I’m always searching for new-to-me manga at HalfPriceBooks and other used bookstores (hey, have you seen the prices on the new ones?) Anyway, just when a friend of mine had suggested I start the anime Samurai Champloo, I came across both volumes of a manga with the same title (created by manglobe, written & illustrated by Masaru Gotsubo) and picked them up .
I actually bought this before watching the anime, but I’m really glad I waited until I’d finished the show to pick these two volumes up. As you may know, unlike a lot of anime TV shows, there was no original manga for Samurai Champloo. This two volume set is, as it advertised on the back, “based on the hit anime!”
And it really is “based.”
In fact, it’s kind of an odd combination of re-telling, re-casting and re-imagining. Not unlike the show itself, honestly. It melds and mixes wherever it sees fit, and, for the most part, it worked for me, especially if I just thought of the whole thing like that one baseball episode of the anime that had me shrugging “eh, why not?”
The meeting between Fuu, Mugen and Jin is much the same, but there are several key differences, including a kind of radical change in Mugen’s backstory. They have made him from Ryuukyuu (Okinawa), and the notes say that Ryuukyuu was “an independent country at that time, with ties to China” (which seems at least partly based on historical fact.) He’s still shown with his criminal tattoos on ankles and wrists, but this is a serious diversion from the anime’s backstory for him. The wikipedia article I linked to above implies that native Japanese people would have considered Mugen a barbarian, which, of course fits.
I found myself intrigued by this change, but, then again, I wasn’t terribly attached to his original origin story–because, though I liked an island (like Australia) where criminals were sent/banished, the implication was that he was born there and I found that less appealing, because I wanted Mugen to be dark all the way to the bottom of his soul, full stop. (I eventually decided he was, anyway, so it didn’t matter.)
Since this is a spin-off, I’m not quite sure why the authors decided to change this particular aspect of Mugen’s past, especially since they don’t go into Jin’s backstory at ALL. Like the show, the two volumes are a collection of only loosely connected short stories.
If you’re familiar with the anime and pick these two volumes up somewhere cheap (for fate’s sake don’t pay the exorbitant prices on eBay, they’re not THAT good), you’ll probably do a lot of what I did, which was try to guess where things were going to be different from the original story arcs. They have, for instance, done the ‘oni on the bridge’ story, but it’s VERY different and almost-sort-of combined with the gay Dutch guy episode, only… not at all. My title for this blog is a play on that story because the ‘oni’ wants to be the samurai champ, which he thinks he can do by taking a thousand katana from samurai…
Anyway, my final take away? RECOMMENDED to anyone who was a fan of the TV series and wants just a bit MOAR and some cool-ass art.