I just finished watching Samurai Champloo. It was recommended (and lent) to me by a uni friend. It's a very episodic series (with a handful of double episodes, and a triple for the ending), and involves two samurai (Mugen & Jin) and a girl (Fuu) looking for a samurai that smells like sunflowers. The episodes are basically their wacky antics on their journey, most of which involve food and whores. In fact, watching the show made me think "aren't there any respectable women in Japan?"
It's set in the period of the shogunate, but it's backing audio is mostly new-age hip-hop or rap. A lot of the setting is factual, but the story is not. Every now and then they'll fast forward to today's culture and set it in context with back then. They have an episode about graffiti artists, another involving a guy doing breakbeats, and yet another on baseball. One of the main characters (Mugen) actually pretty much has an afro, and a fighting style that looks a lot like breakdancing. I wonder exactly how factual the story is.
The story itself isn't too deep, and neither are the characters. Fuu likes to eat and find the sunflower samurai. Mugen likes to fight & eat. Jin likes his glasses and eating. The fact that they're poor and can't afford food, and must travel with a guy who likes to fight everyone is basically what most of the stories draw from. There's a couple that involve the pasts of the two samurai, but those stories aren't really all that involved or interesting.
What's impressive is the fighting style. Unlike drawn out fights like Dragonball or, to a lesser extent, Kenshin, there's plenty of slashing and not much talking in Samurai Champloo. This is by far the best bit of the show, and the fighting at times resembles those carefully choreographed Jackie Chan fights. In some ways the fighting is less over the top than Kenshin, since there's no declaring attacks, or commentary from the sidelines. In others, it's more over the top, since Kenshin is basically based on old fighting styles, but taken to the extreme, and this show basically has fancy moves with no explanation. Having said that, Mugen fights by running around a lot and with a lot of flow, and Jin fights like someone who's been training all his life, so they both have actual definitive fighting styles.
Ultimately, I think Samurai Champloo is OK, but there's very little motivation for the characters, and they never really develop. In fact, there's a bit towards the end where they tell their back story. For the three of them, it takes all of 5 minutes. Mugen's is basically "I saw a guy (who was very important) who was being a smart-arse, and I killed him.". The show seems to be more of an expose of the era, with fight scenes, as opposed to a story involving people that grow over time.