In the first instalment of Samurai 7 we saw priestess Kirara begin to gather together the seven samurai needed to defend her village from the Nobuseri bandits, but with only two samurai and two aspiring samurai having signed up by the end of the disc, it was clear that there would be some way to go yet. This time around, Kirara and the others are still trying to use their dwindling supplies of rice to tempt more samurai to their cause, but unfortunately, they are only able to engage the services of one more man before matters take a turn for the worse.
The Imperial Envoy has been found dead with a bloody katana by his body, and in an effort to find the culprit, the magistrate decides to arrest every samurai in town. Naturally, this doesn’t bode well for Kambe and the others, who must not only pull off a daring escape from their pursuers, but begin a dangerous journey back to Kirara’s village.
Following an episode in keeping with the “search for the seven’ ethic of the first volume, Samurai 7 #2 offers a change in direction with a story that sees our heroes go on the run and visit a few new locales. However, even a change in scenery can’t disguise the fact that the series continues to lack the emotional depth and development needed to really engage the viewer and make them care about this world and its characters.
Whilst the advanced technology of this world is undoubtedly important to the plot, it doesn’t always feel particularly well integrated or necessary to the otherwise period setting, with mecha seemingly appearing from time to time just to show off Gonzo’s CG skills. Core story elements such as the struggles of the land bound peasants under the technologically superior bandits seem to owe as much to earlier Gonzo series Last Exile as they do to the original Seven Samurai film, and feel rather derivative as a result. That being said, however, there are certainly a few interesting concepts thrown into the story- take, for example, the Shikimori, an inscrutable people who feed on sap, trade power cells and seem to spend most of the time suspended from the ceiling of their underground homes.
Although the swordfights are relatively brief this time around, there are a couple of more extended action sequences in these episodes, including the team’s fast-paced downhill escape from the pursuing officials sent to arrest them. Unfortunately, the complexity of these scenes works against them- with so many different elements to follow, it can be hard to get a clear picture of what is actually supposed to be happening.
This instalment sees a couple of new additions to the cast in the form of Heihachi, a young samurai with a love of rice and a knack for all things mechanical, and Shichiroji, a former comrade of Kambe who wanted to walk away from a life of fighting, but predictably gets drawn into the thick of things. Even with these extra characters, however, the cast remains on the bland and two-dimensional side; admittedly there a few scenes dedicated to character development and insights, but the emotion in these scenes feels a bit too insipid to be effective. So far, the only character that stands out is the hotheaded mechanical samurai Kikuchiyo- despite the fact that his blundering incompetence unfailingly causes trouble for the others, it is hard not to crack a smile at his straightforward manner and unending supply of enthusiasm.
Surprisingly for a Gonzo series, the animation is somewhat inconsistent this time around, with episode seven in particular having simplistic and low quality visuals. Fortunately, the rest of the animation is solid enough, and, as before, the same can be said of the period-style soundtrack.
By all rights, Samurai 7 should be an engaging story, but somewhere along the line a lot of the life seems to have been sucked out of this classic tale. What remains is a reasonably entertaining set of episodes, but as with the first volume, the series continues to lack the depth required to get viewers more than superficially involved in the adventures of Kirara, Kambe and their comrades.