Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai 7 – The Complete Series (a J!-ENT anime Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 1, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 movie classic, the ‘Samurai 7’ anime television series combines feudal Japan with steampunk technology. Full of action, and plenty of samurai vs. mecha battles. And for HD audiophiles, ‘Samurai 7’ sounds absolutely awesome on Blu-ray!”
© FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai 7 – The Complete Series
DURATION: 625 minutes (26 episodes on 3 Blu-ray Discs)
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080P High Definition, 16×9, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Japanese 5.1 and English subtitles
COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment
RATED: TV PG-13 (Violence and Some Sexual Content)
Release Date: February 24, 2009
Director: Toshifumi Takizawa
Storyboard: Hiroyuki Okuno
Episode Director: Hiroyuki Okuno
Music: Eitetsu Hayashi, Kaoru Wada
Original creator: Akira Kurosawa
Character Design: Hideki Hashimoto, Takuhito Kusanagi
Art director: Hiromasa Ogura
Animation director: Hiroyuki Okuno
Mechanical design: Makoto Kobayashi
Art design: Makoto Kobayashi
Director of Photography: Hiro Yoshioka
Executive producer: Hiroyuki Takazawa, Shinichiro Ishikawa
Producer: Daisuke Ito, Kazuhiko Inomata, Shouji Murahama, Takao Kobayashi
Junji Inukai/Greg Ayres as Heihachi Hayashida
Kuwata Kong/Christopher R. Sabat as Kikuchiyo
Masaki Terasoma/ R. Bruce Elliott as Kambei Shimada
Romi Paku/Sean Michael Teague as Katsushiro Okamoto
Shinichiro Miki /Sonny Strait as Kyuzo
Tetsu Inada/Bob Carter as Gorobei Katayama
Tohru Kusano/Duncan Brannan as Shichiroji
Chiwa Saito/Luci Christian as Komachi Mikumari
Fumiko Orikasa/Colleen Clinkenbeard as Kirara Mikumari
Ikuo Nishikawa as Gisaku
Tadahisa Saizen/J. Michael Tatum as Rikichi
Takehito Koyasu/Anthony Bowling as Ukyo
Tomomichi Nishimura as Masamune
Atsuko Mine/Juli Erickson as Setsu
Chiaki Osawa/Laura Bailey as Mizuki
Chiaki Ozawa as Hayakame
Eizou Tsuda/Andrew Haskett as Chief Elder
Kazuhiko Kishino/Michael Sinterniklaas as Soubei
Mio Morisawa/Caitlyn Glass as Koharu
Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai” is regarded as a great and influential film that is among the few Japanese films that has captivated audiences worldwide for so long. The legendary film was about a village of farmers hiring seven samurai’s to protect the village from bandits has been revamped for GONZO’s 2004 anime “Samurai 7”.
First appearing on the anime satellite television channel Animax in 2004 as a high definition CS-Pay-Per-View series, the series was later shown in the US on IFC (International Film Channel) in 2006. Unlike the film which takes place in feudal Japan, “Samurai 7” takes place in a cyberpunk era that blends together feudal Japan with high-technology with mecha robotic suits.
“Samurai 7” also has quite a bit of talent behind it as the series is directed by Toshifumi Takizawa known for directing classics such as “Dirty Pair”, “Crusher Joe” and “Big Wars”(and also storyboards for mecha anime such as “Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta Gundam”, “Mobile Suit Victory Gundam).
Character designs are by Hideki Hashimoto (known for a lot of key animation work for “Heat Guy J”, “Great Teacher Onizuka” and “Mobile Suit Gundam”) and Takuhito Kusanagi (known for his mechanical design work for “Blue Submarine No. 6” and “Tower of Druaga”).
The series begins with the villagers of the rice village of Kanna. Peasants who are forced to harvest rice for the Nobuseri bandits. The Nobuseri are ruthless as they take nearly all the rice of the villagers and even go as far as taking their women and children.
The villagers hardly have anything to eat but the villagers know they can’t live life the way they are living now and so, with the approval of their village elder, three people will take their remaining rice to find samurai’s who will fight against the bandits and free the village.
The village send three people to hire samurai’s with their rice.
Kirara: The village priestess who has a crystal that can read the hearts of people.
Komachi: The young sister of Kirara
Rikichi: The male villager who accompanies both Kirara and Komachi. Rikichi despises the Nobuseri bandits because they took his wife.
During their search in the city for samurai’s to protect the farming village of Kanna, the city’s heir to Ayamano, Ukyo, develops a crush on Kirara and wants her to join his harem of women. But each time he tries to kidnap her, the samurai’s thwart him and thus leads to Ukyo trying to find ways to kill the samurai’s and capture Kirara.
During their search for samurai in the city, the three eventually find the following samurai who agree to fight against the bandits.
Shimada Kambei – The great samurai who is emotionless since he has been in so many battles and witnessed so many deaths that he lives in his own shadow of pain, constantly asking other samurai of why they became a samurai. The person becomes the leader of the group. Awesome fighting skills.
Katsuhiro Okamoto – The first samurai that is willing to help Kirara and the others. A young and inexperienced samurai who idolizes Kambei and eventually becomes the protector of Kirara. Eventually grows as a samurai after his first major kill.
Gorobei Katayama – An entertainer and former samurai from the great war who is good at detecting intruders and also has unmatched defensive skills by catching an opponents weapons with his hands and quick to dodge attacks.
Shichiroji – A former samurai who fought alongside Kambei. Now runs an inn and has a fiance but decides to join his friend in battle against the bandits. Fights with a big staff with blades and has a prosthetic hand that is used as a grappling hook.
Kikuchiyo – A huge cyborg who is always opinionated and always trying to prove himself as a samurai. Has great strength and carries a big chainsaw word to fight but he is not that smart. A child at heart, Kikuchiyo bonds with Kirara’s younger sister Komachi.
Hayashida Heihachi – A samurai who is laid back and rather eat or be cool than fight. A former mechanical/combat engineer, his knowledge of mechanics provides useful for the team.
Kyuzo – A former bodyguard and talented samurai warrior for Ayamaro, an is an enemy of the samurai’s in the first part of the series. Both Kyuzo and Kanbei go into battle against each other and end with a draw. With both men finding enjoyment in their battle against each other, they vow to fight again. Kyuzo eventually joins the team when he finally finds a great opponent in Kambei. Joining the group because he wants to be the person to fight and kill Kambei, so therefore he joins the team and lends them his skills as a talented samurai.
For this Blu-ray disc release of “Samurai 7”, the first two discs contain a total of nine episodes each with the third disc containing the final 8 episodes plus the special features.
The first nine episodes shows us how Nobuseri bandits (samurai taking over power mecha suits) have caused fear by forcing farmers to plant crops and then taking all their crops and even taking their women and children. The farmers that are peasants have no line of defense until one village decides they need to change things. This first disc features storylines more for character development of establishing the main characters which are the main three villagers from Kanna and the samurai who agree to join to fight against the Nobsurei.
- Episode 1 – The Master
- Episode 2 – The Pupil
- Episode 3 – The Entertainer
- Episode 4 – The Loner
- Episode 5 – The Drifter
- Episode 6 – The Fool
- Episode 7 – The Friend
- Episode 8 – The Guardians
- Episode 9 – The Bandits
We watch as as the three villagers who are not too familiar with the city meet so many samurai who are willing to eat their rice offerings but not wanting to join them.
But there are a few who are willing to join the villagers and help them defeat the Nobuseri bandits.
But the main foe in the first nine episodes are the royalty of the city as Ukyo, the adopted heir of Ayamano, wants Kirara for himself and his cold and sick attitude will go at great lengths to get her. That includes sending his killer samurai bodyguards to take out the samurai accompanying the villagers.
So, the three villagers and the samurai go on a long journey to escape the city and head to the village of Kanna but unfortunately, the journey is not so safe as they come into opposition from Ukiyo’s bodyguards and mecha bandits.
In the second disc, the samurai’s are able to recruit the samurai Kyuzo, their former enemy to join them. The group now make their way to Kanna village and prepare for the attack from the Nobuseri bandits. But first, they would need to train the villagers on how to fight and defend their village.
- Episode 10 – The Journey
- Episode 11 – The Village
- Episode 12 – The Truth
- Episode 13 – The Attack
- Episode 14 – The Offering
- Episode 15 – The Gun and the Calm
- Episode 16 – The Storm
- Episode 17 – The Remembrance
- Episode 18 – The Emperor
Unfortunately, many of the villagers are afraid because the Nobuseri bandits are on to the Kanna villagers of hiring samurai to fight them. They are warned, if they side with the samurai, they will be killed. And thus, some of the villagers are so afraid that they may want to betray their fellow villagers and samurai to protect themselves.
As one of the villagers betrays them, young Katsuhiro who has never killed in a battle and is still inexperienced, has to stop one of the scouts from informing the bandits and thus gets his first kill. But the first kill appears to have traumatized him.
Eventually all seven samurai are now prepared for the war against the Nobuseri bandits but since this is wartime, things do not always go as expect as one of the seven samurai are killed.
The third disc focuses on what takes place after the war featuring the Samurai and the Kanna farmers versus the Nobuseri bandits, focuses on Kambei now making good on his promise to rescue two women held captive by the Nobuseri bandits and the ultimate war between the samurai and Ukyo and his Nobuseri bandit clones.
- Episode 19 – The Mutiny
- Episode 20 – The Execution
- Episode 21 – The Rescue
- Episode 22 – The Divide
- Episode 23 – The Lies
- Episode 24 – The Oaths
- Episode 25 – The Last Battle
- Episode 26 – The Era’s End
Kambei has made some promises to free Rikichi’s wife and a sister of another farmer and thus goes off on his own to rescue them. This actually causes problems for young Katsuhiro as he now starts to grow thirsty for more battles and feels that his sensei made a bad decision to go off by himself.
Meanwhile, the twisted Ukyo is now positioning himself for even greater power as becoming the new emperor. His goal, to have samurai protect villages of farmers who are under attack from bandits and make them think he’s on their side and getting their rice. While also working with the bandits to attack the farmers.
His goal of trying to get Kirara is a plan in motion but for revenge against the samurai, his goal is to destroy the Kirara’s village of Kanna and create more clones of Nobuseri bandits to accomplish his task and become an unstoppable force.
A rescue attempt is made to save Kambei who has been taken hostage by Ukyo and although the samurai do succeed, the growing tension between Katsuhiro and Kambei gets out of hand as Katsuhiro’s resentment of his sensei leaving him becomes too much and he leaves the group to become a samurai working alone.
As for the five remaining samurai, they know that a new war is upon them and more difficult as before as Ukyo has all these Nobuseri bandit clones and so, the only way for the samurai’s to defeat him is to take the war into his own compound which is more or less like a suicide mission.
Will the samurai’s be able to stop Ukyo and his new regime?
VIDEO AND AUDIO:
In Japan, many of these animators have only a week to get an episode done and often are working on other anime series at the same time, so that being said, “Samurai 7” does have beautiful segments during the CG segments but in terms of the animation, character designs are simplistic, color pallet is solid with not much shading.
And for animation that utilizes less detail, this gives the animator more time to focus on the action sequences which they definitely did for “Samurai 7”.
So, you can expect to see really good detail when it comes to the CG segments especially during the two wars because there is a lot of mecha battles that utilize the CG. And the background renderings often get the most detail. But picture quality is clear and there are scenes that do showcase a lot of vibrant colors. But for those most part, there is a softness in terms of colors. More focus on earth tones and greens.
For some, a drawback is that nine episodes are put on each disc, some enthusiasts would rather have 4-5 episodes with a higher bitrate but with the style of “Samurai 7”, this is a television series not an OVA or film, so one can not expect a super-detailed series. The picture quality is a step up from the DVD release but what “Samurai 7” will appeal to are the audiophiles.
For the audio, audio is presented in Dolby True HD 5.1 in English and Japanese. First, I must say that I was impressed by both voice acting in Japanese and the English dubs. For one, rarely do you get the Japanese audio track in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, so I started the series primarily watching it in Japanese and was in awe of the actual mix and the utilization of the rear channels.
You hear the people in the city chatting and talking at a distance. You hear sound of people talking coming from one side and then the other. Especially in the action scenes and hearing the explosions and blasts and bullet shots.
I switched over to the English track in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and the track also displays the same audio which is fantastic. The voice acting was very well done on the English side of things and overall, just impressed with overall audio quality.
There are a good number of special features included on all three discs. For disc 1 and 2, you will need to go to the episodes listing and you will see episode 1 and episode 14 contain a commentary feature. The commentary is based on the English voice dub, so for example episode 14 would feature the ADR director Christopher Bevins, R. Bruce Elliott (voice for Kambei) and Sean Michael Teague (voice of Katsuhiro) commenting on the various characters and how they enjoyed the vocal performance of their co-actors. Of course, English voice dubs are never going into the technical commentary on the animation and why certain scenes are the way they are. But for those who enjoy commentary by English voice dubs, especially these two talents, then you’ll definitely enjoy these two commentary tracks.
On disc 3, there are several special features. Included are:
- Promotional Video – In Japan, their promotional videos for upcoming series are quite long and in this case, this five minute video features the CG action-packed battles and also introducing the Japanese cast involved in the overall production. The video is in Japanese with English subtitles.
- Textless Opening and Ending – The textless opening and ending theme to Avex artists Nanase Aikawa’s opening theme “Unlimited” and Rin’s ending theme of “Fuhen”.
- FUNimation Entertainment Trailers – Trailers for FUNimation Entertainment anime series and film releases.
“Samurai 7” is a pretty interesting take on the Kurosawa 1954 classic but I admit that I totally dig the concept of combining feudal Japan with steampunk technology. For anime, to combine samurai battles with mecha robot suits seems unbelievable, but within the concept of what “Samurai 7” is about and the overall journey of these samurai trying to protect the peasants and their village was quite fun.
The characters all have their own unique abilities and characteristics and the series is just all out non-stop action.
This is my first experience of watching an anime television series on Blu-ray. In the past, most releases were typically film or OVA-based but with “Samurai 7″ having the high definition background when initially aired in Japan, the picture quality is clean but at the same time, it’s detail is mostly within the CG scenes and the overall animation, relies on simple character designs that is typical with anime television series versus a film or OVA which the animators have much more time to work on.
But like a next gen video game, an anime series is not all about its graphics, for this series, what works is the adventure, the journey, the action and its enjoyable characters but most importantly, a well-crafted storyline. During the first 18-episodes, I really enjoyed the fight for the village but then there was a short lull as the episodes started to focus on twisted, protagonist Ukyo trying to usurp in power and become the next emperor and then suddenly getting back to the action-packed storyline and setting up the ultimate war.
There are some who may not see the need for high definition with their anime, especially if you are going to watch it on a 17-24” computer monitor but for those who want to watch anime in HD on their large television screens (especially using HD projectors) and seeing more detail and of course getting Dolby TrueHD sound in both Japanese and English is a plus.
Overall, I really enjoyed “Samurai 7”. It manages to hold some of the enjoyment that made the original film so classic but the incorporate the adventure and the “other world” type of features you would expect from an anime series. Again, samurai vs. mecha suits? Who would of imagined that?
“Samurai 7” is an enjoyable television series and I’m very happy that FUNimation Entertainment brought this series to Blu-ray!
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