What do you get when you take an anime about 19th century feudal Japan, add two invincible swordsmen, one fussy-but-smart 15 year old girl, a frequent mix of black urban subculture, and a huge cupful of cliche-free storytelling? You get Samurai Champloo, that's what.
The three principals are Jin; a silent, well-dressed, bespectacled, orthodox samurai, Mugen; a foul-mouthed, threadbare, totally unrestrained, swordsman, and Fuu; a witty, compassionate girl who tries to lead the group.
The story begins with Jin and Mugen's running afoul of both the provincial governor and his son by killing their bodyguards. But the two ego-driven samurai wind up butting heads and turn their swords on each other, vowing to battle to the death. They're interrupted when their fighting inadvertently causes the death of the governor's son. The series main plot gets under way when Fuu rescues Jin and Mugen from execution and by so doing indebts them both to be her cross-country bodyguards. Her goal is to track down a mysterious samurai, "who smells like sunflowers." If she can keep Jin and Mugen from killing each other.
And don't expect chivalry from these two samurai. This is feudal Japan where summary executions are common, women are routinely sold into brothels to pay off their husband's debts and disputes are settled with swords. The series takes a frank look at many of these unpleasant truths, even forced prostitution, yet amazingly manages to keep the tone light and maintain the series unique brand of irreverent humor. They even manage to portray an orgy (off camera of course!) without being raunchy. Top marks to the writers for pulling that one off.
This show has it all: ninjas, government intrigue, graffiti taggers, female assassins, a beat-boxing samurai, a baseball game that has to be seen to be believed, and even a bazooka-packing Christian zealot. Watch the series, it'll all make sense.
Sound like a lot? Well it is. But it's handled so well you'll be amazed at how seemingly effortless it's pulled off.
In the hands of whitebread execs from America this would be just a half-baked, cliche-ridden, dim-witted MTV-type series that would quickly turn into an incoherent mess riddled with stereotypes and poor storytelling. As it is, it's original, well-structured, funny as hell and yes, smart! You won't spent entire episodes screaming at the TV how dumb the characters are or just wishing the show would hurry up and get to the next plot point.
You want to see how good an anime series can be (on EVERY conceivable level!) then check this one out. Samurai Champloo gets my HIGHEST possible recommendation.