Samurai Champloo Vol. #4 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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

Samurai Champloo Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     August 15, 2005
Release Date: July 26, 2005

Samurai Champloo Vol. #4
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
No cash! Mugen, Jin and Fuu need money fast. Fuu tries to model, but it turns out to be a trap. When they arrive in the capital city, they delay their quest to join an eating contest, but find out the hard way they need to watch who they hang with! If some guy they meet isn't wanted by the cops, then he's trying to kill them or take their wallet - either way, you know they're going to wind up in the middle of a fight . . .

The Review!
The first half of the series comes to a close and the next chapter kicks off as we learn quite a lot about these characters.

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 cover is a dark and very stylish piece with all three of the characters lined up next to each other doing a particularly famous little dance move bit which just looks comical but fits with the show nicely. 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 music producer Tsutchie. The back cover provides the episode listings again as well as the release dates for the rest of the series.

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.

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)
In a way, Samurai Champloo ends up being something of an odd release for us. When we sit down and actually watch the show, I'm pretty much enthralled with it and enjoy just about all of it. But until that disc gets into the player, I don't seem to remember just how much I enjoyed the previous volume. With this release, we get the end of the first "arc" of the story in a two part piece and a standalone before the final arc of the series kicks off with the last episode here. Overall what we get is one solid release though with great stories and a hell of a lot of fun.

The two part story brings us into a bit of history for Mugen which is a really good thing by this point. While I don't mind characters being cipher's for the most part with their pasts since sometimes explaining it away can ruin a character, they did it nicely enough here that it helped to build up the character more and explain some of his motivations. The trio has finally reached the coast in their journey towards Nagasaki but in their arrival they've ended up in a trap. The local village had been purged of all the women and children as well as men who couldn't fight so that all that would be left would be a group of warriors that could be controlled. The person in control is a nasty guy named Mukuro who just happens to be Mugen's brother.

Over the course of this story, we learn how the two of them, and a slightly younger girl who is still with Mukuro, grew up together on a small island off of the coast where only criminals were sent and kept. Being born to criminals and raised that way, they all grew up feeling that they had experienced hell and through various machinations made their way off island. Mugen's story is given the most time since he ends up being captured and held for execution but the general gist is to see how they've all suffered and tried to deal with it afterwards. With so many ties to the past brought up, Mugen's easily manipulated by Mukuro to take on a new job with him that involves hijacking a shogunate ship that has far too much gold for just one person to ever spend their lives with. The resulting drama around that is exciting enough to watch but that barely covers the first half of this reunion that does so much to explain Mugen's way of life.

After such a serious storyline, they do a great job with the follow-up piece. Used to close out the first arc, the trio end up in the next major city along the way and Fuu stuffs herself silly. Watching a bloated version of her walking around is comical enough but it's even better when Jin and Mugen ditch her and run down into the red light district like Ataru from Urusei Yatsura. Using the huge wad of gold that they had found along the way, they hit up the best place and set about to spend a night of lust and food with the geisha's there. Unfortunately, their found money is someone else's found money and they're spending it in the wrong place.

The result of them screwing up, or rather accelerating, a particular investigation by some sort of law enforcement unit brings them into a lot of action and bloodshed. What's really fun is that one of the geisha's is an undercover operative who gets stuck with Mugen at his most wanton and she has to fend him off. Of course, when his lust combines with his other skills, he doesn't take no for an answer from the woman he's bought. But she's crafty enough to use him to take down the criminals and get deeper into what the investigation is all about. There's such a great level of sexiness to this episode, though you have to pay for it by seeing Mugen's ass a couple of times, that it's just great to see it shift to this for an offbeat episode. From start to finish, particularly with the woman's comments about Mugen at the end, it just completely made things perfect here.

The start of the next arc as the trio reaches a new region of the country starts off with a mountain mystery that they're tempted to get involved with but ends with all of them splitting up after an argument and going their own ways. The focus returns to finding the sunflower samurai but each of them are on different paths now that you know will intersect again. Mugen realizes he left without killing Jin, Jin deals with a former student from the dojo he was part of that's looking for his head while Fuu finds herself in a dangerous situation and saved by a strange yet very kind man who knows how to live off the land better than anyone else she's spent time with. It's a setup for an interesting push in the original direction of the series now that we're very intimately familiar with the characters.

In Summary:
I've enjoyed previous volumes and love the characters and interactions as well as the offbeat music bits that sneak into the episodes but something about this volume and these four episodes just clicked so perfectly for me that it seemed like they not only truly found their groove but went beyond it. The origin story material wasn't forced, though a slight bit repetitive in how it was told at times and the comedy episode was simply perfect with its mix of sex and violence. The start of the new arc has some of the usual methods used to get it underway at the start but they mix in so many interesting little bits along the way that I can't wait to see where it fully goes to. Very recommended.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Conceptual Art

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.


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