Review of Samurai 7: Vol. 6
Japan`s anime industry turns to Akira Kurosawa`s classic for inspiration, 50 years after the original Seven Samurai made its debut. With the seal of approval from the estate of Kurosawa, and from the eye candy powerhouse that is Gonzo comes Samurai 7, an animated take on the original story. But this series is set after the second age of the Samurai in the distant future following a devastating war. Once again a village of farmers has had enough of seeing their hard earned produce going into the bellies of giant cyborg bandits, and have decided to recruit warriors of their own to protect their crops. The previous volume saw Kanbe reach the Capital in order to rescue Sanae, Rikichi`s wife. But he hadn`t counted on Sanae`s reluctance to be rescued, and paid the price by being captured.
In Volume 6: Broken Alliance, Kanbe is about to be executed, while his comrades try desperately to rescue him. It`s end of the season time again, which means the final two volumes of Samurai 7 will have three episodes apiece. While the English episode titles are given on the menu, the translated Japanese ones are quite different, so for convenience, I`ve used both in my review, English first.
21. The Rescue/Fools!
Kanbe`s execution is imminent, but while he has a last minute plan, he`s unprepared for what the new Emperor Ukyo has in mind. It seems too good to be true, and indeed when the samurai reach Sanae, she can`t bear to face Rikichi again. Meanwhile Ukyo is cementing his popularity with the people with displays of largesse, but he`s secretly nurturing dark plans to deal with those rebellious upstarts in Kanna village.
22. The Divide/Slap!
Katsushiro leaves after being humiliated by Kanbe. Kirara follows him to try to get him to reconcile. Domestic issues are the least of their problems though, as Ukyo`s men arrive, intent on eliminating Kanbe. It becomes apparent to Kanbe that the new Emperor`s word is worthless, and Kanna village is in greater danger than ever before.
23. The Lies/Liar!
The Samurai prepare to take the fight to the capital, in order to end the corrupt system once and for all. Meanwhile Rikichi has finally been reunited with his wife, but he can`t come to terms with what has happened to her, and the genuine love she held for the former Emperor. Ukyo`s depredations are getting worse, as he sets the various factions against each other, but Kanbe will receive assistance from an unexpected source.
Samurai 7 gets a colourful and clear anamorphic transfer from MVM on a dual layer disc. As you would expect from a modern anime, it is a stunning mix of traditional 2D and 3D CG animation. The character designs are excellent, and the world design enchants, a future world that is heavily influenced by the past. The animation is exceptional, with the action sequences doing the story justice. Of course there are the usual drawbacks to animation on DVD, the odd compression artefact and the digital banding. But none of it is detrimental to the viewing experience.
You get a choice of DD 5.1 English and Japanese, with translated English subtitles or just a signs track. Both audio tracks boast great surround presence. The world design is reflected in the sound design, with the future world a curious mix of hi-tech and steampunk. Samurai 7 has another couple of fine tunes for its credit sequences, but the incidental music is more traditional.
Minimal extras yet again, with just the textless credit sequences, and the trailers for Ah My Goddess: TV, and Gun Sword.
This is another solid volume to add to your Samurai 7 collection, with the story building to a dramatic crescendo that almost, but not quite, makes you forget the lower episode count. If you are expecting more battles and swordplay however, you`ll be disappointed, as the three episodes in this penultimate volume are devoted more to story, character and building up to the finale. We learn what Ukyo`s nefarious plans are, and the samurai realise that their job isn`t over just yet.
The samurai wind up gathering in Kogakyo regardless of Kanbe`s wish that he be allowed to complete the rescue of Sanae on his own. It`s a bitter reunion for some, and Kanbe isn`t pleased to see that Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo have followed him. The resentment and sense of disillusionment that Katsushiro has been nurturing boils over, deepening the rift between them. It seems that the boy has become a man, both because of and despite Kanbe`s instruction. First he stands up to his mentor, then he comes clean about the way he feels towards Kirara, and finally he proves that he is certainly no longer the un-blooded warrior of the early episodes. When Katsushiro finally cuts loose in the final episode on this disc, we see that he`s learnt all the lessons he needs to be a lethal killing machine. Whether he retains any humanity or compassion is yet to be seen.
When Heihachi and Shichiroji arrive, they bring Rikichi with them, leading to another bittersweet reunion. Rikichi`s wife Sanae willingly went into captivity to safeguard Kanna village. But her life as a hostage turned into something more when she fell in love with the Emperor, and she was even prepared to bear him a child. Her `rescue` was hardly a pleasant one. With the previous Emperor dead, her existence was numbered in days anyway, but her own guilt and sense of loss made any idea of reuniting with her husband, simply going back to life as a farmer impossible to bear. It isn`t what Rikichi has been expecting either, and he doesn`t know how he can reconnect with his wife. All that is certain is that this woe has been created by the system, the Capital and the Emperor manipulating the people for his own amusement. The final mission of the samurai is clear.
I`m always impressed by the detail and thought given to the character development in Samurai 7, and the episodes in this volume merely strengthen that. The complexity in Katsushiro`s character, and the realism with which Rikichi and Sanae`s relationship is portrayed show the strong writing, and once again give the lie to the idea that anime is `just a cartoon`. This volume may stint on the action, although the final episode on this disc goes some way to countering that, but it does serve as a much needed pause to take stock, reflect, and lay the groundwork for the final episodes. The tension builds, and the threat is unveiled, leaving no doubt that the final battle will be their toughest yet. By the end of this disc, I was sufficiently eager for the final volume that the end credits were actually a source of immediate frustration. Volume 7 cannot come soon enough.