Reviewby Sean Broestl, Sep 19th 2005
In this remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai, a group of villagers decide they've had enough of rule by bandits. They decide to rebel, and look to hire a disenfranchised samurai from the great war to help them. The one samurai they hire turns out to be a great tactician, among other things, and decides they need a total of seven samurai to defend the village, and the search for the others begins.
Wrapped in a brooding, stylized cover, Samurai 7 screams hard-boiled samurai action. But beneath the cool exterior is a show that is trying hard to conceal the fact that it knows how to smile, even laugh at times. To the uninitiated, Samurai 7 may end up being this year's surprise title. Not because the quality is any kind of surprise, but because the show is more multifaceted than it lets on.
The samurai and Japanese swashbuckling genre has been kind of lacking lately, with re-releases of Rurouni Kenshin being the biggest title out there. Samurai 7 probably isn't the title to fill Kenshin's shoes though. Instead, Samurai 7 takes a decidedly different angle from many other shows, forgoing Japan's medieval era entirely to portray samurai in a futuristic setting. If it had to be described, it's like steampunk meets space opera meets medieval Japan. And it meshes a lot better than you'd originally think. In one of the cooler uses of this mix, The show opens with one of the protagonists, Kambei, leaping from a small space cruiser to slice a destroyer in half—very cool. It'll probably be present in every Samurai 7 AMV from now on, so watch for it.
Samurai 7's setting makes it a good deal easier to include the show's rather motley collection of characters—everything from ragged Samurai to goofily dressed peasants to painted merchants; this colorful crowd is blessed with great character designs. All of the characters introduced so far have been wonderfully distinct; none of the samurai introduced so far really resemble each other in any way. Each has their own styles of sword fighting and clothing. The amount of care that has gone into making each character stand out from the rest is much appreciated, especially when it's so obvious that the cast is going to get larger after this volume.
Animation in Samurai 7 seems slightly above average for a 26 episode show. However, the animation is so clean, it has trouble meshing with the backgrounds. At times, the animation resembles a bad mix of 2D and 3D. One fight in particular at the end of episode four was particularly jarring, as Kambei and Kyuzo almost look like they're floating above the background. Oddly enough, the opening fight scene meshed better, despite featuring lots of 3D-animated ships.
FUNimation really went an extra mile with the packaging for this title. Kambei's dark grey silhouette on a red background looks different from anything else on the shelf and has a lot of visual bang to it. Inside, as with Fullmetal Alchemist, the trend of including a nice booklet of extra production material continues. In this case, the there's a thick book of production drawings accompanied by a tale from Samurai 7's backstory.
At this point, Samurai 7's backstory actually seems more interesting than the current story thread. The viewer is thrown into the aftermath of an epic war, one where the samurai lost their control of the era. An exciting, yet fleeting, glimpse of that war is offered at the beginning of the show, but after that it's fast forward to the present day. And the present day is rather boring. While the idea of hunting for brave samurai who will do your dirty work for peanuts sounds like it could be interesting, it's just... not. The pace becomes very slow while new plot points emerge. What's here is good, though, the presentation of it is just lacking right now. For instance, there is way too much time spent on interviewing samurai who ultimately don't matter. The flamboyant dress styles of the main samurai remove much of the guesswork that might keep the plot more engaging. On the flip side though, this slow-moving portion does allow the show to try to show its humorous side in the form of Kikuchiyo, the mechanized Samurai. Emphasis on "try," as most of the time, it's sudden, slapstick, and doesn't flow well. Not to mention it all gets enacted by the big lumbering “dumb” guy.
Finally, one can't really get away from this review without saying something about the show's connection to Akira Kurosawa's classic film, Seven Samurai. There appear to be few variations between the plotline of the anime and the source material so far. Those who have already seen the original movie may already be spoiled. Not to say the show isn't worth watching though, as it carries its own unique style.
Samurai 7 exudes high production values and is a worthy retelling of Kurosawa's original story. Coming in expecting a slash-up-em action show may find themselves disappointed, but stick around for something more worthwhile. Those who have put off seeing the original would do well to give Samurai 7 a look, so as to experience the classic in some form. Everyone else will probably enjoy the refresher course and update to the classic's environment.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B-
+ Great story looks to be faithful to original work, excellent costume design.
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