Samurai 7 vol. 1 (Del Rey)

samurai7-header.gifAkira Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai gets a steampunk spin.

 

 

224 pgs., B&W; 10.99

(W & A: Mizutaka Suhou)

A good story is always worth repeating, and Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1954 film The Seven Samurai has been remade several times: you’re probably familiar with John Sturges’ 1960 western The Magnificent Seven, but the story also survived transplantation to India in the 1975 curry western Sholay (the highest-grossing Indian film of all time) and outer space in Roger Corman’s 1980 Battle Beyond the Stars. And the influence doesn’t end there: Kurosawa’s film is credited with introducing the now-familiar trope of recruiting a team of specialists for a discrete mission, which has since been used in everything from Ocean’s Eleven to Reservoir Dogs.

The cover to Samurai 7 vol. 1. Click for a larger image.Samurai 7 is a steampunk treatment of The Seven Samurai: it appeared first as an anime series on Japanese television (aired in the US on the Independent Film Channel) which spawned the manga series by Mizutaka Suhou. The story is set in a future world where humans have colonized the solar system and a deadly war between humans and robots has destroyed much of the earth. What remains is a society half-destroyed by prolonged warfare where disorder, chaos and corruption are the new normal, and battles between humans and machines are a regular occurrence.

As in 16th century Japan, there’s also a lot of unemployed samurai wandering about, and not all of them remain loyal to the Bushido moral code. Lacking productive employment and being fond of eating regularly, some have now turned their skills to banditry and prey on the ordinary citizens. And they’re more fearsome than in Kurosawa’s film, since many have transformed themselves to nobuseri or fighting machines, and the "machine" part can be taken literally in this case.

The focus of the story is the village of Kanna, which avoided major damage during the war and thus still produces a substantial annual rice crop. Normally that would be good news, but in this case it just makes the village a target for the nobuseri who wait until the rice has been harvested and then steal practically all of it, leaving the farmers just enough to survive so they can repeat the process again next year.

One of the village elders has a brain flash and decides they should hire samurai for protection: who knows, maybe he saw the Kurosawa film. So off go a trio of recruiters from the village, armed by a crystal which will tell them who is pure of heart (necessary because while samurai are hardly in short supply, honest samurai certainly are). Their mission is somewhat hampered by the fact that the only payment they can offer is rice, although since food is in short supply that’s not really such a bad offer. Their first recruits are a young wannabe named Katsushiro and a samurai named Kambei Shimada who looks remarkably like Jesus. By the end of volume 1 the whole team is assembled.

Much as I love the story of Seven Samurai, I’m not sure it benefits from this treatment: the futuristic elements seemed tacked on to a story which works better in a more primitive environment. In fact story-telling is not a strong point in this volume: the narration feels rushed and many of the additions seem arbitrary, while the strongest sections are those which stick closest to Kurosawa’s original version. The art does a better job of setting up the steampunk environment, and there’s some nice spreads integrating the historical and futuristic elements. But once again storytelling is the weak element: although individual frames often look great, the action doesn’t flow well from one frame to the next.

Samurai 7 is rated OT for ages 16+. Extras include a guide to honorifics, translation notes, and a preview of volume 2 in Japanese. | Sarah Boslaugh

Click here to watch the Samurai 7 anime in free streaming video, courtesy of IFC.com!

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