Samurai 7 Box Set (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2007



What They Say
Based on the legendary Akira Kurosawa classic epic feature film, Seven Samurai.

Set in a futuristic world that has just witnessed the end of a massive war, scores of villages are terrorized by Nobuseri bandits. But the Nobuseri are no normal bandits. They were once Samurai, who during the war integrated their living cells with machines to become dangerous weapons now appearing more machine than man. Absolute power corrupts, and their reign of terror is increasing its hold on the countryside.

But one group of villagers has had enough, deciding to hire samurai to protect their village. Kirara is a young priestess who travels to the city seeking out protection. One by one, she encounters brave samurai that the war has left behind. These men of skill and valor are each unique and not without their quirks. But can they come together as one to defend the helpless village?

Contains all 26 episodes!

The Review!
When a village under duress from bandits decides to hire some samurai to help them, the world begins to change.

Audio:
The audio side of this release is pretty nicely set up both in technical terms and actual performance. The series is presented with four language tracks, not including any particular episode commentaries, and spot checking them throughout has them all sounding quite good. The two stereo mixes are done at 256kbps and are clean and clear though they lack the impact of the two 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 mix, done at 448 kbps, is very solid throughout and the big action scenes have a lot of power to them in the bass. Directionality is solid throughout both in dialogue and action effects and the opening and closing music sequences are excellent. The action isn't non-stop but when it kicks in you can really feel it. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of all seven discs.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With the various issues across FUNimation discs in the last year I was fairly nervous about how this show would look but these are the discs as originally released as singles. That means it was done by their previous authoring house, Vision Wise. All of the problems I've had with FUNimation's in house authoring are essentially non-existent here as cross coloration, blocking and noise really don't come across at all. Watching this at 480p on a 50" set was a very pleasing experience on the eye as colors maintain a very solid and vibrant feel with only the smallest amount of background noise in some panning sequences. There are some color gradient issues at times throughout the twenty-six episode series but this is a source issue and something that hits even the biggest of Hollywood digitally animated films. Visually, Samurai 7 was a fantastic experience.

Packaging:
When FUNimation put the series out originally, they did so in both a special edition and regular edition form. The special editions were lavish oversized pieces that had storyboard books and other materials that really stood out as something special. This box set edition manages to capture some of that as the box includes not only the original discs but also some of the books. The box is setup with a digipak that is held inside an unfortunately thin slipcover. The slipcover features a great looking illustration of the main cast on the front panel while the back panel is kept minimal. That has a good summary of the show along with a few choice pictures from it and a clear listing of the basic extras. It has something of a restrained feel to it which when combined with the brown coloring gives it almost a sense of reverence. The spine panel continues this as it just has the series logo along with the tag of it being a complete collection.

The digipak inside of it has some very good illustrations with it, from the front cover that has another variant of the full cast to the back one which has a striking visual of Kyuzo. Kanbe and Katsushiro take the opening flaps for themselves while the rest of the leads are behind the various DVDs. As mentioned, the DVDs themselves are the same as the original releases so you get the character artwork on them that was used for the original covers for the singles. Where FUNimation went above and beyond I think was in including the original guidebooks/art books with this release. The seven books are included in a separate sleeve and these are a great read, filled with interviews, original artwork and translated illustration notes. After the series was over, this was a great way to find more of the nuances of it all.

Menu:
The menu design for the series works the seven volumes by character which works out nicely. Each menu is the same in terms of the overall layout and the static features that are in theme with the show. Within those areas are clips of the character that is central for that volume, tied to the artwork from the original keepcase release, along with a bit of instrumental music to set the mood. Access times are nice and fast with these releases and the design works well in making navigation quick and easy. Due to there being multiple soundtracks here and angle features, we didn't try to see if the disc would read our player's presets and just set it through the menu.

Extras:
The on disc extras are the same as the original releases, which include things such as the clean openings and closing, character galleries and the occasional commentary piece. Please see the individual disc reviews for a full breakdown of what's on each volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Much to my shame, I have to say I've never seen Akira Kurosawa's original film the Seven Samurai. I have of course seem any derivations of it over the years in other films, both Hollywood and foreign, but I've never seen the original even though I own the first Criterion release that had removable subtitles. It simply got pushed back among a sea of other DVDs to watch. Suffice to say though that the general concept is a longstanding one that's almost a cliché in a way.

With Gonzo, it seems like every year they manage to put out one stellar show that feels unlike most of their others. In 2004, that series was Samurai 7 as they took Kurosawa's concept and remodeled it into a strange yet intriguing future setting. Similar to what they did with Gankutsuou, Samurai 7 takes the familiar structure and design and reworks things with some nice expansion and a touch more relevance. The series focuses around Kanna village, a place where the villagers work hard to grow the rice for the bandits that come to take it from them. While a little is held away for safeties sake, the villagers spend their time eating only their firefly rice and barely having an existence. The bandits, massive mechanical monstrosities, rule over the land for the most part as the Emperor in the Capital seems to have little incentive to deal with them.

With times tight, the villagers in Kanna decide that they have to try and change things. Being weak and timid, they instead decide to try and hire some samurai to come out and defend their village before the next big rice taking occurs. The trio that heads out from there is similarly timid and weak, having known no more than what they've seen in their small village. Rikichi is a twenty-something man who has lost his wife to the bandits, as she offered herself to them in order to save the village at one time. Kirara is essentially the priestess of the town, a Mikumari, that is able to do things such as sense where water wells may be as well as being able to tell the true value of a person. Rounding it out, often for light comedic effect, is her younger sister Komachi, almost a tot in some ways but also a future Mikumari. The three have taken a bit of rice with them to the city of Kagokyo in order to hire hungry samurai to defend them.

From there, the show moves through the motions of having the trio come across several samurai who they must convince to aid them. Along the way the structure of how this world is designed comes into play as we see how the merchants control all the power after the last war. How the samurai from then fell either into wandering roles or that of massive mechanical bandits. The power structure of the world under the Emperor brings us into contact with a foppish young man named Ukyo who is set up to be something of a foil for the group. Each new samurai that's brought in to help until the group reaches seven brings a new tale and accents the series just a bit more. Be it the young man that hasn't yet killed and is therefore not a samurai yet or the venerable samurai who has turned into a performer in order to make ends meet. Each of them brings something good to the table and many of them complement each other in very enjoyable ways.

With such a basic setup but with a number of characters involved, it's easy to see how this would work over twenty-six episodes. So many stories to tell about each character, plenty of growth to have for some of them, plus learning the world itself, the lead-up to the final battle against the bandits in the village could easily run the entire series. Instead, this part of the storyline encompasses just the first half of the series and then takes a turn into something larger and more important. Every little piece that made its way into the first half becomes all the more important as it moves along.

What pushes a show like this along of course is its characters. The samurai that are brought into it do fit into a number of archetypes, from the newbie to the seasoned veteran. You have the brash one, which in this version is a mechanical samurai named Kikuchiyo, as well as the quiet one who seems to be eternally happy. Everything is rallied around one character though and that's generally the most experienced one who carries himself in true samurai form. Kanbe take son this role perfectly as his interactions with the others and his general strategy planning has him in the role of a true samurai general. His personal relationships though add a nice twist as you have someone like Kirara who can't help but find him appealing even though his life is firmly removed from such things.

The design of the series is both muted yet spectacular. A lot of time is spent either in the villages or the slum sections of the cities but it has a real sense of character about it. The reverence given to the land and the rice is beautiful. It's a rare series that really seems to characterize the importance of the land rice to the villagers to the viewer. The upper levels of society is nicely done as you see both the capital and other areas but very little really stands out among them. The most striking designs in the series, both good and bad, come in the form of the bandits. The massive bandits and their floating homes (which remind me of the red ships in Tron) are great looking, an interesting combination of organic and mechanical. The actual massive mechanical samurai are basically giant mecha but with no pilots other than the souls shifted into them they're very impressive looking. The bad ones are the small floating "foot soldiers" that people can climb into. They're pretty goofy looking and feel odd in comparison to some of the other human sized mechanical creations.

Similar to the other high profile series that Gonzo does every now and then, the animation for the show in general is solid throughout. You can tell when the "B team" is working the animation though as some of the characters are off model. The most obvious tends to be Kirara as her design is usually very detailed and lush. There is very little in the way of repeated scenes in the series and only one episode touches upon recap material. Even then that's pretty minimal and is done in order to tie things together for the progression of the series. The episodes are all longer than normal by about 2-3 minutes but that isn't really new content. Before each episode there is a recap of events as told by either Komachi or her friend Okara which is followed by another piece that talks about the why's of how the world has become. Add in the regular opening after that and there's a lot of build-up before the show starts. At the end of each episode you can do a fair bit of skipping in order to get to the good stuff in the next one but you miss a couple of nice stills and other moments.

In Summary:
Samurai 7 was a series that looked intriguing when it first started but for some reason I didn't jump into it, rather letting someone else handle it. Taking the show in its whole form I'm glad to that I did that. We watched the seven volumes over the course of about five days, the last night of which we went through the last three volumes. The build-up takes a bit during the first disc or two but then it moves at a very good pace and flows beautifully. FUNimation has done a fantastic job with this show and its overall quality shines, from video to packaging. This priced down collection doesn't have everything that the singles has but they went above and beyond the norm and have put out a top tier release. Highly recommended.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Character Profiles,Commentaries

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 Progressive Scan HD DVD player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 99.98
Running time: 650
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Samurai 7