One of my favorite movies of all time is Akira Kurosawa's
Seven Samurai. I still remember the
first time I saw it, how moved and impressed I was by the themes and
construction of the film and how fast the three and a half hour running
seemed to whiz by. When I heard that the
classic film was going to be remade as an anime, with a steampunk
less, I was pretty leery. I'm not a huge
fan of remakes in the first place and I could easily see how they could
this amazing film.
When Samurai 7, as the anime
was titled, was released in the US
the series was met with rave reviews and DVDTalk even voted it one of
anime series of 2005. I decided that it
was probably worth watching and went ahead and bought the series, but
still in my "to watch" pile when this Blu-ray set arrived on my
doorstep. Having had the time to screen
series, it's not nearly as bad as I was fearing, but I didn't think it
good as most critics thought either.
Years after a fearful war has ended, many small rural villages
are routinely plundered by bandits, called Nobuseri.
These criminals were samurai during the war,
but after the fighting stopped they found themselves without a job but
taste for killing. Having access to
giant fighting machines the Nobuseri bleed the small villages dry,
farmers with barely enough food to get them through the winter.
When rumors start to spread that the Nobuseri are taking the
livestock and women from the farming towns too, one village decides
have to take a stand. The town of Kanna sends their
priestess, a young lady with the ability to find underground water as
see into the hearts of men named Kirara, into the big city to find and
samurai to defend their village.
Accompanied by her younger sister Komachi and an aide Rikichi,
locates a morose yet skilled samurai named Shimada Kambei.
She can offer the samurai nothing more than a
bowl full of rice every day in exchange for putting their lives on the
a hopeless battle, but her cause is just and Kambei joins her. He helps her recruit more warriors for her
cause and together they set out for Kanna.
Things aren't as simple as they seem however. Due
to a traitor in their midst the Nobuseri
know that the samurai are headed to Kanna.
In addition there are behind the scenes political dealings and
assassinations that make the samurai wanted criminals as well as
in the middle of a power struggle.
Watching this series reminded me of my feelings towards The
Magnificent Seven, a western that was also patterned after Seven Samurai.
The movie was very good, but not as good as
the original. The same can be said for
this show. There's a lot that really
works, and some missteps that really hurt the show.
Being longer than the original movie, the creators had time
to delve into the background of the samurai a bit more.
The show is largely character driven and
fleshing out the main characters really goes a long way towards pulling
viewers into the story. The various
heroes all have different reasons for risking their lives for a group
they don't know and getting into their minds elevates the show.
The designs for the show, especially the Nobuseri are
excellent too. They resisted the urge to
model the mecha after every other giant robot show and came up with
original designs that appeared both eerie and effective in battle. The cyborg samurai, Kikuchiyo has a home-made
built-out-of-scraps look that suits the character well and is also
given his lineage.
On the down side, the series extended running time has the
creators filling in the extra time with extraneous plots that end up
the story. The main complaint here is
the subplot involving Ukyo the spoiled son of a nobleman and the whole
about the assassinated emissary. In the
later the ruling governor uses the murder as an excuse to arrest all of
samurai in the city, forcing the main characters to leave and head for
village. The former plot gives the
battle that the samurai are about to undertake a more important role in
make up of the country.
These are things that disappointed me the most. In
Kurosawa's film the samurai were risking
their lives of their own free will for basically nothing.
Win or loose, the battle wouldn't matter at
all in the large scheme of things. That's
what makes the movie so tragic and heroic:
they put themselves in a desperate battle because their code of
says it's the right thing to do. Not
because they are getting paid or to help their country, but because
should. Pushing them out of the city and
making the stakes higher in the battle doesn't make the series more
exciting. Risking your life for God,
country, and your family is understandable.
Going into battle for people who hate and distrust you; that is
Having said all that, the series is a lot of fun. It
still has a lot of the charm of the
original and it's easy to see why so many anime fans love it. Thought there are some flaws (including some
horrid dialog) the series as a good amount of impact and is impressive
visually and from a story-telling point of view. It
doesn't live up to the original, but what
The 26 episodes that make up the series are presented on
three Blu-ray discs. Each disc comes in
its own standard blue case and they in turn are housed in a pressboard
slipcase. Each case sports attractive
wrap-around art on the outside and an episode guide on the inside.
This was one of the first anime TV shows to be created in
high def. It was originally shown in Japan as a pay-per-view series in HD
appeared in the US
in high def on the late, lamented satellite network Animania HD. This is no up-conversion of a 480i/p product
and the 1.78:1 1080p image looks very good.
The lines are tight, the colors are solid and bright and the
nice and inky. Detail is great, with
background details being sharp and well delineated.
The SD DVDs had some minor aliasing but that's not present
in this set. There is some slight
banding in a couple of scenes, but this is fairly rare.
While this presentation does look better than
the DVDs, the difference is not as great as the difference between SD
with a live action film.
The show comes with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks in both the
original Japanese and an English dub. I
watched the dub for an episode and it was fine except that Komachi's
a bit too high pitched and whiney for my tastes. For
some reason little kids on English anime
dubs sound like adults trying to sound like children, rather than real
juveniles, and this series is no exception.
Aside from that both audio tracks were impressive.
The full sound stage was used wonderfully
filling the show with impressive audio moments.
The battle scenes are impressive, with the whole room being
the sounds of war from wounded people screaming to laser blasts and
cutting through metal. The nice thing
about this set is that the audio doesn't revert to a stereo mix after
action is over. A lot of attention goes
into the audio mix in even the more sedate sections.
When the emperor is introduced in one scene,
for example, he appears in front of a long line of soldiers who snap to
attention, one after another, when he appears.
The sound of them clicking their heals together travels from the
the room to the front quickly but effectively.
The bonus items are pretty limited. There's
the standard clean opening and
closing as well as a promotional video and some FUNimation trailers. The only other extra is a commentary track by
the ADR and two actors. I'm not a huge
fan of anime commentary tracks and this one didn't make me re-think my
position. Instead of discussing the
themes of the show and comparing it with the original movie, they spend
the time joking around. Oh well.
This is a good solid anime show. If I had
never seen the original Seven
Samurai, I'm sure I'd be raving about the themes and enticing
story. As it is, this series doesn't live
up to the
original. Some of the added subplots
weaken the main thrust of the show, and there are some anime
clichés that work
their way in that make it difficult to suspend your disbelief. (Jumping up and cleaving a 30 foot tall mecha
in half for example.) Even so, this is a
classic story and told with good animation and a respect for the
original. It's exciting and engrossing and
checking out. Along with a good looking
HD transfer and some impressive sound, this is easy to recommend.
images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not
represent the image quality on the disc.