Historical drama in anime is few and far between, as there is always some kind of twist to it. You want real history? Go to the History Channel, OK? “Samurai Champloo” certainly is the king of AUHD (Alternative Universe Historical Drama) in that it takes modern sensibilities and imposes it on, in their case, the samurai era. The same thing goes on with the dramedy “Shine On! Bakumatsu Bad Boys” (“Bucchigire!”)
We are in Kyoto (for a change) somewhere around 1854 or so. There is evil afoot, with masked killers plying their trade, and the constabulary, the Shinsengumi, getting annihilated, leaving behind but one member, barely alive and badly maimed. A hard decision is made: recruit villains, condemned to death, to take the place of the deceased members, and bring to heel the forces that seek to destroy the city. Otherwise, it’s dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria!
It is a very capacious cast, led by Ichibanboshi (him pointing at you). He is joined by (counter-clockwise) Sakuya, a professional assassin; Sōgen, a doctor of some caliber; Suzuran, kinda sorta a monk; Bo, that huge piece of work; Gyatarō, a sneak-thief and skilled with a rifle; Akira, a girl disguised as a boy and the leader (and survivor) of the Shinsengumi, Heisuke Todo.
So, we have the mix of a bunch of misfits who cannot be fully trusted, to learn how to be better fighters and protect the city, especially since they can barely stand one another. The biggest clashing is between Ichi and Sakuya, as the former is a hothead and impulsive, whereas the latter is calm, cool and collected. Together, they have to exorcise a lot of personal ghosts in order to do their job. And everyone has them in spades.
The reason for the AU portion of this is that Sogen makes a portable electric generator, so Suzuran’s weapon staff can discharge bolts to stun his opponents. Just a tad too modern. Also, the swords are cursed or imbued with some kind of soul power, which makes them a formidable weapon, indeed. You can see our heroes and their weapons, glowing with the spirit of its previous owner. And what started out as simple patrols becomes a desperate bid to keep the city from being burned down by forces that they were not fully prepared to confront, and who have crateloads of these spirit weaponry.
I saw Episode 1 of this at AX22 and I really wanted to see this fully. Yes, it plays fast and loose with things, but it exudes a charm and commitment that requires you sit down and watch all of this. Will you learn anything that looks like history? Huh? This is just a show about what it means to be given a second chance and how to make the most of it. History allows us to look at another era and that’s it. It certainly would not work in the Modern era.
Binging is on the menu. In fact, not only can this tale take it on, it really helps with the story telling, as they have to go out, day after day, to try and find out what is really going on in Kyoto, as evil rarely rests. You might find the clash between Ichi and Sakuya wears thin and the flashbacks for Ichi get repetitive, but the interactions with the other members more than make up for that. And the ending arc is both compelling and exciting to watch.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 8 (Huge, broad strokes with this one)
Plot 8 (History, meh. Action, yeh!)
Pacing 8 (The fight sequences)
Effectiveness 8 (There is a firm degree of commitment)
Conclusion 7 (It reaches a coupler point, but hasn’t ended)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Bingeability 9 (Like Bo, it’s strong enough to take it)
Overall 8 (Less about history, more about relationships)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Not again, Dumboshi!