I’m a huge fan of Shinichiro Watanabe as a director and a creator, even though my experiences with his shows have been quite varied when it comes to how much I enjoyed them. For instance, I liked the idea of Macross Plus, but I disliked the characters, so as a whole it wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. And, to be completely honest, Cowboy Bebop never really gripped me in the way that it seemed to grip its biggest fans. I thought it was a mostly very well put-together show, but I couldn’t really emotionally connect with it. In contrast, Samurai Champloo worked perfectly for me on almost every level.
I’m not a very big fan of anime set in the Sengoku Period, and Japanese history in general doesn’t do that much for me, but for some reason some shows set in the Edo Period just turn out to be, in my opinion, fantastic. One of these shows is Katanagatari, which is one of my all-time favourites, and Samurai Champloo is another one. It probably helps that Samurai Champloo makes a very big point about “how the age of the Samurai is coming to an end”, and it does so very well. The ending of the show is very satisfying in itself, but the bittersweet feeling that it’s also the end of a whole era significantly elevated the experience for me.
But it wasn’t just that the themes were strong. The show also looked fantastic in terms of art, animation, and – above all else – style. The soundtrack by Nujabes is also very notable, not just because hip hop is relatively uncommon when it comes to anime soundtracks, but because the idea of combining stories about samurai with this particular genre of music seems so… counterintuitive, at least at first. Samurai Champloo is also occasionally a very funny show, an element that is greatly aided by the very deliberate inclusion of anachronisms, such as people rapping and doing other things that people in the Edo Period would certainly not do. The baseball episode in particular is fantastic.
Returning to the initial topic, I loved the quirks and oddities of Samurai Champloo, but I really don’t think they would have worked without strong writing and direction. Anachronisms, for instance, are not inherently funny, nor is quirkiness, at least in my opinion. They can work when they are elements of a really enjoyably solid show, but when that is not the case, you might get stuff like Nobunagun. I never finished Nobunagun. God, I am so happy Samurai Champloo wasn’t like Nobunagun.