War, Peace, and Honor in Between
Journey with hired swordsman as they seek peace in the chaotic world of Samurai 7.
Every anime fan has an image in his or her mind of what a samurai is, and how a samurai should behave. A true samurai pays heed to honor and obligation, living by the guidelines inherent within Bushido, the way of the warrior.
Samurai are dedicated to their lord or master, serving to accomplish the goals of their superiors or to die in the attempt to do so. Yet there is a chivalrous side to samurai as well. They are more than just warriors; samurai have a reputation for upholding justice in high regard. When they have the opportunity, samurai protect the weak, defend the infirm, and they can be depended upon to speak truthfully in all matters.
Any person who diverges from this path is no true samurai, but rather a hired thug or bully.
Samurai 7 is set in the aftermath of a great and terrible war. It is not clear who won exactly, but the battles that were fought were destructive enough to damage vast tracts of farmland, creating a widespread famine following the war's end.
Former warriors that once fought for a cause found themselves suddenly without masters and without homes. Some of them were reduced to beggars, while the less noble turned to banditry, stealing food from helpless farmers. Packs of thieves joined together to harass small farming villages near times of harvest, and the unarmed townsfolk, powerless against experienced fighters, were forced to give up life-sustaining rice and grains in order to appease the bandits.
One village, however, has had enough. No longer willing to lose their own people to starvation or to the ruthlessness of the bandits, they decide to hire seven samurai to defend their village and scare the bandits away forever. In order to recruit these saviors, the town's brave young water priestess, Kirara heads into the city with two companions and some rice as bargaining collateral.
What the rural folk don't realize, however, is that there are dangers in the city just as great as those out in the fields. Also, Kirara's idea of a samurai, of a warrior possessing traits similar to those mentioned above, limits her to the few people who actually live up to that description. Even if she finds someone that she can trust to do his best to protect them, she has no way to judge their skills until the lives of her villagers are placed in his hands. The town is desperate, however, and she has no choice but to find whoever is willing to help, regardless of ability.
Fans of cinema should know that this is not the first time that Akira Kurosawa's classic story, The Seven Samurai has been retold. The other most notable remake is the excellent western, The Magnificent Seven. GONZO’s anime is the most recent attempt at repackaging this epic into something in a more modern setting than the original film. Thanks to its timeless story, a focus on strong, fully realized characters, and the limitless appeal of an underdog taking on a much larger force, it is likely that this won't be the last time that we'll hear this tale.
In GONZO's vision of the story, there are many similarities to the original. First of all, the characters speak Japanese (well, if you listen to the subtitled track, at least). More than that, swords and other traditional arms are the weapon of choice for samurai. Additionally, rice is still the main point of contention in the story. The villagers need it to survive, and their decision to hire samurai is not so much out of revenge as it is a necessity for survival.
The world of Samurai 7 bears much resemblance to Kurosawa's representation of feudal Japan, but then, there are also some striking differences.
For one, there are cyborgs in this world. In fact, the bandits themselves are gigantic mechanical beasts -- once men of flesh and blood -- that lost their human souls in the war. As the battles ravaged on, warriors would upgrade their bodies, either out of necessity or desire, in order to keep on fighting. Soon, all that was left was the instinct to fight, and the need for huge quantities of food to power their massive frames.
Whatever government that succeeded in winning the war -- if there ever was a victor -- was in no shape to do anything about these roaming monstrosities, and people outside of the protection of large cities were essentially left to fend for themselves.
In addition to the cyber-bandits, there are giant airborne battleships, weapons that are more technology-based than the traditional version that they are modeled after, and other subtle sci-fi touches. It is quite satisfying to watch a show that presents some of the best stylistic elements of Kurosawa films, Star Wars, and anime in general, all in one slick package.
Much of the story focuses on the choosing of the samurai. The careful method in which each one is introduced to the audience helps to delineate their unique personalities even more. All of the requisite archetypes are contained within, including the fallen leader, the lone wolf, the headstrong cybernetic powerhouse, the apprentice, the trickster, and more. There are enough interesting characters in Samurai 7 for each one to have his own show -- and a good one, at that.
It's not easy to tell an old story in a new way and keep people interested, but if anyone can pull something like this off, it's GONZO. They have proven time and again that they are an imaginative bunch, and the source material for Samurai 7 is hard to beat. While the series most likely will move as slowly as the original movie did at times, this is a very promising version of a classic tale.