I have read and enjoyed a few reviews of Mizutaka Shihou‘s Samurai 7. However, none of the reviews I have read have been written by people who have seen Seven Samurai, the Akira Kurosawa classic movie the manga is based on. I hope here to give a different perspective on what potentially might be a great manga.
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of the best movies ever made in the history of cinema. It stands with Citizen Kane and The Godfather as one of the three best films ever made…ever. Maybe this is the general opinion, or maybe this is my opinion, but this is the opinion I took when cracking open the first volume of Samurai 7.
And I broke the seal of the first volume of Samurai 7 with nothing short of reverent fear. I love Seven Samurai. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. However I was not disappointed by Samurai 7. It took a modern approach at retelling a perfect movie, and that may be its undoing.
Seven Samurai is Akira Kurosawa’s swan song, the peak picture of what arguably is one of the most perfect careers in film making. Does Seven Samurai deserve a manga retelling? Sure. Is it needed? No…not really…but when reminded the original Seven Samurai was released more than 50 years ago, any retelling that might get manga readers to pick up the DVD is certainly worth it.
At first I assumed Samurai 7 would be set in the Meiji-era days, where the powerful samurai became blades for hire as Japan as a society moved to the modern age, just as the movie was. However I was pleasantly surprised to find that Samurai 7 is set not in post-fiefdom Japan, but in a future where the Earth has been divided by war between robots (er…cyborgs) and humans. In this post-war world samurai are the only ones who can apparently fight the cyborgs using an expected discipline and technique, but also high-tech swords that can split ships in half.
The manga begins in similar fashion to the movie, as rice village farmers come to the big (and dangerous) city in search of ronin samurai for hire. Their village will be attacked by cyborgs as soon as the rice crop is ready for harvest. The young and ambitious Katsushiro is quick to volunteer, and we soon learn why, but it is the assembly of the seven samurai that makes this first volume a winner. Some have complained that there is not enough action in this first volume, but it is following the structure of the movie surprisingly, and satisfyingly closely. Some very classic scenes are recreated here as the team is put together.
The movie is broken into three distinct acts, and this first volume of Samurai 7 covers the first one. Not the most action-packed? Sure, but the tale ends with an awesome battle that not only hints toward action to come, but gives us some insight as to how our warriors will function when the cyborg thugs come back to the defenseless village.
I can’t help but give a thumbs up to Samurai 7. I only hope that it will inspire readers to watch the source material and realize that black-and-white manga can be properly inspired by even better black-and-white movies.