Samurai Champloo: A 2000s Bebop

So earlier today I finally finished Samurai Champloo, and if I’m being honest, it’s Cowboy Bebop with slightly cooler male protagonists and a new paintjob. Everything I said about Bebop pretty much applies to Champloo. Solid voice acting, great music, acceptable use of black culture, and interesting characters. However, just like Bebop, Champloo is about 70% one-off episodes that feel like incredibly skippable filler and usually involve our main trio struggling due to lack of food, money, or both. The episodes that are actually good are very good, which only makes the one-offs that much more frustrating to sit through. The fight scenes are better but I think that’s because they have to be. This isn’t a space western, it’s a hip hop infused samurai story, so naturally we expect top notch swordplay.

The heart of Samurai Champloo lies in it’s main characters: Jin, the disgraced but very proper samurai, Mugen, the vagabond badass, and Fuu, the girl who cons these two warriors into a journey with no known destination. She asked them to help her search Japan for “the samurai who smells of sunflowers” a flower that has no scent, and that is where it all goes wrong in my opinion. Now I’m not saying that every anime has to have a clear cut goal or a destination, after all, One Piece has almost 1,000 episodes and they’re still looking for the same treasure as episode one, but a goal as ridiculous as searching for a samurai who smells like a flower that doesn’t have a smell? I mean that’s just insane. Nevertheless, the two samurai agree and being the journey, which mostly consists of starving, Fuu getting kidnapped, and somehow making enough money to keep going. This is the cycle that repeats through most of the first half. Occasionally someone from one of the boy’s pasts will pop up and we’ll learn more about them, or some badass opponent will give us a good fight for a few minutes, but that’s rare. I actually didn’t mind how easily Mugen and Jin kill most of their enemies because it further solidified how much they value the opportunity to fight and kill each other. However, this does mean that for the first twenty episodes the best fight we see is in episode one.

I feel bad for Mugen and Jin. Both of their stories are so interesting on their own that I really just wanted to hear more about them instead of a lot of the random mess we got. I mean, Jin’s complicated past with his martial arts dojo alone would have made for a borderline Samurai X level story if it had been the main focus. Mugen’s complicated childhood on a island prison full of criminals would definitely have made for a quality series, but instead we see these two badasses shackled down by one the most annoying ladies I’ve ever seen in anime. For anyone who ever called Sakura useless, you clearly haven’t met Fuu. She’s honestly the worst part of the story.

Remember the two times in Cowboy Bebop when Faye tried to have some sort of love drama with Spike whenever he went after Julia? Fuu is far worse. Treating Mugen and Jin like crap most of the time, constantly complaining and insulting them, but whenever a girl looks at them, or they look at a girl, she throws a fit, saying things like “why look at her when you have me around?” yet outside of those situations she seems to show zero interest in either men romantically. Then, in a terribly underdeveloped nightmare, there’s some kind of “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” love interest story between Fuu and Mugen in the final episodes, which actually culminates in both men nearly dying to help Fuu one last time. However, they narrowly escape death, immediately move to fight each other, and pass out. This leads to a oddly beautiful conversation about friendship, which would have been nice except they separate right after that! That’s right, the whole lesson of valuing friendship leads to three loners being alone again for absolutely no reason!

Cowboy Bebop was a 6/10 for me, though I acknowledged that for it’s time, it was a 10/10. Samurai Champloo, being that it’s pretty much Bebop in a kimono, gets a modern score of 4/10 and a “for it’s time” score of 7/10. I can understand the appeal of a show that felt grown up to a teen anime fan, but there were so many quality shows already available at the time that Samurai Champloo is a lot less unique.

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