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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f someone had told me before seeing “Samurai 7” that there was an anime that incorporated giant robots into Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” and that it was actually good, I’d probably think they were crazy. Granted, it wouldn’t be the first time that Kurosawa’s film was “reimagined” for a new audience, but it would certainly be the strangest. Leave it to Gonzo to prove me wrong with one their best and most mature series yet – a unique, yet remarkably accurate retelling of the Japanese masterpiece whose biggest flaw is continuing the story where it originally ended.
Set in an alternate universe where feudal Japan is being overrun by technology, the series takes place several years after The Great War – a massive battle that saw samurai pitted against fellow brothers who have been transformed into mechanized warriors called Nobuseri. Having won the war, the emperor has begun to bully those who can’t protect themselves by sending in Nobuseri to steal rice and women from the surrounding villages. The town of Kanna is such a village, but when the peasants face the impending arrival of the Nobuseri for their annual pillage, they decide to hire samurai to protect them. With only the promise of rice to offer as payment, the villagers send three of their own into the city to recruit samurai. Their initial search is discouraging, but the arrival of a veteran warrior named Shimada Kambei helps piece together the rest of the team just in time to make their stand against the Nobuseri.
For as much as “Samurai 7” strays from its source material, the spirit of the film remains intact. All seven of the samurai share similar personalities to their cinematic counterparts, and though the battle itself is divided into two distinct halves, the results are the same. It would probably be considered a major spoiler to divulge any more, but fans of the original should know exactly what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, while the first two-thirds of the series work incredibly well (from the recruiting of the samurai to the battle with the bandits), the final third moves into unknown territory as an original subplot is introduced regarding a new emperor and his plans for world domination. In other words, it’s your typical anime scenario forced into a pre-existing world that does little more than stretch the events of the movie into an additional eight episodes.
Despite this minor gripe, “Samurai 7” is still one of the best of its kind. The action delivers a satisfying mix of traditional samurai swordplay and futuristic sci-fi mecha, while the characters are some of the best developed of any anime I’ve seen. Though the animation isn’t necessarily as good as it could be (partly due to the fact that it sometimes looks plain sloppy), the Eastern-inspired soundtrack is a nice touch. For a Blu-ray release, however, you would expect sheer perfection from the video transfer, and that’s just not the case. Though a majority of the series looks pristine, the final two episodes contain so much dirt and grain that you can't help but wonder what happened. After all, “Samurai 7” is only four years old, so there shouldn't have been any issue with finding a clean print. Don't let that detract you from seeing Gonzo’s steampunk samurai tale, though, because even though the presentation may be a bit disappointing, it's the best retelling of Akira Kurosawa's classic 1954 epic since "The Magnificent Seven."
Special Features: It may seem like a prestige title for getting the Blu-ray treatment, but the three-disc set of “Samurai 7” isn’t as special as it sounds. The only bonus material included are two commentary tracks (one with U.S. director Chris Bevins, writer Jared Hedges and voice actor Colleen Clinkenbeard, and the other with Bevins and voice actors R. Bruce Elliot and Sean Michael Teague), a five-minute promotional video, trailers, and textless songs. The commentary tracks are decent if you don’t mind listening to them from a fan’s point of view, but Funimation can still do better than this.