Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Of Samurai: Samuari Champloo

Two men kneel in a courtyard, hands bound, executioner raising an axe behind them. A laughing official in front of them asks if they want this last chance to beg for mercy. One of the men makes it to his feet and tells him to go to hell in spectacular fashion. The official snarls the ax comes down…

A laborer kneels in the road, begging an official not to take him off of a job, or his family will starve. The official sneers down at him and motions for a bribe. The humbled man moves forward digs into his pocket and pulls out the few coins he has. The Official takes them and scornfully throws them into the dust, humiliating the man and ordering him beaten. Just as his guards crowd around a stranger steps from the crowd, stands before the helpless laborer and draws his sword.

A Waitress serves a gang of rowdy men in the inn where she works. The men are rich and drunk, and as they get drunker they get rowdier and wilder, threatening the patrons and the staff. A vagrant slips in and offers to kill the men for the price of a meal. The waitress blows him off only to slip and spill hot tea all over the ringleader. The men grab her and the ringleader raises his sword and prepares to take her hand for the offensive, in a last moment of desperation she cries out “One hundred dumplings.” The vagrant smiles, unsheathes his sword, and the blood begins to fly.

You may wonder why I’m going to such care to describe a few seemingly random scenes. Are they the climaxes of three separate samurai films? Maybe the big set pieces in one. Or given that it’s a TV perhaps they’re just the ending of three particularly good episodes.

My friends all three scenes I’ve just described take place in the first five minutes of the first episode of Samurai Champloo; a show which feels more like the freebasing of a dozen Samurai films at once than the watching of one.

The show is directed by Shinchiro Watanabe, most famous for being the mastermind between the seminal anime series Cowboy Bebop. This show shares that one’s fluid animation, innovative action and dysfunctional secret filled cast, but does suffer from comparison to Cowboy Bebop, mostly because just about everything does. I mean you can’t make a superlative show that takes the best of thirty years of genre filmmaking, blends it with style that was truly next level yet boostered by retro iconicism that simultaneously defines the medium while transcending it, every time you make a series. You just plain have to hit a solid base hit every once in awhile.

If you can keep its over achieving elder sibling out of your mind while watching it, Samurai Champloo can be a lot of fun. As established it’s crammed full of samurai goodness without being exhausting, it’s stylish without merely devolving into exercise, and it’s action packed without being dramatically weak. It’s undoubtedly pastiche but it’s damn good pastiche. And if it’s not quite as soulful, exciting or special as its predecessor? Well see the above paragraph.

* This show features a character named Manzo The Saw. Hopefully I don't need to tell you why that is completely fucking awesome. 


Spencer said...

Why is that completely fucking awesome?

Bryce Wilson said...

It's a reference to this most antisocial gentlemen.

Elwood Jones said...

Out of the wave of pop samurai anime of recent years this was one of the better ones, but didn't get into it as much as "Samurai 7" or "Afro Samurai", though I appreciated that it was trying to do something different by skipping historical accuracy and adding a hip hop soundtrack, but could help feeling that it wished it was "Ninja Scroll" like the imitators such as "Ninja Resurrection" which followed in the wake of that seminal anime.

dwyermckerr said...

One of my favourite anime, so much fun. Hanzo/Manzo reference included.

A hero never dies said...

Great show, I loved it. It helped that this pushed me to see Cowboy Bebop. I'm forever indebted to it for that reason.

Bryce Wilson said...

EJ: I feel that this something like Ninja Scroll is a lot less self conscience than something like this. I dug it a lot more than Samuari 7 and Afro Samuari.

@dwyer: Can't argue with you there. It's pretty tough not to have fun watching it.

@ Ahnd: Yeah I almost wish I got to see the series in that order. Less Expectation.