Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is an extremely influential piece. It has spawned hundreds of other works. Some, like the Magnificent Seven are practically the same movie, transposed to a different time and place. Others like Oceans Eleven and the Three Amigos are send-ups or riffs on its structure. So when I first heard that an anime series had been made based on Seven Samurai my head filled with questions. How faithful would this be? How can you take an two-hour-long film and stretch it over twenty-something episodes? These were all intriguing questions. Of course as you can see from the date of this article, not so intriguing to cause me to drop everything and go watch it, but alas Netflix instant watch makes connoisseurs of us all.
Oh yeah, at this point I’d also like to point out that the only version available to me was the dubbed version. So if there were any major changes from the Japanese language version I’m not aware of them.
Ostrichturtle And The Robot
Samurai 7 takes place in a country that is in the process of recovering from a major war. There are hundreds of unemployed samurai, some of them become yojimbos to wealthy merchants, others become bandits. This is all pretty close to the original movie, except, of course for the alien fauna, cyborg brigands and giant robots. Which sounds exciting, except for the fact that, at this point, at least to me, this is a pretty standard setting. Sure, one of the seven samurai is a robot, sure, the antagonist samurai became giant sentient mecha during the war, sure, there’s actual magic in the world, but in the end it all comes across as a fairly vanilla steam-punk sundae.
That One Has Goggles
I was excited when I first saw the cover for the show, since, standing in the group shot was what I assumed to be two girls. “That’s cool,” I thought, “I wonder how the story will change when two of the samurai are actually women, this will probably bring a new oh, those are dudes, aren’t they? I forgot this came from Japan for a second.”
Pretty, pretty boys aside, I like the design of the characters, largely because their bodies and faces are different from each other, as opposed to being identical paper dolls with different hair styles and clothes. The characters’ personalities clearly show through their design. Which is good, because it’s their personalities that drive the whole piece. Eager samurai is eager, old samurai is tired, robot samurai is loud and sullen samurai is sullen.
Follows The Plot… Slowly
The plot of the series is largely that of the movie; peasants beset by bandits send someone to the city to find Samurai to protect them. They find an old samurai who then helps them recruit the rest, finally leading to a major confrontation with the bandits. Except that rather than skipping the days in-between finding samurai, the series has the protagonists get themselves in and out of trouble in the big city. Sometimes the process is somewhat painful as characters that we know are destined to join the group come in, leave, change their mind, and come back over the span of a dozen episodes. Over the first five episodes a lot of characters are introduced, fortunately every character is so visually distinctive that it’s not too hard to remember who’s who.
As I said before, the series follows (at its own leisurely pace) the plot of the movie, so you can imagine my surprise when, after fifteen episodes (or so) the good guys defeat the bad guys, the farmers go back to their lives, Old samurai muses on the nature of war, the young romantic protagonists exchange meaningful glances, the screen fades to black and Netflix asks, “Do you want to watch the next episode?”
Yes, it keeps going, into a third act that is most definitely not in the movie. Old enemies return, weird plot threads are tied up, heart-wrenching secrets are revealed and the viewer might ask himself, “Why did I sit through a dozen episodes to finally get to the story the writers clearly wanted to tell?” At least I did.
All around, Samurai 7 was not a bad experience. I am not the sort of person who will sit through an entire series that doesn’t deliver (I’m looking at you Witchblade Anime), so the fact that I watched it all the way through at least means it is entertaining on a basic level. If you like ensemble pieces this may be something you like, if you’re looking to get into Anime, this might be a good place to start, since it’s pretty accessible.
Samurai 7 gets three stars from me, although I’m sure the subbed version would be at least 1/16th of a star higher.