this world, most of them are still the unsavory types, bloated from their spoils and generally unattractive. The old men in this world show the real weariness in their faces and frames as they skitter along and try to keep things peaceful. A good number of the women though of course make out much better and have a sense of beauty about them, though a fair number are shown at the peasant level as well. Fuu, the young woman who brings the two warriors together, plays a middle of the road approach as she's got some beauty to her but she's dulled a bit by her working and what she's enduring.

What made me really like how this show is being done though are the fight sequences. While there is a fair bit of a handicam mentality going on with a number of the fight sequences, there isn't a lot of choppy shots going on here or quick edits that take you away from the scene. You see a lot of the fight from an angle and stick to that angle before moving on, allowing you to actually see and appreciate the way it's animated. This is a big plus in my eyes as so many movies and anime series in recent years have gone for the over stylized hyper quick edit kind of feel that takes you out of the scene and unable to really enjoy the way it goes. Watching two characters go at each other with their swords has a real sense of poetic beauty to it, but much of that has been lost in the last few years.

In Summary:
Having heard both the hype and the disappointment of folks prior to this coming out, this is one of those shows that's unfairly saddled with baggage that isn't even its own really. Watching these first four episodes was a lot of fun and had me laughing out loud at times, from Mugen's apparent stupidity ("What's a sunflower?") to the way Jin deals with assassins. The show hasn't moved out into the level of fantastic and unbelievable in terms of what the characters are doing so while it may be exaggerated at times, what's going on here falls into real world kind of action and is a lot of fun. The cast is quick to like, the action is well choreographed and the presentation is top notch. I'm eager to see where this is going to go.

Features
Japanese DD 2.0 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,"battlecry" promo video,LE Artbox also contains a bandana

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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