Based on the Japanese cinema classic by director Akira Kurosawa of the same name, Samurai Seven is a retelling of the famous story of a group of samurai hired to protect a poor village from the bandits holding it at ransom for more than they can afford.
In this remake, however, the bandits are actually the infused cells of their former selves in monstrous, biomechanical giants, resembling the mecha of other anime. Moving as a vast army through the skies – individually, or in their leviathan ships and floating Japanese castles – the bandits command the power to terrorise any village they might choose, ordering its people to give up their wealth and crops, or be ruined.
There’s a distinct combination of the old and new, which extends from the samurai and science fiction (almost steam punk) setting, to the character designs in general, which, in the villagers, reminds of the wide faced children and traditionally styled but simply drawn heroines of Studio Ghibli films, and, in the samurai, shows a number of characters who wear their personalities in their outward appearances.
This volume oversees the arrival of Kirara and Komachi, the watermaiden (a priestess who can divine truths through a water filled amulet) and her young sister, with their protector Rikichi in a nearby city, prepared to offer what little they have (only the rice they produce) to any samurai willing to defend them. Kirara relies on her amulet to tell her which samurai will help them, but this hardly proves necessary when they stumble upon three samurai within minutes of arriving.
The first volume is dedicated to finding and recruiting these and other samurai, amidst their various encounters with the powerful mercantile class, who use their money and influence to bribe the honour of most samurai, while functioning as an aristocracy. The pace of this volume, in keeping with these clashes, is refreshingly expedient, without the pandering of most series, but it does leave me to wonder how this could possibly be maintained over the course of the series, and especially in the knowledge of the admittedly thin base.
I haven’t seen Kurosawa’s original, but I can only imagine that a fairly new trend in anime (seen in Witchblade and the upcoming Count of Monte Cristo, to name a few) will set the pattern here – take something established, and dress it in the conventions of modern anime decoration. The addition of a political theme, with a greater observance of the roles and history of the samurai, bandits, merchants and government, although not extensive, is welcome, and although some things should be beyond deformation, anime fans would probably be the last to complain about the addition of androgynous characters, a range of quirky personalities and high wire fight scenes.
At the very least, the original idea isn’t entirely repulsive, even if some choices aren’t immediately justified. I found this to be an interesting and worthwhile volume, unique enough to be warrant interest, but not impressive enough to be recommendable to everyone. So, to be brief, somewhat above average.