August 25, 2009

Samurai 7 #1: The Master

2004 episode
directed by Toshifumi Takizawa, Toru Yoshida, Yasuhiro Kuroda
written by Atsuhiro Tomioka
based on the film SEVEN SAMURAI by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni

(1954 film)

(next episode)

After the mixed experience that was KAZE NO YOJIMBO, I have to admit a bit of trepidation when it comes to exploring yet another anime series adapted from a classic Kurosawa film, but there's something about the idea of updating a traditional period piece to a steampunk science fiction future that I find intriguing.

After a stunning prologue set in the middle of a war filled with vast vessels and sword-slinging robots, our story proper opens much like the film, with a poor farming village realizing that the annual bandit raids will start again once their crops are ready to harvest. As with the retro-technological setting, the blending of both old and new story elements is superb, keeping much of the original's writing - the panicking peasants, the bitter young farmer Rikichi, and the elder who suggests they hire samurai - but updating it nicely with Kurosawa's streaming flock of bandit spies being replaced by a monstrous drone that hovers over the fields, scanning the rice, uncaring of whether or not it's seen because there's nothing these people can do about it.

There's two problems right up front, though they are minor. I like the idea behind the new character of Kiara, the young spiritual leader of the town, but she displays mystical powers that feel out of place alongside the rest of this world's logical elements. Now, one could argue that some form of psionic ability is fair, given the setting, but I just wasn't entirely sold on it, though I'll hold off a full opinion until I see how it develops. The second problem is Komachi, Kiara's little sister. I'm sorry, but the last thing we need is an annoying child sidekick, stating the obvious and stumbling over her own impulsiveness, particularly one so prominently featured.

But those are the only two problems I have with the show. Unlike KAZE NO YOJIMBO, which largely ignored it's source material, you can tell these people have studied SEVEN SAMURAI with love and care, mimicking numerous shots, snatches of dialogue, important themes and character traits, the wonderfully exaggerated depictions of weather, and even a nice but unobtrusive score. To this, they bring to the table steady direction that evokes Kurosawa without imitating, crisp designs that capture the original characters while still offering up fresh spins, and some striking animation. This is all best demonstrated by the final sequence where Rikichi, Kiara, and Komachi have travelled to the dangerous city and witness three of our future heroes in an introductory battle that perfectly echoes Kurosawa while still offering up it's own unique take.

I know that any series can flip around in quality over the course of it's run, but if this amazing opener is any indication, then I'm in for one hell of a fun ride.

(series trailer)

(official website)
(anime news network)
(internet movie database)


Anthony Williams said...

I don't know how many episodes this runs, but it'll be interesting to see how they pad this out. I know the actual movie itself is fairly long but enough to adapt into a multi-part series ala Kaze No Jojimbo?

So after this, is it "The Magnificent seven"?

NoelCT said...

I don't know how many episodes this runs, but it'll be interesting to see how they pad this out. I know the actual movie itself is fairly long but enough to adapt into a multi-part series ala Kaze No Jojimbo?

26 half-hour episodes. What's nice about the film is that it's told as a series of chapters which the series follos as multi-episode arcs. It's that dedication to the source material (retaining major character traits and dynamics, and recreating numerous original scenes, sometimes word-for-word) that makes it far superior to the largely unfaithful KAZE NO YOJIMBO.

But, while true to the source, it's not slavishly so, bringing in new characters that add additional layers, most prominently the overruling monarchy that's largely responsible for the entire scenario, all of which cleverly builds upon the complex class politics Kurosawa established in his original.

Really, really good stuff.

So after this, is it "The Magnificent seven"?

Not just yet. I'm holding it off until I do the films of director John Sturges in the near future.