Samurai 7 is a great anime adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's classic 1954 film "Seven Samurai". In Gonzo's adaptation the original story of class-based struggle is transplanted into a futuristic world that conveniently resembles feudal Japan. Though in this pseudo-futuristic anime world samurai's can slice through giant mecca, chop bullets in half, and deflect laser blasts with Jedi-esq reflexes. All of which, makes for epic battle sequences where bows and swords square off against laser cannons and mechanized samurai.
Settings aside, however, the story is remarkably true to the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece. With both stories starting when a poor farming village gets tired of being persecuted by a band of dishonored samurai who roam around the countryside extorting rice from farmers. Then in an attempt to free themselves from this vicious cycle of extortion the villagers decided to fight back and send three villagers to the city to hire samurai willing to be their guardians in exchange for meager offerings of rice. Granted like all good stories, Samurai 7 isn't that simple as the villagers find that most samurai are insulted by the offer and quickly refuse. Eventually, however, the villagers manage to recruit seven samurai all of whom enlist for reasons beyond the trivial offerings. All of this sets the stage with ample back story, foreshadowed character development, and a story of class-based struggles that comes together to form an excellent story that's absolutely worth watching.
Also, for true fans of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" I should mention that this story does extend Kurosawa's original tale with a bit of poetic licenses. So I would encourage those fans to actually watch this piece as well because while Samurai 7 is based on Kurosawa's work it is actually a well managed update that does a good job of extending the original story without corrupting the original core points and themes.
Like most Gonzo pieces Samurai 7 gets extremely high marks for production quality. The characters are well drawn and blend nicely into both CGI and hand drawn backgrounds. In addition, there are scenes that are absolutely breath taking and the battle sequences are both well drawn and visually compelling. All in all, very high marks for Gonzo here as the work was very well done.
What really distinguishes Samurai 7's score is the way that Gonzo blends traditional Japanese instruments, modern music, and sound effects together to create a dynamic score that's a symbolic audio bridge between Kurosawa's 1954 classic and this modern adaptation. Probably the best example of this is the closing theme which has a very JPOP sound yet still leverages the traditional Japanese Taiko drums in the background. That said, throughout the series the Koto (a traditional string instrument) and Taiko drums can be heard in perfect harmony with a modern orchestra. All in all, a very complex, but complimentary ensemble that the viewer should really pay attention to as it does a great job of incorporating very traditional Japanese musical elements into a very modern score.
Given the fact that the story was based on a classic that all film buffs have likely seen this was an area where it would have been easy to mess up. However, I have to admit despite the futuristic pseudo-Japan setting the characters, I felt, were actually better explained in this story. As Gonzo dedicated significant amounts of time to telling the back stories of each of the samurai and fully unveiling their individual motives for joining the mission which, in my opinion, was something Kurosawa's original three-hour epic was a little weak on. That said, the characters are still very true to Kurosawa's original molds and fit well into this futuristic world. All in all, the characters and their underlying back story were nicely unfolded in this modern adaptation.
Honestly, this has been one of the most enjoyable pieces that I've watched this year and I really rank it behind only Elfen Lied and put it on par with Basilisk. In addition, I should note that I'm often critical of these pseudo-futuristic world settings as that's often a license for storytellers to re-invent the laws of physics in order to bend it to the whims of a loophole filled plot. Thankfully, that wasn't the case here. In fact, I found myself drawn into the story and readily accepting this world and the new powers the samurai were granted because of the way everything was setup. Regardless though I have to say that Samurai 7 is a real must see for anime fans and anyone who enjoyed Akira Kurosawa's original masterpiece.
Also for those interested in owning the series I really have to say the box set that FUNimation put together after all the DVD's were released is really something worth owning. It comes with seven DVDs and a fold out case that comes packaged with a beautiful box and seven small guidebooks. In truth this was one of the best packaging jobs I've seen for an anime series and would almost recommend it on aesthetic value alone.