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Anime Reviews: Samurai 7
CAUTION: may contain spoilers.
Remakes are a tricky business. Get it right and it'll be the such-and-such of a new generation. Get it wrong and it will forever be compared to the original, and never in a positive light. Frankly, I think Hollywood would be much better off recreating the conditions that made the original movies classics instead of recreating the original movies themselves, since they've released so many "re-imaginings" over the last decade or so that people are starting to think they've run out of ideas over there.
Every once in a while, though, one of these "re-imaginings" works. Akira Kurosawa's 1954 epic Seven Samurai has been remade once before, as the 1960 John Sturges Western The Magnificent Seven, a film which is considered a classic. Even Kurosawa preferred it to his own film.
Then in 2004, the Gonzo animation studio decided it was their turn to put a new spin on an old favorite.
The story of Samurai 7 is essentially the same as the film - a small farming village that is routinely terrorized by an army of bandits finally decide they've had enough and go out to hire some wandering samurai who are hungry enough to protect them for little more than free food in return. They come back with seven, who have all agreed to help for various reasons - some are inexperienced swordsmen who genuinely want to help, some are in it for the free food, and one of them just wants to fight one of the others.
The differences between the film and the series, however, are staggering. The setting is now a post-war, steampunk version of feudal Japan which is ruled by a hoity-toity class of merchants. The bandits are now huge mechanized warriors (in the Alphonse Elric sense) who fought in this war and had nothing else to fall back on after it ended. As a matter of fact, one of the hired samurai IS a robot himself.
It may seem a little weird putting giant robots in Kurosawa's epic, but consider this - bigger robots mean bigger fights, and the bigger the fights, the better the action. And big action is one thing this show does really well. It doesn't get into it right away, since they do have to find each samurai and all, but they do give you the occasional taster leading up to their arrival at the village and then all hell breaks loose. Episode fourteen and the final two are the most epic action scenes of all. Guys...with swords...carving up bandits...like Thanksgiving turkeys. And sure, guys with swords carving up bandits who are robots sounds a little bit Samurai Jack-ish, but it's staged so well you won't give a fig.
Another thing I couldn't help but notice is that this series has a slight feminist subtext. The show frequently emphasizes the bandits' abductions of women during their routine trips to the peasant villages, Rikichi's wife, who appeared in only one scene in the original film, plays a role in an gubernatorial plot to sire the Emperor an heir, and the character who becomes the main villain is painted as a sleazy, manipulating womanizer with his own harem. Then you have Kirara, the village's water priestess and an original character to this series. She doesn't do any fighting, but she still contributes to the plot in major ways. She is the one who leads the hunt for the samurai at the beginning, not just out of concern for the well-being of her village, which is never the furthest thing from her mind, but also because she's always wanted to step outside of her peasant life and see the big city for herself. She also becomes the inspiration for the novice swordsman Katsushiro's journey to becoming a true samurai, which turns into a love triangle subplot later on. Considering that most of the other women on this show seem comfortable lounging around waiting to be pampered and eventually impregnated, Kirara earns a lot of my respect as a character in that she actually DOES STUFF. I think she's one of my favorite female anime characters ever.
And on the topic of characters much of the cast is very warm and easy to get attached to. The samurai are a diverse lot, from determined novice Katsushiro to Kyuzo the suspicious, disaffected loner. Kikuchiyo, the comic relief, tragic hero and samurai wannabe (and the metal man of the group) especially rubs off as an endearing, sympathetic hero, and his bonding with Kirara's young sister Komachi, another original character, is just adorable.
This show is just so well put together that the only thing that I can possibly think of that lets it down is that occasionally the animation quality suffers a major hiccup. The best example of this is the tavern dance sequences in episode eight, where it fluctuates the most horrifically. Lucikily these visual distractions are few and far between, but when they happen, trust me, you'll know.
Samurai 7 is by no means a direct carbon copy of Seven Samurai. In fact it might be a little unfair to compare this series directly to the original film, so perhaps it would be best to judge it on its own merits. Whether or not you've seen the film, if all you care about is seeing an epic action series with awesome fights, likable characters and a complex, engaging story, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Steampunk setting; strong/memorable characters; EPIC action scenes
Animation quality fluctuates on occasion; and...yes, some of the baddies are robots