Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is one of the most important and influential films of all time. The tale about honor and sacrifice holds value to this day some fifty years later. It's this inspiring work that brought about The Magnificent Seven and the latest incarnation, Samurai 7.
Heralded as one of the most expensive anime shows ever produced Samurai 7 offers a futuristic parallel to Kurosawa's masterpiece. There are many elements that inspire memories of the original film and throughout the series homage is paid in nearly every scene. Granted the show takes place in a bizarre future where mecha creations have run amuck amidst historic technology so you have to come to the show with appreciation for that kind of content.
One could simply summarize the show by saying it's about a village that hires samurai to protect them against some bandits but it is so much more than that. On every level Samurai 7 challenges its characters as it forces them to make difficult decisions. The enemies are vicious and without scruples though the plot does a fine job of graying the definition of who is an enemy. There are bigger things at work here than a group of bandits terrorizing some farmers and as the story unfolds many things are revealed.
The world of Samurai 7 is split among various classes and societal structures. The show takes place after the Great War and most of the technology that survived has decayed over the many years. Peasants work the fields to cultivate rice, the middle class struggles with poverty and hunger, merchants and politicians rise above everyone else with their money, and samurai wander listlessly searching for adventure or trouble.
Some samurai have forsaken their heritage to become bandits though this goes beyond simply running around the countryside looking for villages to pillage. The bandits are a highly organized group of thugs who operate heavy machinery and fly around in giant mechanized creations. They are feared throughout the land and have caused destruction on a scale equal to what the Great War wrought. Naturally these are the main bad guys in the show but they have ties to the merchants and a subterranean people known as the Shikimoribito.
Under the boot of the bandits lies Kanna Village which is a peaceful town that is now forced to harvest rice for their oppressors. The villagers have finally had enough and the elder dispatches a shrine maiden, Kirara, her sister, Komachi, and a resident, Rikichi, to search for samurai. They wind up traveling to the city with little more than the rice strapped to their backs which they hope to offer to noble samurai in an effort to employ their services.
When they arrive they first encounter a young and inexperienced samurai named Katsushiro who assists them when their rice is stolen. Unfortunately his lack of battle experience means that he is not one that they are looking for; well, not yet anyway. As they venture forth they discover a situation where a man has taken a baby hostage. A mechanized samurai attempts to intervene but does not succeed. That's where a warrior dressed in white steps in.
The man cuts down the hostage taker in a matter of seconds and saves the day. This man is indeed a samurai of worth and one the Kanna folk aspire to obtain the services of. After Kirara and company are discovered by a merchant they are forced to go on the run. This leads to Kirara throwing herself into the bowels of the city which gets the attention of Kambei, the white samurai.
Once the Kanna villagers get Kambei the rest of the samurai seem to fall into place. Each of their names mirror those of the ones featured in Seven Samurai. That means you can expect to see Gorobei, Shichiroji, Heihachi, Kyuzo, Kikuchiyo, and of course Katsushiro. They each take up traits similar to those of the samurai from Kurosawa's film. Kikuchiyo used to be a farmer, Shichiroji was a companion of Kambei, and Katsushiro remains the aspiring samurai.
As the plot moves forward the samurai gather and form a strong alliance as they make their way towards Kanna Village. Once they arrive the villagers are fearful of them and liken their presence to that of the bandits. Still, they win the villagers over and fortify Kanna for defense against the bandits. The rest as they say is history but I won't get into details because I don't want to spoil it for newcomers to the storyline.
Samurai 7 is a powerful show from start to finish. On the surface the story may appear to be relatively simplistic but it's the development of the characters that is the driving force of the series. Since the show focuses equally on development as well as action you can expect quite a few slow spots though they serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things. You simply can't go wrong with Samurai 7 no matter how you look at it. This is one of the better inclusions in FUNimation's catalog and something every otaku must check out.
Samurai 7 originally aired in 2004 and offers some fantastic video quality. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is simply astonishing when you get right down to it. Few shows on the market look this good from beginning to end and it's safe to say that the cost of production was well spent.
This is one of the most well designed shows that I have ever seen and every location, every character absolutely pops. The colors are vibrant and the picture is exceedingly clear throughout. There were a few spots where some grain was noticeable though I didn't encounter any aliasing or compression on any of the seven discs. FUNimation handled this release well and Samurai 7 is undoubtedly one of the best products put together by GONZO.
Four choices await you once you pop in the disc. There is of course the English dubbing which is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 stereo. The English track is acceptable with a decent cast of voice actors but I really dug the original Japanese track which also has the 5.1 and 2.0 treatments which offered a better dub in my opinion. The sense of immersion is decent with a mixture of subtle and prominent effects. The soundtrack is another spot where Samurai 7 makes an impression on the ears. With fresh music similar to that of Seven Samurai the show not only offers elements from the film in terms of plot but for sound as well. This is a great sounding series though the effect is not as impressive as the visual.
Considering this collection is essentially a repackaging of the seven volumes that have already been released you can't expect new content. For starters the seven regular edition art booklets are included in the set and they feature production are as well as interviews. These are a very nice addition and compliment the release nicely.
Apart from the booklets the content on the discs themselves is very limited. Essentially all that is available are the standard features associated with anime. Textless animations, trailers, character profiles, image galleries, and a promotional video are really all that you'll find in the collection. The fourth disc does present a commentary track for "The Offering" with voice director Chris Bevins and voice actors R. Bruce Elliot (Kambei), Sean Michael Teague (Katsushiro). They basically spend the whole commentary talking about the show as they watch it and cracking jokes.
Samurai 7 is one of the most inspired shows to come along in quite some time. The high production values show in every frame thanks to the hard work of GONZO from the story to aesthetic presentation. With loads of inspiration from Seven Samurai the series feels familiar yet foreign at the same time. It's a fresh take on an old classic and it's one that remains enjoyable from start to finish. I found myself glued to my chair in order to watch episode after episode and I'm sure once you start the same thing will happen to you. Highly Recommended
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