Epic Twenty-Six Episode Expansion of Seven Samurai

Samurai_7_Blu-raySamurai 7: The Complete Series Box Set [Blu-ray] (FUNimation) It's interesting how a good idea can be interpreted in many different ways. Take the premise behind Akira Kurosawa's classic movie The Seven Samurai. Since being released in 1954, this film's simple story -- about a small village whose residents hire a rag-tag group of samurai to defend them from bandits -- has inspired a virtual film festival of variations on the theme. Besides such classic reinterpretations as the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven and the 1998 Pixar animated insect movie A Bug's Life, Samurai has also inspired the 1975 Indian film Sholay and the 1980 sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars. And that's not to mention the 2004 video game adaptation Seven Samurai 20XX or the 1998 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine called "The Magnificent Ferengi." But none have expanded upon the premise to the same extent as Samurai 7, a 2004 Japanese animated TV series that infused Kurosawa's original plot with elements of sci-fi and steampunk. Newly released on Blu-ray (though it's aired both here and in Japan in high def), this twenty-six part epic may outlast the original by more than five hours, but it does so in a way that never feels bloated or padded out. In the world of Samurai 7, the village of Kanna is being harassed by a group of former samurai who became cyborgs during a recent war, and now use their mechanically enhanced bodies to strong-arm the villagers they used to defend into giving them rice. Tired of being pushed around, but worried what might happen if they stand up to the bandits on their own, the village elders send Kirara, Rikichi, and Kirara's kid sister Komachi (the requisite cute kid required by anime law) to a nearby city to see if they can recruit some noble samurai to help protect the village. It is here that they find the seven samurai that will help them, and it is those very warriors, each of whom is unique enough to carry his own anime, that help expand this simple story in a way not seen before. While some of them have well-worn roles to play -- Kambei is the hardened veteran, Katsushiro is the eager young warrior, while Kikuchiyo is the comic relief -- they are ultimately revealed to have more depth, which keeps this from being a rather by-the-numbers samurai tale. In fact, it is how they find these warriors, and how they all interact with each other before even getting to the village, that really makes this show so compelling (though the epic battle is quite spectacular as well). And while the sci-fi and steampunk elements bring something new to the tale as well, they're not the focus of the story. For the most part, the world is the kind you'd find in a more historically accurate samurai tale, such as Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. It's just that the bandits are giant mecha-style robots, while Kikuchiyo is a steampunk variation on the cyborg. If anything, Samurai 7 is closer to Afro Samurai or Samurai Champloo than Ghost in the Shell in how it mixes the traditional with the modern or futuristic. Of course it also helps that Samurai 7 is also one of the better-drawn animes of the last few years as well. Though it does have many of the hallmarks of the genre -- big eyes, cool mechs -- it largely eschews the cutesy look that permeates the genre, opting instead for a more serious look. Which is probably why it looks so good on this new Blu-ray edition, which has a far crisper and more detailed image than the original DVDs. Ultimately, Samurai 7 won't replace The Seven Samurai. But then, neither did The Magnificent Seven, Bug's Life, or that Star Trek episode. But it does hold its ground, and will, among anime fans, stand the test of time. Like all good ideas. - Paul Semel Purchase thru Amazonpaul_semel.jpgMr. Semel has written about anime and other cartoons for such publications as Emmy, Metromix.com, and MSN.com.