Anime: Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai 7: Disc One

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imageIf you have never Akira Kurosawa’s classic film, Seven Samurai, go rent it, buy it, borrow it, whatever you need to do, and watch it. It has been widely acclaimed for five decades now, and continues to be considered a milestone in cinema history. The premise is simple: Peasant villages are ransacked by bandits, and the only way to fight back is to hire samurai to fight for them.

I am ashamed to say that until recently, I had never seen Kurosawa’s original. I thought it only fair to watch that before I tried to review its Anime counterpart. I must say, I have never been more impressed. The original film was phenomenal, and strangely, the anime is not far behind. To remake a movie of such historical significance is a massive undertaking, and having seen it, I can’t imagine it being done any differently, much less better. The reverence for Kurosawa’s original vision is clear from the very beginning of the series. The first scene, with the town meeting discussing the bandit problem, is taken directly from Kurosawa’s film. Not just the scene, but whole sections of dialogue. Though this strict adherence to the original can’t be kept up because of differences in setting, and some slight story changes, it still serves as a great reminder that you are not just watching anime. You are watching a tribute to one of the great movies of history.

Okay, so now I’ve ranted on about Kurosawa’s original, I’ve touted the homage to the original from scene one, but I haven’t touched the changes that have been made. This anime is not based in feudal Japan in the 1500’s as was the film. The anime takes a futuristic approach, where many samurai have fused themselves with giant machines making them living weapons. These are the Nobusari, the bandits who have taken to pillaging the towns in the countryside. There is also a new character introduced that is absent from the film, the Water Priestess of the town, Kirara. She will serve as the focus of much of the series as she uses her divination powers to locate noble samurai.

imageEpisode 01: The Master
The water priestess, Kirara, along with her sister Komachi and townsman, Rikichi, head to the city to find four samurai to defend the town, by order of the town elder. They encounter trouble from the first as their rice is stolen, but they must persevere and find samurai to defend their town.

Episode 02: The Pupil
Kirara’s Crystal has pointed to the samurai for whom they are searching, but he is aloof as ronin tend to be, and will not commit to their cause. They have a willing samurai, but Katsushiro lacks the experience of the chosen Ronin. Kirara finds herself in trouble as the son of the Magistrate kidnaps her for his collection.

Episode 03: The Entertainer
In their roamings through the city, another soft-hearted samurai is found. This samurai is unorthodox, however, using his combat skills as an entertainer to make his way in the world. He is captivated by Kambei, and offers to join the villager’s cause.

Episode 04: The Loner
The eye of the magistrate has fallen on the group, and the samurai must fight off the magistrate’s assassins while they continue their search for other talent. Kambei encounters a samurai of surprising talent who is in the service of the magistrate. His skills are unmatched, even by Kambei himself, who knows that this is a samurai that the village is sure to need.

If you didn’t get my point earlier on, I’ll make it again. This anime is true to the movie in virtually every way. Nothing to this point has been omitted, and everything that is unique to the series is done masterfully and in the same vein as the original. The samurai characters are all the same as the movie, from the loud-mouthed Kikuchiyo, to the quiet brooding Kambei. Even Katsushiro’s apprenticeship, which consisted mainly of testing samurai by trying to hit them in the head with a stick, has been modeled perfectly.

imageTechnical: 9.5
I haven’t had to mention it so far, but part and parcel to doing a true-to-the-original remake of anything is having higher quality audio, visual, and production. Samurai 7 has done this splendidly, with a fabulous soundtrack, probably worth owning in it’s own right. The animation is sharp, the action is swift but clear, and the cg models are stunning.

Entertainment: 10
This series is profoundly entertaining in every way. It lives up to it’s predecessor, which in itself is a stellar accomplishment. It adds new aspects, characters, and plotlines without inhibiting the progression of the main story elements. It grabs you, sucks you in, and won’t even think of letting go.

Overall: 9.5

I still have some personal misgivings about rating anything a 10 overall, so I won’t. But know that it’s not for lack of wanting. This series exceeded my highest expectations. It is as powerful as Kurosawa’s classic film, but it’s been ported to modern audiences and allowed to grow beyond it’s original enormity into what could be *the* great epic anime series.

Features:
As if the show weren’t enough, the DVD is accompanied by a very detailed art book, with character sketches, environment sketches, and more importantly, a ballad-esque poem highlighting the story.

Episodes:
The Master, The Pupil, The Entertainer, The Loner

Extras:
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Widescreen 16:9, Promotional Video, Textless Opening and Closing Songs, Character Profiles

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