August 27, 2009

Samurai 7 #2: The Pupil

2004 episode
directed by Toshifumi Takizawa and Makoto Sokuza
written by Atsuhiro Tomioka
based on the film SEVEN SAMURAI by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni

(1954 film)

(previous episode)
(next episode)

Kirara, Komachi, and Rikichi, representatives of the endangered farmlands, are still on their quest to find samurai willing to help. In a clever spin on the original, they not only go through one samurai after another that turn their offer down with scorn, but these warriors wait to do it until after they've taken advantage of a free bowl of dwindling rice. But there is hope ...

The first to join their cause is Katsuhiro (voiced by gruff actress Romi Paku), a dedicated young man driven by the ideals of the samurai, though he admits up front that he has no genuine experience on the battlefield. They haven't delved into his backstory yet, so I can't say whether or not they retained the original idea of him being a child of privilege, but it's nice to see his disgusted reaction as other samurai take advantage of the peasants.

The next to sign up, largely because the annoying little Komachi looks up to him, is Kikuchiyo, a mechanized street brawler with a freakin' huge sword. He calls himself a samurai, but doesn't seem to have the polish or technique to back it up, instead barrelling into things with brute strength. I was a bit worried that his personality would be lost due to his faceless cybernetic exterior, but sharp writing and the boisterous Mifune-esque roar of Kong Kuwata fully succeed at bringing Kikuchiyo to life.

Though he hasn't yet joined the team, we also get to know its eventual leader, Shimada Kambei (steady Masaki Terasoma). He's every bit the calm strategist I expected, never exerting any more or less effort than each situation calls for, but is hesitant to accept the village's offer because he has a bad history of picking the losing side in a war. Oh, and I love how they capped him with a flowing mane, cleverly contrasting the shaved head of Takashi Shimura in the original.

There's also a fun little new subplot added to the mix, which digs into the political structure of the city and may be setting up other additions to come. Ukyo (prolific Takehito Koyasu), the pampered son of the local lord, sets his sights on the beautiful Kirara and orders that she be added to his harem. It's a perfectly timed kidnap plot, forcing our first few heroes to show off both their skills and weaknesses as they come to terms with the developing team dynamic.

Once again, I'm absolutely blown away by this show. The creative team does a masterful job of meticulously adapting the original work, while seamlessly adding to the mix their own new ideas and characters. I still find Komachi an unnecessary annoyance (especially during a recap letter that follows each episode) and the animation hits a few clunky bumps during an action scene in the second half, but this series largely stands as a representation of everything I think a remake should be.

(series trailer)


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