By Masaru Gotsubo. Created by Manglobe (Tokyopop)
A novel spin on the traditional samurai adventure genre is the basis of this manga, adapted from a successful anime (that’s cartoon show to you and me) in that although set in the civil war torn Edo period of seventeenth century Japan, the creators have eschewed the usually slavish concentration on period authenticity in favour of style-setting creative anachronism.
As well as hip, modernistic dialogue worthy of a summer blockbuster, characters may sport Raybans and goatees in addition to swords and bows. Think of it like setting Macbeth in Al Capone’s Chicago.
Trust me. In this context and used judiciously, as here, it does work, and with surprising effect.
The plot concerns the wanderings of a disparate trio who have fallen together under harsh circumstances. Erroneously branded as outlaws, they travel through a wildly dangerous country, hide-bound but simultaneously lawless as civil war tears their society apart.
Mugen is a wild, undisciplined mercenary from Okinawa (an independent nation at this period of time), continually hungry and more animal than man. Jin is his polar opposite, refined, skilled, a perfect Samurai. He is so tightly wound, however, that he is almost paralysed by his lack of a reason to fight or to live. The catalyst in this relationship is Fuu, who they discover working as a waitress. She is a paradox and has a deeply held secret agenda. She “hires” them both as her bodyguards as she embarks on an obsessive quest to find a mysterious Samurai who smells of Sunflowers.
In their travels they encounter bandits, battles, ninjas and nobility with their own plans for the trio. All the trappings of traditional Japanese historical adventures are present but the skewed perspective of twenty-first century comedy-drama sensibilities bring some much needed lightness to the often ponderous and oppressive doom-laden destiny and Giri-bound honourable slaughter of the genre-form. In Samurai Champloo most of the slaughter – and there is a vast amount – is for laughs.
Champloo is a corruption of the Okinawan word “champuru” which means mix, fusion or hybrid. This splendid combination of fashion, street sensibility and stripped down basics of a genre provides thrills and laughs in equal measure, whilst providing a strong narrative thread and engaging characters to carry the reader along. And don’t forget the mystery. What could anybody want with a samurai who smells of sunflowers?
© 2005 Masaru Gotsubo. © Manglobe/Shimoigusa Champloos. All Rights Reserved.