Adapting and reworking the classics of storytelling is a dangerous game. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to please everybody, and they’re going to give you no end of flack for something you change, if not everything you change. Facing that certainty, some storytellers figure they might as well go for broke. Change the setting to the Wild West! Or outer space! Or… I dunno, add giant robots!
What is it?
Samurai 7 is, of course, an adaptation of Kurosawa’s famous, classic Seven Samurai film.
What kind of story is it?
It’s a marvelous, epic heroic tragedy with some great fight scenes and wonderful character beats.
What, you want me to sum up one of the best-known story setups of all time? Be serious!
Fine: Bandits are extorting the crops from a village of farmers. Farmers send an envoy to the city in order to hire samurai. Since all they can offer in payment is rice the samurai will have to be hungry, or at least motivated by more than regular pay. A half-dozen-ish fighters are assembled. Plot ensues. Bad things happen to bandits. Bad things happen to samurai, too. The village is saved, more or less.
Why do you like it?
Other than the original 1956 Kurosawa movie, this is my favorite rendition of the tale. It’s faithful where it makes sense to be but it takes advantage of having lots of room to expand due to the full half-year series run. Particularly the plot threads involving the antagonists are a welcome addition. We know that a story centered exclusively on the villagers and their desperate band of saviors can fill about, let’s say, three hours of screen time. How do you make that work across two dozen or so half-hour installments? More action sequences, and showing the rise & fall of the scumbag behind the bandits, that’s how!
It’s clever, it’s moving, it’s exciting, it’s tragic, it’s satisfying.
What might one not like about it?
As with the first 3WA installment, Voices of a Distant Star, if you break out in hives at the appearance of giant robots in your heroic action tragedy you may need to give this a pass. The giant robots aren’t there all the time, but they’re certainly a periodic factor and you get a screen full of them right as the series starts. I like them as a worldbuilding detail and they’re smartly used, but there is a strong factor of “I don’t care how strong these guys are, how are they standing up to THOSE” involved. It’s an anime thing, I suppose.
More characters appear in this adaptation than are in the original, which is one possible natural consequence of making a much longer version of the story. You may or may not like the new arrivals. Both the bratty little girl from the village and the scheming bastard behind the bandits can be annoying. At least one of them gets what’s coming to them, so there’s that, right?
Other thoughts about it?
This series was my second exposure to an overt, make-no-mistakes rendition of the Seven Samurai tale. The first was… well, the cheesy, outer space one. And I was very young, and had no idea about the movie’s pedigree, for good or ill. I watched the actual original Seven Samurai for the first time only last year.
(Yes, I know. I’ve never claimed to be a film snob. At least I watched it before seeing the new Magnificent Seven, right?)
What I’m saying is… I’m no purist but I totally understand why people hold the original in such high regard. I think Samurai 7 holds its own as a solid rendition that takes important things from its progenitor and adds value along the way.
Where can I watch it?
As of this writing, Funimation’s site has Samurai 7 available for streaming. Otherwise you’ll need to track down the DVD set, which I recommend as it’s entirely worth owning.