Two Decades and the Battlecry Still Echoes: Celebrating ‘Samurai Champloo’

Let me set the stage accordingly. It was 2014, and this was still a time where anime wasn’t as readily available via conventional means. Crunchyroll hadn’t quite become a staple in the application library, and Funimation was two years out from existing (rest in peace to the superior application). My anime knowledge pretty much started and stopped at whatever was airing on Adult Swim during middle school and high school, so when I asked my friend in undergrad to get me up to speed, he handed me a USB drive as was the tradition.

This USB drive contained many animes. Angel Beats and Gurren Lagann being the main impetus for update of the knowledge, but it also contained the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, and crucially Samurai Champloo. For whatever reason, I was in much more of a swordplay anime mood back in 2014, and thus I watched Samurai Champloo and its miraculous twenty six episode run.

And in the intervening decade, I of course have partaken in the other Shinichirō Wantanbe entries in the impressive catalog. And one of the things that I keep coming back to is that Cowboy Bebop is in fact a masterpiece. It’s an anime that I’d recommend without hesitation to someone who wants to get into the genre, a distinction only really shared with Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It is an expertly crafted story with a banging theme song, one of the best English dubs to have ever dubbed an anime, and just a riveting character study all around. And yet, I always find myself partial to Samurai Champloo.

The best comparison is that to me, Samurai Champloo is to Cowboy Bebop as Legend of Korra is to The Last Airbender. The latter are brilliantly constructed and consistent, but something about the former and their willingness to strive for greater heights even if they also encountered lower lows have endeared them to me.

All of that said, only one of these properties that I’ve listed is actually turning twenty (the manga itself released in January 2004 and the anime in May 2004, so this article coming out now basically splits the difference right?), so let’s take a moment to recognize the greatness that the hybridization of hip hop stylings and feudal Japan.

Samurai Champloo chronicles the travels of two ronin-adjacent characters as they escort a young woman who randomly intervened to stop the two of them from killing each other and the wide variety of adventures they get into as they travel. I say ronin-adjacent, because only Jin is an actual ronin, a samurai who answers to no master, but his counterpart Mugen shares the wandering swordsman sensibilities just without any of the training.

Mugen and Jin did not invent the trope of the Red Oni, Blue Oni, but they certainly codified it for a generation or so. Mugen, dawning a bright red outfit, with a brash, unpredictable style of fighting that blends capoeira-esque movement with an innate combat, contrasts against Jin, in the deep blue cloths, calm and calculating, a style predicate on analysis and decisive intent. Their first fight is a majestic clash of ideology and style, all set to a hypnotic beat and quickly establishes what the watcher is about to witness. Before the end of the episode, we also get properly introduced to Fuu, a young woman who manages to use quick thinking to save the two from their own stupidity and thus their adventures start properly.

Much like Cowboy Bebop before it, Samurai Champloo takes a mostly episodic approach to its storytelling. Each episode can be appreciated as a standalone entry, although there is a fantastic cadre of returning characters as well as the overarching myth of Fuu seeking out a samurai who smells like sunflowers. Because I do hope this inspires at least one person to watch the series for the first time, I’ll leave what that arc entails aside.

This is a series that examines Edo era Japan through an anachronistic lens. Much like jazz was juxtaposed against the space western in Bebop, Samurai Champloo used hiphop as its main motif, highlighting the aversion to authority, the rugged independence, and unique rhythm and presence each character brought to the scene. It’s a series that goes ballistic between deathly serious matters to the most ridiculous game of fictitious baseball that reaches levels of inanity previously only seen in the Mushroom Samba episode of its predecessor and its own mushroom driven zombie apocalypse (which would later come up in Space Dandy funnily enough). And with the English, you really couldn’t ask for a better core trio for this project than Steve Blum (yes, he also played Spike Spiegel, and yes, both characters have a tumultuous relationship with death), Kirk Thornton, and Kari Wahlgren.


The influence of the show has shown up in the wildest of places. Nujables, one of the producer for the series, created such an iconic sound that many credit him as the godfather of lo-fi hip hop, and the sound truly has echoed through the last two decades largely due to Samurai Champloo. Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks’ animation style took cues from Samurai Champloo.

And you can even see traces of the framework in modern works like Blue Eyed Samurai. It’s a show that set the bar for collaboration and cross media appreciation. It’s the type of series that is strangely hopeful and ultimately reveals itself to be a tale about coming to hone one’s ideology through surreptitious clashing, both literally and figuratively. It’s a story about discovering who you are and coming to respect others for their own beliefs. And it’s a series that really shows off what it’s like when professionals make anime music videos.

As the progression of time continues to be a very wild thing, Samurai Champloo manages to remain a classic and what better time to rewatch the series as Shinichirō Watanabe prepares to release Lazarus in the near future. The character work, the worldbuilding, the painstaking attention to making sure all of the components are working together in perfect synergy to immerse the watcher, it’s something worth experiencing and re-experiencing. It’s two courses of some of the finest anime even two decades later.


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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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