For those of you who loved Bebop's style and kinetic energy, Samurai Champloo will be right up your alley.
Following the adventures of two chalk and cheese samurai - the quiet and erudite Jin, and the raucus brawler Mugen, the series is heavy on fights, highly stylised character designs, and... hip hop.
The two characters are saved from an execution (sort of) by Fuu, a 15 year old waitress who has a mission to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers. With two bodyguards in her debt, she sets off with the reluctant pair and from then on it's road trip city.
The tales are mostly stand alone, with the trio entering towns and causing havoc. With lively good humour and a mature tone, the series has plenty of edge, and isn't one for the kids. Fuu spends much of the time as the damsel in distress, and if she isn't being knocked out or tied up she's being enslaved as a prostitute or painted naked. In a sense it has the ring of historical accuracy about it, but just once you wish she'd give someone a kick in the happy sacks and stand up for herself.
The animation, as you'd expect from the Bebop crew, is very well choreographed, oozes style and purveys a great sense of atmosphere. The jaunty camera angles move fluidly, swooping in and out of the action, shaking at the force of swordblows and involving you in the action by ducking like a spectator, which, I suppose, is what we are.
Likewise, character designs are striking, with the anemic cast gurning away at every possible opportunity to convey plenty of emotion. The character's styles are simultaneously historical and contemporary, with Jin sporting stylish spectacles, and Mugen tattooed from head to foot. Accuracy be damned, Champloo just wants to look cool.
Unlike Cowboy Bebop, which effortlessly slipped into its Jazz and Funk shoes, Samurai Champloo seems a little heavy handed with its hip-hop stylings. Whilst the fights work well, choreographed to slamming baselines and scratch-tracks, the visual elements such as "The End - Psyche!" feel unecessary and a little forced.
I do confess that, at present, I'm not entirely engrossed by the characterisation. The group are interesting enough, but short of a few fiery arguments, development has been thin on the ground, and that's the only thing that keeps this from getting a 9 - but from a technical viewpoint it's virtually flawless.
Extras are almost non-existant, and discs come with 4 episodes apiece.
For those after some decent action, edgy characters and a touch of historical violence, this should be your perfect partner.
Solid, vibrant storytelling. Action fans should love this.