Samurai 7 Vol. #2 (also w/limited edition) (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Justin Rich
Review Date: Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2005



What They Say
After the mysterious murder of the Imperial Envoy in the Magistrate's home---with a bloody sword the only clue---a citywide hunt for all samurai begins. With a high price suddenly on their heads, the band of samurai escape the city fast. Kikuchiyo seizes the moment to prove himself to the team. Their race from the city leads them into the watchful gaze of the Shikimoribito. Who are these mysterious "Guardians"? Man or machine? Ally or enemy? A new friend tries to explain, but she is hiding something, too.

The Review!
The hunt for the remaining members of the group begins, so that the village can be saved from the oppressive blade of the Bandits.

Audio:
For this viewing session I began with the 5.1 Japanese track. The music is constant as well as the continual gunfire and explosions makes great us of the surround sound. I also listened to FUNimation's English dub too to listen to their 5.1 as well. Great balance amongst the speaker setup, which lead to great sword collisions from behind during all the fight scenes. In the last episode there was nice rear speaker echoing as the Bandits left the cavern, once again showing great balance for the 5.1.

Video:
Samurai 7 is one of the latest Gonzo series airing in Summer of 2004 till Christmas of 2004 so the transfer is 16:9 widescreen. Animation is sharp and crisp with beautiful combination of hand drawn and computer like most Gonzo shows. There is no bleeding in the animation making the background scenery and the characters come out vibrant and lifelike. The steam punk city is a sharp contrast to the docile farming village with beautiful swaying rows of rice. Battle scenes are fluent and color holds up well, especially in the fast paced fight between Kyuzo and Kambei.

Packaging:
FUNimation continues to use the clear keepcases like they used for Fullmetal Alchemist and Burst Angel, which is great especially when including reversible covers. The first side is a watercolorlike painting of Katsushiro looking off to the left and Akira Kurosawa's Samurai 7 right bellowing his neck. To mark the volume is a two in a diamond below the u of Samurai with FUNimation and Gonzo's symbols on the bottom left corner. On the back is eight screen caps and episode listings. The reverse cover is a battle scene with all seven of the samurai squaring off against Bandits with Kambei and his sword looking directly at you. The disc also includes a thirty page booklet with character sketches and staff interviews from Gonzo on the resurrection of the Seven Samurai.

LE: The Limited Edition contains a soundly constructed cardboard box with an exact replica of the Katsushiro cover art on the front but on a lavender background this time instead of red in volume 1. The box is the size of a hardback novel and contains four sketchbooks for each of the episodes.

Menu:
There is thirty second sound clip with a nice war era type feel to it. In the upper right corner is a picture of Katsushiro standing in front of the Firefly, with play, episodes, audio and extras directly below him. The curser still blends into the background making it hard at sometimes to figure out what option you are on but not as much as the previous disc, and the response time is still quite quick.

Extras:
This disc contains four character profiles: Rikichi, spoiled brat Ukyo, Kambei's "wife" Shichiroji and Kikuchiyo. Followed by the entirely bizarre animated short Mr. Stain on Junk Alley. This disc also contains textless songs of both the opening "Unlimited" by Nanase Aikawa and the closing "Fuhun" by Rin. The highlight of the special features is a two minute color image gallery, for the image go in chronological order for the first four episodes on this disc ending with Kambei and Kyuzo. There is also trailers for Samurai 7, Burst Angel, Fullmetal Alchemist, Baki the Grappler & Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers) Kirara's note reaches the village off her and the seven samurai are on their way, but will they arrive in time?
So far Kambei and Gorobe are the only official members of the group even the Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro are aiding them. The search has been proceeding terribly and Kambei realizes that the only one in every seven asked will join. The group stops for tea and notices the fine cuts on the wood pile and the spare toothpicks made by a mysterious wood chopping samurai, yet they can't find him anywhere. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group he has already struck up a deal with Mesamune to cut wood as well and Gorobe recruits him. Heihachi joins without hesitation even though he is an engineer not a warrior. That is proven by his quick thought in battle by being able to pull down an entire infrastructure while attaching lines to the members of the group for safety and balance.

Things get even more difficult for the group when every samurai is named as an enemy of the state because of the murder of the Imperial Envoy by a samurai blade. Kikuchiyo allows himself to get caught so he can try and help recruit more samurai, but Kambei is dismayed in his moronic plan. To prove that they were worthless like he claimed he easily beats them all by himself. The samurai arrest squad shows up at Mesamune's door and he shows them the underground train the runs beneath his house as their means of escape. While on the train a combination of Heihachi's gadgets and Kikuchiyo's bravery help them all escape the blown tracks, except for Kikuchiyo who goes over into the ditch with the train. This is the first time Kambei shows how hard the war has made him, for he mentions this isn't the first time he has had to step over the corpses of fallen comrades.

Note on episode seven, the first half of the episodes is when the notorious animation drop off occurs in the series, where the fantastic animation and character designs turn dreadful. The introduction to Shichiroji is ruined by how awful the dance sequences are drawn making you focus on the retina burning depletion of quality rather than the sensational story going on. The question for Kambei and the group is where to flee and the only person he can think of is his "wife" to run to. The group is taken in by Shichiroji immediately and were completely undetected but Kikuchiyo who is still alive leads their pursuers right to them with his endless bumbling. Shichiroji is eager to once again partake in war and agrees to be number four, and then Ukyo and his group breaks in. Shichiroji rips the floor up and the escape to the river, but their rowboat is not nearly fast enough to break away from Ukyo's speedboat. But, Tetsai forces them to stop so that they do not anger the Shikimoribito, Ukyo's father's trade partners. Tetsai does give Katsushiro a parting gift with an arrow in the leg that causes a wound that bleeds endlessly and becomes infected giving him a high fever to increase the trouble. Inside the eerie town of the Shikimoribito lives peasants who raise the sap that the Shikimoribito live off of. The intrigue increases as Katsushiro's condition worsens and a Shikimoribito shoots him with a medicated dart to help him heal. When he awakes Kambei makes him number five of the group. Then the Bandits show up to trade with the Shikimoribito causing Rikichi to go mad and tell them the gut wrenching story of the sacrifice of his wife to the Bandits. Kikuchiyo follows the Bandits right into a trap set by Honoka the peasant they thought was their friend. As usual the members of the group crawl out of one fire to find themselves standing right in the frying pan.

In Summary:
Besides the horrible nightmare that was the animation drop in Shichiroji's introduction Samurai 7 still continues to go on the right path. With Kambei making the official number now stand at five there is only two to go. Obviously, he has his sights on Kyuzo for number six and if Kikuchiyo has anything to say about it he'll be seven. The storyline continues to be intricate and leave each episode on a cliffhanger making you head the chapter skip as quickly as your fingers can respond. There is a standoff ready to happen and blade master Kyuzo is going to be involved in it, but which side will he choose? If Kambei's will prevails it will be with his group but the Magistrate wants Kyuzo to slay them all. That question will be answered in volume 3 but there is still a lot more action waiting to happen. Including will the seven samurai even make it to the village on time? The suspense continues to build and the sadness that we'll have to wait till December must now set in.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Songs,Character Profiles

Review Equipment
Sony SAVA D9000 Dual Stack DTS w/ 5 Disc Changer in stack 1 and subwoofer in stack 2 Tv is Sony 57" widescreen rear-projection HDTV Model #KPD 57WS550



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98/49.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai 7