Spoilers: I discuss the ending in some detail.
Finally finished Samurai Champloo — what a wonderful series to watch. It’s nice to see how one’s predictions bear out in the end, and I was right in most ways.
Except with Jin and Mugen’s final duel. I was a teensy bit disappointed that it wasn’t what I expected or predicted. I thought it would’ve been more in line with Shinichiro Watanabe’s style, as exhibited in Cowboy Bebop, to make their ending ambiguous or tragic. That happier resolution felt like pulling punches. But the fact that both samurai lived is also appropriate for the themes in the story, as Mugen and Jin are more than merely human: they represent the eternal duality in Zen. The climactic episodes had the Japanese titles of “The Cycle of Death and Rebirth”, and indeed there was death and rebirth for all three characters, literal for the samurai, and figurative for Fuu. So while I think the themes would’ve been more powerfully driven home if the ending was more tragic or bleak, I wasn’t terribly disappointed in the resolution. It was also good to see in the final episodes that both samurai still retained a measure of humanity, in the way that they cared for Fuu and enabled her to complete her quest to their own detriment.
Update: After pondering more, I realize there’s another angle on the ending. Since Mugen and Jin helped Fuu to accomplish her quest, they would not die, but continue on the reincarnation cycle — because they still demonstrated a measure of human interest and earthly concerns, and so have not achieved complete dissociation from the world yet. The adversaries they faced recognized that and explicitly called it out. If they were completely disinterested from her quest all the way to the end, they would both have achieved nirvana, as what reason is there left to keep living? I guess between a happy ending (Fuu succeeding) and a tragic one (Fuu failing), a happy one was more appropriate for the tone of this series. Still, I can’t help but feel that the story did not go all the way to its ultimate conclusion, but stopped just short of it, retreating from the full measure of Zen towards something a bit more human. I suppose that’s why I felt a little disappointed.
Overall, I really enjoyed this series. Some episodes were rather random and had nothing to do with the main story, such as Ep. 9 (Summer of Love — although that double-entendre on “grass” was ace), Ep. 22 (zombies), and Ep. 23 (of course there would be a commentary on baseball) — I thought these detours were a bit weak. But the other episodes kept pushing character development and plot forward, and overall it still was still a strong storyline. Good to see how Jin and Fuu’s histories wind together and resolve at the climax; Mugen’s wasn’t so tightly resolved, but I suppose it’s in his nature to have such a random, chequered past.
And I caught that cameo of Lone Wolf and Cub in an episode — what a treat! That by the way, is another excellent series with strong Zen themes. And the ending… not so happy. Now that I think about it, Champloo bears a lot of similarities to Lone Wolf and Cub.
As Fuu said, I was sad to come to the end of the trio’s story. And in a way, it didn’t end either, for they are continuing on separate adventures, and will surely meet up again. I’m certain this is a series I’ll revisit in future.
It’s about time I rewatched Cowboy Bebop too, as it would be interesting to see what kind of themes are embedded there. But before that: Gunslinger Girl awaits. I’ve had it for ages and it’s long overdue for a full playthrough.