Pretentiousness aside, Akira Kurosawa is genuinely one of my favorite film directors. My education in Japanese cinema began purely because of him, in fact, as the very first foreign film I ever owned was one of his legendary movies. Back when the Museum of Modern Art in NY was briefly renovating itself and moved to a temporary location, I went there on a class trip. Browsing in the gift shop, I ran into a double-VHS set (remember tapes?) of 1954’s “Seven Samurai.” Being into samurai thanks to my love of anime, and curious about international film, I pleaded with my parents to pay the $34.95 for it so I could own it.
I was enamored with all three plus hours of it, and my love story with Kurosawa and international films begin. Fast forward to 2012 when I finally got my hands on “Samurai 7”, an anime adaptation of this movie from 2004, now released by Funimation. Broken up into a 26 episode series, “Samurai 7” takes the prolific film by Akira Kurosawa, and does not modernize it or throw it into a “neo-tokyo” environment. Rather, it absorbs the story into this new world and tosses in a few curve balls and creates a new tale. Think of it is an oral story that gets passed on to a new generation, and with each new story teller, the tale changes to fit the times.
Sometime in the future, after a great civil war that pit man against machine, a peasant village is being terrorized by a group of ruthless mechanical bandits. The bandits are becoming worse each year, and the hamlet decides that they must fight back. So, with the help of local farmer Rikichi, divinist Korara, and her sister Koracha, the group heads to the city to seek a samurai to fight for them. Needless to say, their lone warrior turns into a group of seven, but how this band of ronin meet and join forces is just the beginning of a long and epic story.
While the story itself starts out very much the same as “Seven Samurai”, it is not long before the first major plot changes happens, that being the addition of a female character, a priestess named Kirara, to help search for the samurai. In the original film, there are no heroic leads for any ladies. Their sparse roles were only that of beautiful villagers to add a romantic sub-plot to the film. Kirara is the strong female character in the group, joined by her little sister Koracha.
The animation is what you would expect for a series, about on par with Trigun if I had to compare it to anything. There is some CG to create the giant robot samurais that are the bandits, and I must admit that it ages gracefully and does not feel out of place. Each of the seven samurai has a unique look that fits their personality and fighting style, with some clever choices made in the aesthetics of each one.
Does a viewer need to have seen the original film it is based on to appreciate it? Not at all, as any anime fan can leap right into this series without knowing a lick about Kurosawa and completely enjoy the series from start to finish. Having seen the film it is based on adds some depth to my enjoyment, but it is definitely not necessary. Being a 26 episode series, many liberties were taken from the original source, namely in the quantity of battles that occur. In the original film, the second half of the movie is one huge fight, while here, action is interspersed in each episode. There is also a subplot exclusive to this series about class warfare, as merchants play a key part in this samurai vs bandits fight.
Special features from the Viridian set include textless opening and closing credits so you can enjoy the songs like music videos, promotional video hyping the series, image galleries, and character profiles. Furthermore, the series is presented in 16:9 widescreen as opposed to letterbox (since this has aired on standard definition TV a few years back on the IFC channel).
I highly recommend this series. Action-packed, funny, and great pacing make this a must-see DVD set. The original “Seven Samurai” is tough for many home audiences to sit through since it is so long, and this series is much longer thanks to being chopped up into 26 episodes. Thanks to some brilliant pacing and writing, you will keep coming back to watch more, and if you are like me, will try to get through the entire thing in one day. Not because you want to rush through it, but because you will want to see how it ends.
You can order Samurai 7: Box Set (Viridian Collection) from Amazon.com for around $45 new, which comes out to around $1.75 per episode. That is a price that can not be beat for an anime series that truly stands out among the competition. “Samurai 7” is a familiar epic from cinema that has been innovated for today’s discerning anime fan, and both will surely stand the test of time.