Written by Jd Banks
Samurai 7: Volume 1
For any manga to recycle a storyline, throw it into a new time period and keep it believable is a challenging feat. A manga adaptation of the 2004 Gonzo anime series, which itself was a adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 The Seven Samurai, Samurai 7 shows that even when a story is adjusted for the 21st century, the fundamental essence of the original story can still be maintained.
Set in a future where wars have ravaged the earth, samurai have become jobless. Some samurai, dubbed Nobuseri, have turned to plundering, creating havoc for poor villages trying to make ends meet. When Katsushiro Okamoto runs into three villagers unsuccessfully rounding up samurai to save their hometown, Katsushiro realizes that this meal ticket may be a bigger bite than he imagined. However, good timing brings the group across Kanbei Shimada, a samurai willing to help them. With Kanbei’s help, they are able to find more samurai before heading off for the village.
The cast from Samurai 7 is rather large. First, there’s Katsushiro Okamoto, a samurai poser in possession of a mecha-cutting sword. His lack of fighting talent and common sense are balanced by the other characters. Kirara, Komachi, and Rikichi – the aforementioned three villagers - give the story a humble and emotional connection. The six samurai fill in Katsushiro’s combat gaps, each having a distinguishable personality with dependable skills. Gorobei Katayama, who looks more like Captain Shunsei Kyoraku from Bleach, has a positive attitude toward everything. Dopey but optimistic Shichiroji hates battles, but he’s willing to stand next to his old time friend Kanbei. Heihachi Hayashida is the tech-head of the group with a stomach as tough as the equipment he creates. Last to join the team is Kyuzo, a samurai who doesn’t like to play around unless there’s something to gain.
Despite the cast, the pacing of Samurai 7 is quite fast. It is such a fast read, readers will have to go back again just to make sure they didn’t miss anything. The only thing that slows down the pacing is the detailed artwork, which causes the reader to stop and admire its unusual yet beautiful scenes.
No matter the admiration garnered from aesthetics, what makes the artwork interesting isn’t just its clean line work or its attention of details using minimal ink strokes. As many avid manga and American comic book readers would notice, there are several differences which form a divide between works by Japanese and American comic artists, especially in the artwork. In Samurai 7, the divide is blurred. Generally speaking, Japanese manga shows an advanced understanding of black-and-white toning—something attained from Heian Period white drawings and institutionalized in the teachings of manga creation—while American comic books tend to rely on two-toned inking before later coloring. Furthermore, American comic books use more boxy layouts, whereas scenes from manga layouts extend past the boundaries of a box.
With Samurai 7, the combination of limited tones and box-bound layouts makes the manga more similar to an American comic book than a manga created in Japan.
Suhou’s Samurai 7, the Samurai 7 anime series, and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai are all based on the same story: a set of defenseless souls put their faith into a group of underdog warriors with big hearts to save them. These stories utilize the advantages of their medium and time period. The Seven Samurai was created in a time when Japan was under reconstruction from World War II, and the black-and-white medium suited the darker themes inside of Kurosawa’s classic film. The reinvention of the 1954 tale into an anime series repurposed the story into a sci-fi tale with CG mecha and slick animation. For its part, the manga adaptation of Samurai 7 captures the light-heartedness of its characters while maintaining the original story’s integrity.
Although the story in the Samurai 7 manga is enjoyable, there are some disappointments that can’t be ignored by simply attaching a big name. Mostly this lies in the casting. For instance, the rambunctious yet lovable Kikuchiyo becomes a red cyborg. The cyborg is still lively and considerably humorous, but doesn’t have the same presence as Toshiro Mifune’s film portrayal. It’s like replacing Mugen from Samurai Champloo—it’s just not a good idea. Even redressing the disciplined Kyuzo into a steely pretty boy drops Samurai 7’s serious premise. Pretty boy doesn’t exactly ring as uber-competent samurai.
Though it is no fault of the manga’s creator in regard to its silliness—after all, it’s mostly following the path of the anime series—Samurai 7 is comical and not always in a good way. With Katsushiro as the main focus of the story, an immature quality drags the manga down slightly. Also, juxtaposing Kurosawa’s early century villages with mecha add to the less-serious nature of the modern adaptions.
Still, finding an adaptation with enough resonance of its source while maintaining its own appeal is a rare find. In spite of its disappointments, the first volume of Samurai 7 is worth reading.
Manga by: Mizutaka Suhou
Original Story by: Akira Kurosawa
US Publisher: Del Rey
JP Publisher: Kodansha
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