Movie: Getting to review something before it catches on and hits big is always a satisfying feeling, even though you know you really had no creative hand in making it so. Still, when a title like Samurai 7 is named the top anime of the year by your friends in the field, you almost feel as though it vindicates your position as my reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 #1 and Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 #2 found this to be one of the best titles seen in a long, long time. The series is essentially a remake of the classic samurai tale from the legendary Kurosawa which I described previously as: "The anime series is as much a tribute to the original movie as a futuristic update contained in a full 26 episode series by Gonzo as released domestically by FUNimation Entertainment. Set in a futuristic world that has just witnessed the end of a massive war, scores of villages are terrorized by Nobuseri bandits. But the Nobuseri are no normal bandits. They were once Samurai, who during the war integrated their living cells with machines to become dangerous weapons now appearing more machine than man. Absolute power corrupts, and their reign of terror is increasing its hold on the countryside. But one group of villagers has had enough, deciding to hire samurai to protect their village. Kiara is a young priestess who travels to the city seeking out protection. One by one, she encounters brave samurai that the war has left behind. These men and women of skill and valor are each unique and not without their quirks. But can they come together as one to defend the helpless village?"
Thus the stage was set for the first two volumes of the series where the warriors were initially recruited. Today's review of Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 #3 continued the recruitment process and had the warriors hitting the road towards the village they will soon be charged with protecting. In some ways, the material here was almost identical to the original as the villagers prove to be almost as distrusting of the samurai they are hiring as the bandits they are seeking to defeat. Their last members join, albeit for the wrong reasons, and a number of circumstances interfere with their plans as the bandits test the mettle of their opponents far earlier than the team had hoped. Still, the idea of the once noble samurai defending the farmers once beneath their contempt played up to many of the original concepts even as the language and style of the anime series continues to pick up speed. The episodes this time were 9) The Bandits, 10) The Journey, 11) The Village, and 12) The Truth and the titles alone convey plenty of meaning as the story firmly latched onto the original as the guiding template. With secretive villagers, Kikuchiyo bumbling even more than usual (though later taking quite a stand) and the preparations of the village for the coming fight on the front burner, I'm getting really into the volumes. Here's what the back box cover said about it all:
"Kikuchiyo has been foolishly captured by the Bandits, and the samurai must leave the caverns to rescue him. When daylight approaches, the towering machines plan to ambush them. Clearly a traitor is in their midst. Kambei knows legions of Nobuseri will be searching for them soon and decides to the group must get to Kanna, though the team of seven is incomplete. To survive the trek, new bonds of trust must be forged. As their journey begins, the samurai must confront an even more dangerous deception: betrayal from the farmers who hired them."
In general, while it would be easy to say that the series is a copy of the original epic movie, that wouldn't be fair to the strengths of either of them. The series has some extra depth due to the way it expanded on the ideas brought forth by Kurosawa's classic and the original will always be fondly remembered on so many levels by so many people for the many aspects that have drawn the attention of people for decades. I'm going to rate this volume of the series as Highly Recommended although when all is said and done, the series as a whole is looking like a Collector's Classic to me. Maybe the inevitable boxed set will include something to draw in big fans to make a double dip or simply offer up some additional extras that we can buy separately. Either way, this series has been a distinctive pleasure to review and I look forward to each volume with a lot of happiness.
Picture: Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 vol. 3 was presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color with a healthy mixture of traditional anime techniques as well as the increasingly common CGI modern series are employing. I saw no visual flaws worth mentioning, including no compression artifacts or video noise, with a seamless look to most of the combined styles this one used to convey the story. On sheer look alone, it merited more than a second glance due to the manner in which the elements were used to tell the time tested story as modernized by anime. I watched it several times and saw more detail each time but the story kept me focused, drawing me in over and over again, so any flaws you see will be the product of a vivid imagination or weak equipment outside of stuff so minor that fans aren't going to care about.
Sound: The audio was presented with the traditional choice of a 5.1 Dolby Digital track in either the original Japanese with English subtitles or a English dubbed track. I listened to each track and found subtleties to enjoy with both of them, unlike many dubbed series that fall far short of the mark. The characters all sounded exactly right, without the kiddy styled goofiness used to often to draw a younger crowd. The special effects were also solid, using an understated method to achieve the auditory aspect of story telling. Lastly, the music score was well fitted to the show, making me long for a music CD of the material in order to hear if it would stand alone as so few scores to anime series are capable of. In general terms though, there was a lot of separation between the channels, great dynamic range, and a lot of care put into the audio worth upgrading an audio set up if need be.
Extras: The extras were decidedly less interesting this time but managed to capture my interest nonetheless with the standard image gallery, character profiles, textless songs, trailers and double sided DVD cover complemented by an incredibly silly (though totally addictive) CGI show called Mr. Stain on Junk Alley. The short was a cute skit involving Mr. Stain, a Rasta man type hobo, and a Heavenly Bird that ends up being his savior in more ways than one. This was a creative short and I look forward to the official release of the set in coming months.
Final Thoughts: Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 vol. 3 was quality based through and through with fine technical qualities like picture, sound, and dub adding a lot to the already solid story line and action. I can't see the future (with any degree of reliability that is) but I'm feeling safe that the "best anime show of the year" will be continuing on the path set forth by the original director based on what has transpired so far. The additional elements all added in some extra dimensions to enjoy and even the silly little extra, Mr. Stain In Junk Alley has me on edge to catch more stories of delightful antics by the hobo always looking for food.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.