The Complete Guide to Anachronisms in Samurai Champloo--
War of the Words


Episode 18: War of the Words:

--Holy Isis, there's hardly anything in here that isn't an anachronism. The most gleeful anachronistic picnic of any Champloo episode. To begin:

That pink convertible. I hardly even need to tell you this is seven kinds of impossible. =) However, just to be formal about it: the convertible car (that is, one with a folding top which can be mechanically raised and lowered) was introduced in 1927 but had its true heyday in 1950's America, when they were hugely popular and became an emblem of the growing rock'n'roll scene. Convertibles, especially Cadillac convertibles, in colors like pink and gold are typically the province of rock and movie stars, so putting J,M&F in this one is pretty cute. =)
(I am also not the only one to note that this "line of three silhouettes commenting on a movie" image is irresistibly reminiscent of the American cult TV show "Mystery Science Theater 3000", usually abbreviated to MST3K.)
--And to top it off, they seem to be watching their previous adventures on a drive-in-movie screen--about 260 years before those were invented. (June 6, 1933, if you care, and Joe Bob thinks you should.)

Black-and-white police palanquins with flashing red lights on top. Enough said.

Graffiti tagging. Grabbed from the Jam2Dis website, a quick basic history:
"The word 'graffiti' derives from the Greek word graphein meaning: to write. This evolved into the Latin word graffito. Graffiti is the plural form of graffito. Simply put, graffiti is a drawing, scribbling or writing on a flat surface. Today, we equate graffiti with the "New York" or "Hip Hop" style which emerged from New York City in the 1970's. [This excellent history site, Graffiti History, points out that graffiti "bombing" was seen in Philadelphia in the late 1960s and speculates on whether it was deliberately carried to NYC from Philly or arose there spontaneously.] Hip Hop was originally an inner city concept. It evolved from the rap music made in Brooklyn and Harlem in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Donald Clarke, a music historian, has written that rap music was a reaction to the disco music of the period. Disco was centered in the rich, elitist clubs of Manhattan and rap emerged on street corners as an alternative. Using lyrical rhythms and 'beat boxing' the music was a way to express feelings about inner-city life. Hip hop emerged as turn tables began to be used to form part of the rhythm by 'scratching' (the sound created by running the stylus over the grooves of an LP). As Hip Hop music emerged so did a new outlet for artistic visibility. Keith Haring began using posters to place his uniquely drawn figures and characters in public places. Soon he began to draw directly on subway walls and transit posters. The uniqueness of his drawings eventually led to their being shown in galleries and published in books and his art became "legitimate". At about the same time as Keith Haring, a delivery messenger began writing "Taki 183" whenever he delivered documents. Soon his name was all over the city. Newspapers and magazines wrote articles about him and Keith Haring. Both became celebrities. [Everyone points out that TAKI 183 was by no means the first to do this, just the first to be widely noticed.] This claim to fame attracted many young people, especially those involved with rapping. They began to imitate "Taki 183". Graffiti quickly became a social scene.
Friends often form crews of vandals. One early crew wrote TAG as their crew name, an acronym for Tuff Artists Group. Tag has since come to mean both graffiti writing, 'tagging' and graffiti, a 'tag'. Crews often tag together, writing both the crew tag and their own personal tags."

Also check out the Institute for Graffiti Research.

--Note that though the Niwa twins' tagging crew uses mainly brushes for its work (and the paintbrush is an ancient tool, perfected in medieval China, but dating back at least 20,000 years), they also employ a spray pump. Not invented yet by a long shot.


--Return of the old-school logos.

Remember the daimyo and his men back in episode one, sporting what looked a lot like the classic Adidas and Converse logos in place of clan mon on their kimonos? The Niwa tagging crew in this ep goes that one better by having modern sport shoe logos on their actual footgear. As spotted by Jamal Steele, check out these two in their Nike and Converse running sandals (a third one's shoes have a three-line logo which is probably Adidas' mark)--with proper period tabi (split socks).


The infinity symbol.

Mugen claims to have invented this design, and OK, it's pretty simple; he might have dreamed it up with a flick of the brush. However, he wasn't the first (though he's close!). John Wallis (1616-1703), considered one of the most original English mathematicians of his day, was the first to use it in print with the meaning of "infinity", in his 1655 publication Arithmetica Infinitorum. He in turn had derived it from a Roman symbol meaning "one thousand". So the symbol does pre-exist Mugen's use of it as a personal tag, but considering that he'd have no way of knowing that his tag had already been used with the same meaning in another country about 20 years earlier--or by the Romans, for that matter--I think it still counts as anachronistic.

(See my Characters section for a summary of the general theories regarding the meanings of Mugen's name, including "infinite")


--Jeanne Beacom, Champloo fan and Japanese major, passes this on:
"I'd like to point out that in episode 18, Mugen is taught the modern version of hiragana ('that's wa, that's re'). During the Tokugawa period, hiragana wasn't standardized yet and was often interchangable depending on the author. The different letters used were based on the manyogana writing system, where different kanji were used for syllables without taking the semantics into consideration. Hentaigana (the term for the unstandardized characters) are used much in the same way -- instead of repeating the same hiragana character for the same sound, the author would use a different character. Hiragana was officially standardized in 1900; previously it was thought of as "lower" than Chinese (the official scholar's language), so it was primarily used by women (so it's no surprise that Fuu would know it) and lower classes.

There's some information on the history of hiragana and hentaigana in Wikipedia: Hentaigana and Hiragana.".

[Note of Interest: You'll note the word "hentai" appearing here with the meaning of "non-standard". We're perhaps more accustomed to seeing it in its more common slang use, where it refers to perverted or kinky sex, but you can see that it means essentially the same thing: not standard, unusual, not what's normally used or done.]


--Fuu asks for cheese with her meal. Not likely. Cheese (and dairy food in general) was not eaten in Japan until after the 1600s. ==HOWEVER: in the subtitles on the Geneon disc, Fuu specifically asks for mochi cheese, which is made of rice paste and is therefore perfectly possible. So whether or not this is anachronistic is a matter of accuracy in translation.


--The kids who try to rough up Jin at the dojo (yeah, right. Dream on, punk.) have a butterfly knife or balisong. Though one school of thought claims these date back to Malaya or Polynesia circa 800 (with the cult of Kali, no less!), the authoritative view seems to be that they originated in 1700s France and were taken to the Philippines by Spanish sailors, whence they made their way through Asia.

My persistent correspondents the Gishes quote the Wikipedia entry: "The history of the butterfly knife is uncertain, with the following three main opinions: (1) The knife dates back to around 800 A.D. and is a traditional weapon of the Filipino fighting art of Eskrima (however, it is not actually a prominent weapon in the art). (2) The knife was invented around 1900 A.D. in the Philippines and spread by American soldiers returning from World War II. (3) The knife was invented in France and [described] in the book 'Le Perret', published in 1710. It then spread throughout Europe and was carried by Spanish sailors to the Philippines."


Several people have suggested that Uohori's close resemblance to the late Andy Warhol ought to be listed as an anachronism. However, since he isn't supposed to actually be Warhol, I consider it an homage and nothing more. Pretty obvious one, though. The invaluable irc_fansubber points out that his full name, Uohori Andou, sounds--if said quickly--rather like "Warhol, Andy" and is almost certainly intended as a pun on, or a Japanized version of, his name.--Here's an interesting connected note from one William J. Wolfslau: "In Episode 18: the Andy Warhol character has some significance that you may or may not already be aware of. In 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young New York graffiti artist, approached Andy Warhol with his art. The two became fast friends, and Warhol championed him in the 80's art world, making Basquiat an art phenomenon and eventually contributing to the popularity and acceptance of graffiti and street art as a valid art form. This makes Uohori Andou's deal with the Niwa brothers at the end of the episode even more clever."


--Oh, and I don't know if it's anachronistic or not (probably not--it has the feel of a very ancient game) but it's pretty cute that, in light of their later preoccupation with "tagging", the game the young Niwa twins are playing in Jin's flashback is tag. =)


--Go back to Compete Guide to Anachronisms main page.