Secret Santa 2012 – Samurai Champloo

As you’ll have seen from the 2010 and 2011 offerings, this is the Reverse Thieves‘ annual Secret Santa project, where the only gift you need to give is the gift of a great series your pick hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing yet. In this year’s post to the blog, I’m looking at a series that I’m sure many people have watched already, given it’s already been licensed. It’s Samurai Champloo, a hip-hop infused sword-fest by Manglobe, following our three main characters as they skulk around Japan looking for a smelly samurai.

If there’s one thing that I value in anime above all else, more than piffling things like character development and story, it’s style. Style over substance any day, I say. Luckily, this show has it in droves. Samurai Champloo is dripping in a strange concoction of American hip-hop and Edo period Japanese chivalry. On paper, these two styles are really like oil and water, but all you have to do is watch and see the two mix together surprisingly well, not least helped along by the effortlessly cool soundtrack by Nujabes who, much like the style of the show, merges the hard edge of hip-hop with more ambient melodies in his offering.

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Secret Santa 2011 – Binchou-tan

Hello again, and welcome to this year’s Reverse ThievesSecret Santa project post. For those unaware of this, it’s a sort of take a recommendation, leave a recommendation system where a stranger will drop in and give you a choice of three shows to watch, while you do the same for your unwitting recipient. Last year, I was tasked with watching Shigofumi.

This year, I was recommended Binchou-tan, To Heart and Darker Than Black. First of all, big thank you to my Santa. These are three shows I really did want to watch after reading their descriptions. Unfortunately, time constraints lead me to only be able to watch one show, but I will certainly be getting around to the others at a later stage. The show I’ll be reviewing is Binchou-tan.

It’s hard not to be enamoured by Binchou-tan on first watch. The series starts by showing us a gorgeous setting – a run-down old house in the middle of a leafy green forest. The noises, the insects buzzing around, the shadows on the forest floor, they all contribute to creating a wonderful scene. Then we’re introduced to Binchou, our title character.

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Secret Santa 2010 – Shigofumi

Kanaka and Fumika So you may or may not have heard about the Reverse Thieves’ festive anime Secret Santa project, dependent on how active you are in the anime blogosphere. You’re given a random blogger’s personal anime tastes (usually via a rated anime list of sorts) and need to suggest three new shows for them to watch, while the same happens for you. It’s a fantastic idea, as it removes the painful part of finding existing anime to watch. A curt 50 word description often isn’t enough to decide if a show will be worth it, so why not leave the decision to someone who has (hopefully) already seen it and is assured of its quality. Or terribleness. Either way, its entertainment.

I really lucked out with my choices, as they mostly weren’t series I had on the backlog, but were still interesting after reading their descriptions. I’ve had the time to watch my first choice, Manabi Straight, a gorgeously stylish show that’s moe for moe’s sake, with the best opening titles of an anime I’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to watch my second choice, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, but it’s a credit to my Santa that he/she read my taste incredibly well. The focus of this review is my third choice, Shigofumi: Letters From The Departed. It’s relatively recent, having aired during the Winter 2007-08 season, but had still completely passed me by.

The basic premise of the series follows our protagonist Fumika, as she and her lippy but earnest magical staff Kanaka travel around the city delivering shigofumi, letters from the dead sent to the living as a last testament of sorts. Just from hearing that alone, the show has a lot of scope in what it can do, but is essentially relegated to an X-of-the-week format, where this time X equals “letter from dead person”. The only common factor you can really develop over the course of a 12 episode series is the main character herself, so her story sure as hell better be good.

The show does manage to overcome the repetition of the X-of-the-week format – each letter is too engrossing and the show mixes up the “get letter, transport letter, deliver letter, end credits” format throughout the series. Fumika’s story I believe is a different matter.

The first few episodes are extremely promising. The first story involves Shouta, his quest to build a rocket and Asuna, a girl he befriends while doing so. Needless to say, Asuna’s closet has many skeletons, and the episodes descend further into tragedy with every passing minute. We find she’s been “helping” her father produce child porn, who then wants to bring her little sister into the picture. The show certainly doesn’t shy away from showcasing the dredges of human society, and is all the more watchable for it, though it does bash the viewer with tragedy so much it manages to lose its meaning sometimes. Fumika’s take on events is fairly refreshing in that she sees the world through ruthlessly unclouded, emotionless eyes.

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