Samurai Champloo is a fantastic little anime directed by Cowboy Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe. It is a 26 episode series, distributed (or I guess, formerly distributed) by Geneon here in the states, across 7 discs.
The series follows Mugen, Jin and Fuu during Japan's Edo period, but incorporates a lot of modern culture; in particular, there is a lot of hip hop and punk culture, especially in the show's soundtrack. The show is very well animated, with a fantastic opening sequence. It should appeal to Cowboy Bebop fans, in particular. You can really feel Watanabe's influence.
Mugen is a hot tempered, rash, loud mouthed sword for hire. He's an excellent swordsman but has a very wild and dangerous sword style. Many of his moves resemble break dancing.
Jin is a quiet, calm, wandering samurai (a ronin). He's very traditional and provides a stark contrast to Mugen's undisciplined style and personality.
Fuu is a clumsy, outspoken, feisty girl in search of a man she refers to as "the samurai who smells of sunflowers." She also carts around an adorable flying squirrel, which often pops out of her kimono to help her in troubling situations (which she lands herself in, in nearly every episode).
Mugen and Jin get off on the wrong foot immediately, and most of the series has them fighting against each other. Fuu convinces Mugen and Jin to accompany her in search of the Sunflower Samurai, making them promise not to kill each other until her journey is complete.
The first disc contains the episodes "Tempestuous Temperaments," "Redeye Reprisal," "Hellhounds for Hire (Part 1)," and "Hellhounds for Hire (Part 2)."
We meet all three of the main characters in this episode. It opens with a scene showing Mugen and Jin about to be executed, then launches into a flashback sequence of how they got there. We first see Fuu and the tea house she works at, where she is being bullied by a group of thugs led by the local magistrate's stuck up son and a guard named Ryujiro who is itching to try out his new sword. Mugen arrives and immediately starts to tick them off by eating their food. At this point, the episode starts switching back and forth between the tea house, and a scene where Jin watches the magistrate roughly attempt to extract taxes from a local. Fuu's clumsiness lands her in trouble when she spills tea on the magistrates son, and by bribing Mugen with food, convinces him to help her deal with the thugs. Meanwhile Jin, upset by the injustice he sees happening before him, steps in to teach the magistrate a lesson. Eventually Mugen ends up cutting off Ryujiro's arm. Jin arrives at the tea house for a well deserved refreshment, and gets pulled into the argument. Mugen and Jin enter a spectacular sword fight, but it only ends in their arrest.
Having (sort of) saved Mugen and Jin from execution, Fuu has convinced them to help her find the Sunflower Samurai. Unfortunately they're all broke and can't even afford to buy lunch. At a cafe they overhear the locals talking about an ogre terrorizing their farms, and Mugen offers to take care of it. Jin finds interest in an apparently cowardly old Samurai, while a group of men slip Fuu some sake which knocks her out at once. They're informed about a nearby empty cabin where they can stay the night for free, and off they go. Mugen spots a lonely, busty woman whose sandal is broken, which he offers to fix, for a price. So after dumping Fuu off at the shack, he sets off to reap his reward. Jin meanwhile wanders off for a bath and runs into the old samurai again. Poor Fuu, who has been left behind defenseless and unconscious, is kidnapped by a vengeful Ryujiro and his new "ogre" partner, a giant and deformed man named Oniwaka.
Hellhounds for Hire (Part 1 and Part 2):
Mugen and Jin are tired of Fuu's arrangement, and of Fuu herself, and ditch her at a 3-way crossroads by running off in different directions. As in the first episode, once Mugen enters the town, he walks right up to the toughest looking guys around and begins to eat their food. But these guys are yakuza, the Nagatomi Clan, to be exact, which has been taking over the city. Somehow he manages to get hired immediately by their boss, Rikiei, who is impressed by Mugen's particular way of doing things. An old man named Daigorou loses all his money in a rigged game at the Nagatomi's gambling club, and the clan demands his shop or his daughter as payment. Osuzu, his daughter, has been tutoring Sousuke, the son of the rival Kawara Clan leader. Sousuke chases off after the Nagatomi gang and gets into an argument with them at a cafe where (guess who?) Jin has been eating lunch. As the thugs prepare to give Sousuke the beating of his life, Jin steps in and offers to be the kid's bodyguard, and scares off the thugs, who also fork over Daigorou's IOU note for his shop. Fuu meanwhile, entering the same town, gets duped by a man who accuses her of breaking his expensive pot, and is taken to a brothel to pay off her debt.
Since Sousuke took the IOU from the Nagatomi gang, they've decided to lay claim to Osuzu, and throw her in the same brothel as Fuu. The Nagatomi second in command, Ishimatsu, is delegated this task, and it sets off a rivalry between him and Mugen, who has apparently taken his place by the boss' side. Sousuke decides to rescue Osuzu, with Jin's aide, but when they arrive at the brothel, Mugen is waiting for them. And to their surprise, Fuu is (as we know) there too.
Rikiei starts trying to control Mugen, which does not sit well with the free spirited swordsman. It seems he was only hired on as an example to the other men, something for them to work toward, and nothing more. Back at the brothel, Sousuke stabs a Nagatomi members trying to have his way with Osuzu. This brings the fury of the Nagatomi down on the Kawara clan, and Heitarou, the clan's leader, is backed into a corner. Deciding that a game of gambling would settle things, the two clans place their bets. If Heitarou wins, his son's life will be spared, but all of the Kawara Clan's holdings are forfeit to Rikiei. Heitarou offers up his own life if he loses. Kawara gets to provide the dice roller, but Rikiei has plans of his own.