Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Samurai 7 transports the classic story to a world where mecha and advanced machinery exist alongside the more traditional elements of period Japan. In the aftermath of a great war, numerous villages find themselves repeatedly terrorised by the Nobuseri- former samurai who have integrated themselves with machines and turned to a life of banditry. The Nobuseri help themselves to everything from the rice harvest to the villages’ women, and finally, one village decides that enough is enough.
Having decided that they must mount an opposition before the next harvest, the villagers vow to use their stores of rice to hire samurai strong enough to aid their cause. Their best hope of finding them lies with Kirara, the priestess of the village, who offers to travel to the city and use her powers of divination to track down the help they need. Unfortunately, amongst the dangers and complications of city life, locating these men will be far from easy, and engaging their services may just prove near impossible.
Given the premise of the series and the title of this volume (“Search for the Seven’), it won’t be too surprising to learn that setup is the name of the game in this first instalment. It seems that any major plotlines won’t be getting fully underway until later- the point of these episodes is simply to start introducing the titular “samurai seven”. Unfortunately, this means that while these episodes do offer a reasonably entertaining mix of comedy, drama and action, so far none of it is particularly deep or engaging.
Much the same can be said of the cast members we’ve met so far- characters such as Kambe, an amazingly powerful samurai with a troubled past; Katsushiro, a younger warrior desperate to prove himself, or Kikuchiyo, a hot-headed mechanical samurai, all fit into established moulds. There’s been little in the way of development for the leads so far, and with further characters still to be introduced, it doesn’t look like there’ll be time to focus too closely on any of them just yet.
The abundance of samurai does mean that the series isn’t short on action, however, and despite the inclusion of mecha in the series, most of what we see here relies on more traditional hand-to-hand and sword-based combat. There are more than a few impressive stunts on offer, from Kambe’s daring rescue of Kirara whilst in free fall, to an impressive samurai duel towards the end of the disc, and even a “bullet time’ inspired moment in which samurai Gorobe deftly catches no fewer than five projectiles. Unfortunately, the action tries a little too hard to maintain a fast and furious pace, resulting in some scenes which are either over too quickly or simply have too much going on to follow.
In what may be an attempt to impart a grittier and more realistic feel, the series isn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as the average Gonzo effort, with several key character designs in particular coming off as a little bland and uninspired. The soundtrack has a distinct period Japanese feel- slower paced drum and flute-based music are used for establishing shots, whilst the action scenes are well complemented with some faster numbers.
A tried-and-tested storyline that has proven popular in its many incarnations may sound like a solid foundation on which to build a series, but if this first volume is anything to go by, then Samurai 7 is going to take a while to warm up to its full potential. The goal of this first instalment seems to be little more than simply getting the key players onscreen, and while the events included here are entertaining enough, the series will need to come up with a bit more depth and development if it hopes to provide a worthwhile outing.