Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anime Review: Samurai 7


 

Samurai 7 is a bizarre and probably superfluous anime remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1954 film Seven Samurai aka Shichinin no Samurai.  I say “bizarre” because rather than just making an animated version of the film the creators instead decided to throw in cyborgs, giant robots and airships into the mix.  Why?  Hell if I know, but really if we can add zombies and sea monsters to classic literature we might as well turn a classic movie into a mecha anime.   Of course the titular samurai still basically just use swords so pretty much for 26 episodes we have seven dudes killing the hell out of massive technologically advanced adversaries with nothing but katanas.  So probably this is the most realistic anime I’ve ever reviewed.  Released in 2004 by Studio GONZO it was brought to North America by FUNimation Entertainment in 2006.  Oddly this anime was recommended to me by my father who doesn’t agree with me on anything.  Our entire way of thinking is reversed and as a result we have opposite opinions when it comes to everything but especially fiction.  Specifically he told me he loved this anime but I was suspicious of the fact that he blatantly said he stopped watching around episode 18 because the theme of the show “changed too much”.  Before that he said how “action packed” it was or whatever.  So I was of two minds here: on the one hand anything my dad seems to like is usually the most inane plot-less drivel imaginable but he seemed to have given the show up after awhile, probably when the plot kicked in, which intrigued me.  So I checked it out.
Not Pictured: A satisfying sub-plot
Full disclosure: I hadn’t watched the original film before I saw this show and even now I haven’t finished it (Due to many, many boring reasons).  Just take that in mind as you read this review.
In the years following a great war the peasant village of Kanna is constantly under siege by the Nobuseri, a group of samurai who have turned themselves into giant robotic douche bags and subsequently become rice stealing bandits.  Afraid of yet another season of having barely any rice for themselves the villagers decide to send their water priestess Kirara and a few others to the city to hire samurai noble and/or hungry enough to protect their homes with payment of only rice.  Though she and her group have trouble at first they do come across a few possible, yet suspicious, prospects: Katsushiro, a very willing but very inexperienced samurai, Kikuchiyo, a loud-mouthed cyborg who’s claim to being  samurai is dubious at best, and Kambei, an old samurai who has lost every battle he’s been involved in.  They might be screwed, but luckily this is just the beginning a much larger story…
A better show would be called Robots VS. Samurai
Speaking of the story as I understand it much of it is taken directly from the original film, including some of the classic lines, but in addition to the science fiction aspects thrown in it appears that the narrative is greatly expanded upon.  For example it takes much longer for the villagers to recruit the seven and thus allows for greater character development of the cast early on (In theory anyway).  This is the least a show like this should be doing when being based on a movie.  When this was suggested to me I was warned that I’d have to sit through the “boring stuff before the great action scenes.”  In truth I liked what the show did; it combined the admittedly large amount of standing around talking with a lot of action packed sequences.  For the most part I thought everything moved at exactly the right pace.   Also the supposed “theme shift” that occurred?  That was just an incorrect interpretation.  If you’ve ever watched an anime before you shouldn’t be too disturbed or upset by what happens.  I guess if you’re the type of person who is under the impression that all cartoons are for children you might lose your mind at that point, but if you read my blog you’re likely not that guy so don’t worry about it.   Really the plot starts getting a bit heavier and complex, but it’s nothing that should isolate anyone…nor is it anything special now that I think about it.
The action scenes are pretty good.  The main thing is of course the utter ridiculousness of guys cutting through robots three times their own size with a sword but honestly I kind of like the ludicrous nature of it all because of how straight they play it.  At some point they start deflecting GIANT LASER BEAMS with their swords because that’s how badass they are.  No one ever says “Holy crap that is scientifically impossible!”  Hell no, they just take it with a grain of salt.  This is the “Rule of Cool” and I can b pretty forgiving when its in effect.  So long as the animation kept up the fights scenes were great.
But they flub up a bit with the characters.  First of all though the seven samurai are all interesting fellows with varied personalities quirks, and agendas I felt it doesn’t go far enough.  I didn’t feel all that invested in any of the characters above a superficial level.  This is really strange since one would assume that a TV show adaptation of a film would go deeper than this show bothers doing.   Plus there were a few characters that I actively hated.  Kirara seems to be the central character here but she pretty much does nothing useful the entire series.  Plus the writers thought it be dramatic to shoehorn a very insincere feeling romantic subplot/love triangle that ultimately goes nowhere…even more nowhere than anime ronmances normally go, if that makes any sense.  Also her little sister Komachi is the embodiment of annoying kid sidekick.  She sure is no Kotaro from Black Blood Brothers, that’s for sure.
They all can't be winners...
As it is t the cast feels very average with little to sway me otherwise.  The villain of this series is pretty good though as he had me utterly convinced that he was just some unimportant minor antagonist only to slowly be revealed to be a diabolically intelligent chess master.  Plus his back story causes his worldview to actually make sense, making him one of the better villains of these reviews (I’ve chosen not to say exactly who the villain is since I found it to be one of the show’s few highlights.  Check the show out to see for yourself).
The animation was usually solid but dips in quality here and there and sometimes to maddening levels.  I’m starting to think that this just might be how amine is.  I’m guessing that the budget they get to makes shows just isn’t large enough to have a crisp animation for 26 episodes straight.  I’m starting to wonder if the thirteen episode series format isn’t inherently superior, seeing as Black Blood Brothers avoided this problem.  Still when the budget is at work this is a pretty good looking cartoon.   The character designs were often insane, but for the seven samurai I thought it worked to give them each unique look to both each other and the rest of the world. However the villagers, especially the ones from Kanna village, all look like dorks and jackasses.  Matching blue uniforms?  Really?  You guys look like you all attend the same terrible private school.   I can’t imagine those outfits are very practical when you’re in the damn dirt all day fiddling with rice.  Also Ukyo looks more like a gay clown than anything else.  Sorry if that wasn’t PC enough for you.
He's like the cousin Ronald McDonald doesn't like talking about
Also for Christ sakes why the hell did the anime have so many freaking bookend recaps?  At the end of every single episode it recaps the episode WE JUST SAW!  As if in the minute and a half it took to play the credits I had forgotten what just went down the annoying Komachi shows up and goes over it again.  This would have made more sense if she instead did something similar at  the beginning of each episode when it would have been a week since they last installment (For the original broadcast I mean).  Oh and in case you were wondering the episodes also started with a recap!  So it goes Theme Song-Recap-Episode-Credits-Recap.  At least it’s not the “Flash Back Every Five Minutes” I see all the time in the fighting shonen series.
I think I may not have a whole lot to say about the show.  It was good, but there really wasn’t anything extraordinary about it.  Like I said I haven’t finished watching the original movie so it’s hard to say how worthy a translation this ended up being but it does seem to be very unnecessary.  To be fair though that can be said of just about every sequel or remake in history.  Still I enjoyed this show, even if it’s not the best one I’ve ever seen.  Most of it is pretty good with a few problems here or there.  It’s a likable but average series.  I recommend checking out if you like samurai, mecha, rice but especially if you like all three.  To everyone else you’ll probably need to judge for yourselves.
Seven really is a magnificent number
I give Samurai 7 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
Pros
-Decent action AND decent plotting
-Interesting villain
-I DIG GIANT ROBOTS
Cons
-Main characters not as developed as you’d think they’d be
-Character designs a bit distracting
-The animation sometime makes me want to scream in rage
-Too many recaps!

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