Studio: Manglobe (Ergo Proxy)
Manga author: Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop)
Genre: Adventure, Samurai, Comedy
First complete run: 2004-2005
Regular episodes: 26
I really wanted to like Samurai Champloo. And I still think it has a lot going for it. The anime has a really unusual mixture of many different elements that you really never see together anywhere else. It's like a (much less cool) cross between FLCL and Rurouni Kenshin. But ultimately, the show just put me to sleep by the end.
Samurai Champloo tells the story of an adventurous journey between two ronin and a young girl named Fuu, set in the early days of the Meiji, the dying age of the samurai. But this anime, aimed at a more seinen audience, is far from historical fiction. Borrowing its unbelievable score from the Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes, the anime relies on a deliberately anachronistic blend of present and past. Mugen, the scruffier of the two samurai, can break-dance. Jin, the more elegant of the pair, sports a pair of suspiciously chic looking glasses. During their travels, the protagonists come into contact with rappers, beatboxers, and the like. The combination of contemporary music and plot elements give the show a really fascinating, fresh feel. Its smooth, realistic character designs just reinforce the idea that you are not watching your typical samurai tale.
In my opinion, the show's originality seriously backfires though. The characters, who behave in a chill, nonchalant manner for most of the show, often just sound and feel bored (in both English and Japanese). The plot, which is supposed to be driven by the trio's quest to locate Fuu's father, frequently diverts into dumb side plots (75% of which are to search for or steal food). Samurai Champloo tries to avoid the overexcited, energetic pomp of a typical shōnen, but it does so at the expense of being interesting at all. The show is clearly well thought out; its characters are carefully developed and their interactions put a unique stamp on each protagonist. The score is an absolute pleasure to listen to and I highly recommend acquiring the OST. But the show just doesn't make you care. And its ending is one of the most anti-climactic, trash ends to a 26-episode anime you'll ever see. Samurai Champloo is a cool series with a lot of appeal to today's youngest hip-hop generation, but particularly in the case of this anime, unique doesn't necessarily mean fun to watch.