Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
After going out and getting remade as a mecha-saturated anime, The Seven Samurai accidentally wanders onto the printed page. Once there, spunky wannabe-samurai Katsushiro becomes the main character, bumbling about trying to gather skilled warriors for rural cutie Kirara, a priestess in search of folks to help protect her hometown from bandits. With the assistance of Kirara's special purity-of-soul-detecting stone, Katsushiro eventually tracks down Kanbei, a grizzled veteran who agrees to organize the defense of the village—provided he can gather six more samurai.
The worst part of Gonzo's animated remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic samurai drama wasn't the things it added (giant robots and spaceship-slicing samurai) or the things it removed (Kurosawa's dark humor), but rather those it faithfully preserved. Watching an animated cyborg spouting Toshiro Mifune's famous “sneaky peasants” speech in particular was a low-water mark. It took everything that Kurosawa and Mifune had to make that speech work; did anyone really think that a cartoon robot could pull it off? Now comes Mizutaka Suhou's manga-ization of the Gonzo series. Happily, the manga hasn't a faithful bone in its body. Unhappily, that's all there is to be happy about.
Pretty much the only truly nice thing that can be said about the Samurai 7 manga is that it has a sense of humor. It isn't a very good sense of humor, and isn't always intentional, but it's more than the dreary-serious anime had. Most of it stems from Katsushiro, whose personality has been so revamped that he's hardly recognizable. Even the revelation of his “big secret” is accompanied by an amusing sight gag (the world's most embarrassing mug shot). Thanks to his bungling, Katsushiro almost comes across as likable. Those who had less humorous personality rewrites are far less fortunate: there was no reason to make Kikuchiyo a mysterious ancient cyborg warrior, Kirara's passivity carries her to brain-deadening heights of blandness, and the remainder of the cast might as well be sword-wielding mannequins for all the personality they muster.
Mizutaka may be no great talent when it comes to story-writing, but he's helped along by Kurosawa's skillful plotting (or what remains of it) and the simple but compelling premise. Some of his adjustments—particularly all of that heart-detecting pendant stupidity—are pretty lame, but, hindered by the lingering effects of Kurosawa's brilliance, he has to save the truly awful material for the art. Not that his art is ugly—though it is inconsistent and awkward, particularly where human joints and movement are concerned. His younger characters have a certain potato-faced charm, the older samurai manage a moderate level of sex appeal, and the background art (when it is drawn, which isn't often) is passable. However, Mizutaka is also saddled with visual instincts so laughably bad that they easily eclipse any technical skill he possesses. The action is stiff and flows poorly enough to make rereading a virtue, but it's the attempts at coolness that really gum up the works. To begin with, no action series should star a man who looks like Jesus (as Kanbei does—uncannily so). Cutting spaceships in half can be plenty cool, but not when Jesus is doing the slicing. “Once we destroy all the cannons in front, get off the ship and wait for my signal,” says Jesus. “We'll sink this ship!” That isn't cool; that's hilarious. And even if you can take Action Jesus at face value, there's still Mizutaka's habit of pushing the visuals needlessly over-the-top to contend with. The final chapter features a “way of the samurai” speech by Jesu—er, Kanbei that concludes with him posing dramatically in front of a rising sun (complete with symmetrical WWII-era rays). Thank you Mizutaka, hit me over the head with that one again.
There's a reason Del Rey's manga cost a smidge more than your average comic. The book is solid, with good paper and nary a blurry line, and there are five pages of helpful cultural notes in the back. True, the front cover is boring and the back-of-the-book synopsis overripe, but nobody's perfect, and frankly, given the quality of the manga within, the lack of enthusiasm is understandable.
Overall : C-
Story : C
Art : C-
+ Humorous enough to make its blockheaded adjustments to the original a little more palatable.
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