Critic’s Log - Earthdate: January 18, 2014. Review #77 : Samurai 7
Well, 2013 has come and gone and now it’s time for me to continue into the new year of 2014. I have been a bit busy as of lately but now I would like to continue my duty of reviewing anime as a hobby that I love doing. I may have written quite a number of reviews during 2013 and one of my resolutions this year is to write my 100th Anime Review (excluding the supplemental reviews I wrote alongside some animes.) I know the whole New Years Resolution thing is kind of pointless to bring up in this situation. Oh well. I will start off my 2014 run of reviews with Samurai 7!
A small village is being persecuted by a group of robbers who return in every harvest to seize the village's crops that the farmers worked hard to maintain the crops. Faced with starvation, the villagers and farmers set out a mission to find and recruit some samurai to defend them. With no pay to offer except rice, and knowing full well that only unfortunate samurai would even consider accepting such an deal, the villagers and farmers can only hope that their saviours will appear before the rice is ready for harvest.
To be technical, this is a Studio Gonzo production and that can’t be very good news. I can tell you 3 reasons why.
1. Gonzo has great visuals during scenes that are portrayed as a spectacle
2. Gonzo uses 3D animation that does not blend well with the 2D animation at all.
3. The quality of animation is inconsistent at times with a show made by Gonzo.
They are also known for having infamous anime adaptations of certain mangas, but this is not an adaptation of a manga, this is an adaptation of a movie that was made 50 years before this anime was made. I will get to that at some point in this review. I know I may upset some people when I say this, the animation isn’t really too terrible in this anime. The character designs are good despite it being unbearably inconsistent and the action scenes are pretty cool and flashy even though it is so over-the-top. The inconsistency is what really hurts the show and it is so painfully obvious too. If I am not mistaken, the 7th episode has some of the worst animation in the show and this goes on for 8 minutes or so. The inconsistency even comes in the middle of an episode at some parts of the show and it is really unbearable at times. The visuals are often lazy as well whether it’s repeated background animation cels or really terrible lighting effects which is in the show and it looks awful. Even though the animation is the weakest aspect of Samurai 7, I still gave my full attention towards this anime.
The music is done by Eitetsu Hayashi and Kaoru Wada. The soundtrack actually compliments this anime pretty well despite it being an adaptation to a movie which its soundtrack was entirely different which I do not intend on comparing this anime with it’s source material since it is very pointless to even think of such a thing. My only complaint is that there is a specific tune that constantly is played whenever a grave danger arises in the plot. This specific tune even sounds like it came from InuYasha. I even did my research and discovered that Kaoru Wada actually did compose the soundtrack to InuYasha. The soundtrack mostly compliments Samurai 7 but I feel the track that I think is overused sounds like Wada-san recycled a theme from InuYasha called “Attack”. Either look this song up at your own leisure or watch Samurai 7 and InuYasha back to back and hear for yourself. This is my only complaint about the soundtrack to Samurai 7 but at least it mostly compliments the show well. The opening theme is actually kind of catchy and so is the closing theme songs. They may be forgettable outside the show but I can’t deny that when you are watching Samurai 7, this one is quite catchy to watch with the visuals. The closing theme’s visuals don’t show much but the song’s ok. Like I said, the soundtrack is good, but not award-winning.
When it comes to voice acting, I should say that anime purists are going to win this contest. This is an anime about Samurai. This anime is rich with Japanese culture, settings, and politics. So in most respects, it would be extremely fitting to watch this Subtitled. Even though this may be the ideal choice, I will leave this up to the viewer. Masaki Terasoma sounds great as a leader with his role as Kambei. Tetsu Inada is also good as Gorobei. Tohru Kusano is decent as Shichiroji. Junju Inukai is alright as Heihachi, and Shinichiro Miki is great as Kyuzo even though it is a bit of a typecast. When it comes to the Japanese cast, Kong Kuwata does deserve special praise for his vocal portrayal of Kikuchiyo. In the film that it is based on, Kikuchiyo was played by a very well-known Japanese actor known as Toshiro Mifune. Kuwata-san portrays Kikuchiyo with some similar energy and spirit that Mifune-san was known for in his roles. The late Toshiro Mifune was regarded as a great Japanese actor. I’ve only seen a couple of Japanese films that he starred in and I can tell that he is no amatuer. The only voice I felt was a bit off was Romi Park as Katsushiro and that is a damn shame. She is not a bad seiyuu but she did overact on this one and I can’t say the end result stands out well. Fumiko Orikasa is not too bad as Kirara. Takehito Koyasu is also not too bad as Ukyo. There aren’t really any standout extras in the Subbed Version, but the casting is mostly pretty good. As for the English Dub, R.Bruce Elliot is good enough in the Dub as Kambei. Bob Carter is terrific as Gorobei. Duncan Brennan is alright as Shichiroji. Sean Michael Teague on the other hand is an interesting choice as Katsushiro. He does not overact too much, but he does sound a little over-aged for the character. But since Katsushiro is a young man, this gives the dub the advantage over the Subbed Version on Katsushiro. As for extras, J. Michael Tatum is great as Rikichi and I am under the impression this was during his early days. So there’s the standout performances in the dub. The only ok voices are Greg Ayres as Heihachi and Luci Christian as Komachi. As for what I think are the more questionable casting choices, There is Sonny Strait as Kyuzo. It’s not a terrible performance but it does sound very one-noted and it could have been done a little better. Then there’s Colleen Clickenbeard as Kirara. The performance is great, here’s the problem...SHE SOUNDS OVER-AGED THAN SHE APPEARS! But there is one character whose voice doesn’t really fit too well in the dub is Chris Sabat as Kikuchiyo. Now Chris Sabat does get Kikuchiyo’s passion and energy in the show, what he lacks unlike the seiyuu that played him is the wild attitude that was close to the actor that originally played Kikuchiyo. Chris Sabat was not terrible with this role but I sort of felt the voice didn’t fit too well. Anthony Bowling seemed like he had fun playing as Ukyo. Too bad he hardly gets bigger roles before or since. In terms of comparison, I actually prefer the Subbed version on this one, but I can’t say the Dub was terrible at all. In fact, it was actually good. One noticeable difference is some dialogue which that is due to screen adapting which isn’t a big issue in Anime dubs. You may notice the Japanese honorifics used in the dub and this may sound awkward at first when watching this anime in English but it doesn’t bother me. Now the interesting thing is that the bandits are called “Nobuseri”, where in the official subtitles, Nobuseri is said in Japanese whenever the word “Bandit” is spoken. The dub does have the characters mostly saying “Nobuseri” most of the time, but I may have heard the word “bandit” at some areas in the dub. You could say there is a slight inconsistency regarding this, but this is not to get too worked up over. Christopher Bevins does have a decent dub as the ADR director for Samurai 7. If you plan on watching this anime and don’t know which version to go for, then go with whatever version that floats your boat. But if you want a more fitting experience, go with the Subtitled Version.
When it comes to characters, the characters are distinct in appearance and even personality. This is not really the case with the movie Seven Samurai. This anime is an adaptation after all and it took some liberties with the character designs. Kambei does look cool in the anime while in the movie he appears as a bald man. Katsushiro is also a young man in the anime but not as likable as in the movie where even though the character in both this anime and movie are not “Marty Stus” Katsushiro was a good character for the majority of the anime until later on where he was a bit unlikeable which I won’t give away why but it’s there. Gorobei is cool in the anime and a happy one in the movie. Shichiroji appears to be younger than the Shichiroji in the movie. Heihachi is much younger than the character in the movie and I actually liked his personality which surprisingly stays true to the character, it is a little too different in comparison. Kyuzo on the other hand has some changes. For one, in the anime he does join very late in the anime’s plot where in the movie he initially declined the offer to be recruited and then changed his mind. As far as the movie’s plot is concerned, he was on his own which in the anime he was a bodyguard. The character that got the biggest facelift was Kikuchiyo. He is a mechanical samurai unlike any other character in the movie it represents. I know this was to tie in with the Nobuseri but I am sorry. I hated the mechanical Kikuchiyo character concept, but this is quickly forgiven since the mechanical Kikuchiyo is a lot of fun where in the movie, Toshiro Mifune had way, way, WAY too much fun playing as Kikuchiyo in the movie and it shows. The human Kikuchiyo from the movie was very energetic, really funny, and was very passionate whether it is in battle or whatever else he does. Kikuchiyo is a memorable character in the anime appearance wise, but in regards to Toshiro Mifune, Kikuchiyo was an iconic performance in both his career and Japanese cinema. Kirara is a good character in the show and Komachi is an alright character as well. Rikichi is not a bad character but his character arc in the movie was a lot more effective. There are some ok characters and there are some characters that add nothing to the story. Ukyo on the other hand is a show-stealer even though the only “bad guys” in the film it represents were “bandits”, just bandits led by a leader of the bandits. Ukyo is a decent character but not a phenomenal villain. The show has a good Main 7 characters and some of the supporting characters are alright. Surprisingly, the characters are not boring. The only problem with the majority of characters is the character development and Katsushiro really had development problems in the show’s course. This could be a problem with some viewers but that’s where I get to my main issue with Samurai 7.
The plot of Samurai 7 does stay true to the spirit of the movie despite a lot of liberties taken with the original source material it represents. The first third is (in a way) faithful to the movie, the second third does drag a lot and the middle portion is its own thing which has more politics unlike the film. The last third stays true to the spirit of the movie. Another thing that Gonzo took liberties while making this anime is by changing the settings big time. This may be questionable to some and I can’t say they were smart choices. Like the movie, this anime is a tale of courage and hope. It is a likely fact that this anime will not have as great a legacy as the movie that this anime represents. Now when I review an anime, I hardly talk about the manga that is the source material to a majority of animes. Since this is an adaptation of a movie, I will actually mention quite a bit about the movie that this anime is based on. Akira Kurosawa was a respected Japanese filmmaker who I think really films his movies very well and he was a master of his craft. Kurosawa-san is also known for being visionary as a filmmaker and even though this is a film about samurai, he even showed the humanity of some of the characters he puts into these films. Seven Samurai is highly regarded as Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece and is also even regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made by prestiged and respected film critics and even film buffs like myself. I will have to see this movie a number of times to see if it deserves to be regarded that highly. Now if you plan on seeing Samurai 7, you may want to see Akira Kurosawa’s movie first but it isn’t completely necessary. Watching this anime first make it a little easier to follow since despite some complexities. If you actually saw the movie first, you may be greatly disappointed with this anime. There is one thing to keep in mind that I see in this anime. I never saw Samurai 7 to be a remake to Seven Samurai, I see Samurai 7 to be a tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece despite not having the same kind of legacy that Kurosawa-san left behind. His spirit may live on like a leaf in the wind, but at least his vision never fades with his films.
Samurai 7 is available by Funimation. the film Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is available by The Criterion Collection. A Western-genre remake known as The Magnificent Seven which is directed by John Sturges is available by MGM.
With all that said, Samurai 7 is a tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s samurai masterpiece. It does have a good variety of characters that stays true to the spirit of the movie, and it has a soundtrack that compliments the show well despite some repetitiveness in it. The story is not bad for a tribute but it is a bit slow and lacks some depth. What Samurai 7 suffers with is its animation as well as some painfully inconsistent moments. The 3D animation mostly doesn’t work and some effects look awful. It is still an ok watch as a whole. Whether you don’t like this anime or not, you will probably appreciate Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai epic even more.
I give Samurai 7... a 6.7 out of 10, it is DECENT.
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