Samurai 7 Vol. 2
FUNimation is a company that I tend to take an all-or-nothing approach in my support of it. When they do a series right, they can count on me to purchase the most expensive special edition on the first day that it's released. However, I have avoided a lot of series that I would love to buy (Dragonball, Sonic X, Yu-Gi-Oh -- although I started buying the uncut editions of the latter series) because of their sometimes heavy-handed, mass-market approach to editing and translation.
From my perspective, however, they have done far more good than harm with solid releases of Tenchi Muyo: GXP, Fruits Basket, Gunslinger Girl, Burst Angel, and now GONZO's latest masterpiece, Samurai 7.
In obvious acknowledgement of the high level of pre-release anticipation for Samurai 7, FUNimation has produced some truly "special" special editions of the DVDs.
Samurai 7 is a retelling of Akira Kurosawa's classic period piece, The Seven Samurai. I watched the film when I was in high school at the urging of a couple of my best friends, and to my surprise, I was the only one who didn't fall asleep while watching it. Even then, we were all anime fans, but that was most likely the first film that I had ever watched in Japanese, and I loved it.
I cringe whenever I hear that someone has decided to remake anything. I still haven't seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even though I'm a fan of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. I'm not nearly as excited about King Kong as I should be, considering how much I love everything else that Peter Jackson has worked on.
Yet I'm happy to report that GONZO's remake of The Seven Samurai is very much worth watching. While it retains the spirit of the original, this is a new production of a familiar story. Much like the American cowboy classic The Magnificent Seven, the influence is clear, but the end result is a new work that can stand easily on its own legs.
For those unfamiliar with the tale, this is the general scenario. Following a terrible war, the landscape has been devastated, the government has little control over its people, and roving gangs of bandits are terrorizing the populace. Order is established only by the means of displaying power, leaving everyday citizens in a very tough spot as they struggle to produce enough food to feed themselves and those who have the strength to take their crops away from them by force.
GONZO spins the story by setting it in the far future, altering the bandits into gigantic mechanical monstrosities. Luckily for fans of feudal action, the heroes of the tale are still samurai, as the title suggests. However, life has been hard for even the most noble of warriors, for without a war to support their profession, samurai don't serve much of a useful purpose in society. Many have strayed from the code of honor that they formerly followed, using their swords as an implied threat, instead of as a tool for protecting the weak.
One small village is tired of losing their crops and townsfolk to the roving bandits that haunt the countryside. They dispatched a trio of emissaries into the nearby big city in search of samurai who might serve them as their protectors. It is their hope that the samurai will be able to drive off the bandits once and for all.
The second volume of the series finds our trio -- the water priestess Kirara, and her two companions, Rikichi and Komachi -- still in search of the final samurai to attain the target number of seven warriors to defend their village. The samurai are led by Kambei, a powerful veteran of the war who seems to be seeking to regain something that he lost during those terrible years. More is revealed about the world and the characters within, but Samurai 7 remains a slow-moving series in the beginning. The first eight episodes are devoted more to character development and world exploration than to spectacular battle scenes, although when the samurai do fight, it's a treat to see them in motion.
Samurai 7 has some very high production values, and it glistens as one of GONZO's flagship products. CG is used to wonderful effect throughout the show. The animators have not allowed the use of computer effects to diminish the realism of the grimy techno-organic nature of the story's world.
Character designs are not exactly standard; it seems as if a lot of thought went into rendering each of the samurai in particular. This is a good looking show, whether it's in motion or stationary, but that's to be expected, seeing as it's coming from GONZO.
The audio in the series is excellent, as well. The 5.1-channel surround sound -- both in Japanese and English – is put to good use throughout the series. It's always nice to put my sound system through a workout, and with anime, it's a rare event for me as a guy who prefers hearing shows in Japanese. From the sound effects to the taiko-driven music of Kaoru Wada and Eitetsu Hayashi, the aural standards are just as impressive as the accompanying visual components.
There aren't many extras on the DVD except for the usual assortment of textless opening and closing sequences, and some character profiles. However, the DVD comes with a thirty-two page booklet, filled with artwork and interviews with the cast of the show. The deluxe edition comes in a beautiful box that holds one DVD and four (FOUR!) books, representing the storyboards for the episodes on the disc. The books are left completely untranslated, but for rabid collectors, this is the edition to get.
Although the episodes feel way too short, and the pace of the series isn't as fast as past GONZO productions, there is a lot of meat to Samurai 7. It's an excellent genre-bending series, based on one of the most influential Japanese movies of all time. With the show's pedigree, it's really hard to go wrong -- even if it is a remake.