Samurai 7, Vol. 1

Remake or retread? That’s the question facing critics whenever someone updates a classic novel or favorite film, be it Pride and Prejudice or The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. A remake brings new urgency or wit to the original story, new clarity to its structure, or new life to a premise that, by virtue of social or technological change, seems dated—think of Philip Kaufman’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which infused a 1950s it-came-from-outer-space story with a healthy dose of seventies paranoia, or Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which featured a leaner, meaner script than his 1934 original. Retreads, on the other hand, evoke the letter but not the spirit of the originals, embellishing their plots with fussy details, slangy dialogue, or new characters without adding anything of value—think of Ethan and Joel Coens’ deep-fried version of The Ladykillers, which was louder, cruder, and longer than the 1955 film, yet decidedly less funny.

Samurai 7, a mangafication of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, falls somewhere between these poles, treating the source material respectfully without adding anything particularly new or interesting to the mix. The basic plot remains the same: a poor rural village hires seven samurai to protect them from a band of thugs who steal their rice and enslave their womenfolk. Though the manga takes minor liberties with the main characters—one is a headless cyborg, one is a bishonen who always seems to be falling out of his yukata—the samurai bear a strong resemblance to Kurosawa’s original crew, both in terms of their personalities and functions within the group. The manga also preserves the war-ravaged atmosphere of the original, substituting a robot-fueled world war for the carnage caused by sixteenth-century daimyo.

Such fidelity to the source material proves Samurai 7’s undoing, however, as it underscores just how lackluster this adaptation really is. The story unfolds in fits and starts, bogging down in lame comedy and windy speeches that stall the samurai’s inevitable posse formation. Though the fight scenes are competently executed, the artwork has a sterile, perfunctory quality, as if the layouts and character designs were traced from four or five different sources. The mecha elements seem especially incongruous when juxtaposed with the story’s sixteenth-century costumes, buildings, and weaponry; there’s never any compelling rationale for their inclusion, save a desire to surpass the original film’s “wow” factor.

I offer these criticisms not because I view Kurosawa’s original as a sacred text, but because Samurai 7’s creators made such a calculated, unimaginative effort to sex up the material for a new generation of fans. Alas, no amount of bitchin’ gadgetry can compensate for poor pacing, generic artwork, or flat characterizations, even if later volumes promise more samurai-on-robot action. My suggestion: skip the manga and rent the original film. Toshiro Mifune is much fiercer than anything in this samurai-lite adaptation.


3 thoughts on “Samurai 7, Vol. 1”

  1. Tiamat's Disciple says:

    Firstly, welcome to the hell of blogging 😀 hope you have flame proof undies hehe.

    As for samurai 7, i’ve literally just finished reading the first volume and can honestly say it sucks compared to the anime.

    The anime version of samurai7 is superb in all ways, and carries over the feel of the original, while clearly setting utself up as an individual property.

    Sadly the manga lacks everything the anime has, mainly i think because the manga adaptation is only two volumes. As such they go through at a break neck pace and change loads of things.

    TBH i’d say skip the original movie and the manga and rent the anime 😀 it’s much better than both of the others put together hehe

  2. dsch1972 says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Tiamat! I’ve been reading your reviews and opinion pieces for some time, thanks to Brigid’s linkage. We don’t always see eye to eye, but I really appreciate the passion and integrity you bring to the reviewing process.

    I’m not surprised that the Samurai 7 anime is a much more rewarding experience than the manga. The story feels so compressed that many of my most basic questions (i.e. why robots?) went unanswered. And the characters! They barely register at all. I’m a little biased on the subject of the film, as I am an unapologetic samurai movie buff. But I’m definitely open to trying the anime, especially since I’ve seen so many other folks sing its praises.

  3. Tiamat says:

    The problem with the manga is the same one that all two volume manga goes through. It’s to damned short.

    The main thing i had with this manga though was that it trivilised the characters a great deal, and one of my favourite characters was reduced to nothing more than a rich spoilt brat with a huge pervert streak.

    In the anime he’s a totaly different character, as are most of the other cast.

    In a lot of way’s i found it truer to the spirit of the original movie than i was expecting. The character designs and personalities, and the reasoning behind each characters willingness to help is better explored.

    It is a bit more long winded, which a lot of people don’t like, but i actually enjoyed it. Since they explored the finding of the samurai in mopre depth, the journy back to the village, and then the misadventures when they get there.

    They also explored the personlities and conflicts of the peasents more, which is something i liked. Rather than just focusing on the samurai, they look at the scenario as a whole.

    While i liked the original movie, i prefer the anime, but i think for me it’s because i prefer the more sureal environment of the anime over the olden age of the movie.

    As for the why robots, i think you missed something in the first volume, since TBH the manga does a better job of explaining why robots than the anime did. In truth reading that beginning got my hopes up over the manga 🙂

    You should definatly try the anime out, but a woprd of caution, you need bear wiuth it at times. It’s a bit slow to start, and then it slows gain around the middle. However the series is well worth the effort, and the ending made me get all misty eyed.

    It reminded me of the Yul Brenner version, remember the western movie they made off of the original 😀

    And thank you for the kind words about my blog 🙂

Comments are closed.