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Samurai 7: The Complete Series(TV) (2004)
Samurai 7 is set in a futuristic world that has just seen the end of a massive war, many villages are being terrorized by Nobuseri bandits. The Nobuseri are no normal bandits. They were once men, but during the war they modifed themselves with machines to become living weapons and now apprear as more machine than man. A group of villagers decide to hire samurai to protect their village. These men of valor are as skilled as they are unique.
For more about Samurai 7: The Complete Series and the Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 23, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Masaki Terasoma, Romi Park
» See full cast & crew
Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review
"Empires rise and fall, but the land is forever."
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 23, 2009
"Samurai 7" is a 26 episode television series based on Akira Kurosawa's acclaimed film, Seven Samurai. Spanning over 10 hours in length, the series covers a much larger timeline than the 1954 film, and thankfully extends the story accordingly. With the perfect blend of action, comedy, science fiction, romance, and drama, "Samurai 7" stands as one of the most underappreciated anime series, and truly deserves the opportunity to win over a new set of fans with this Blu-ray release.
Set in an alternate universe that combines fuedal Japan with futuristic technology, "Samurai 7" opens with a brief look at a forgotten war that pit samurai warriors against the emperor and his legions of Nobuseri (mechanized samurai who have given up the code of their fellow warriors). Having lost the war, most samurai now live among society and hire their services out to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, the emperor periodically sends his Nobuseri out as bandits to raid local peasant villages, stealing rice, women, or anything else the emperor decides he desires. In a small village named Kanna, the peasants face a looming raid by the emperor's minions, and decide to enlist the aid of samurai to protect them.
A small group of villagers head to the city in search of samurai that will work for rice (the only form of payment they can muster). The leader of this group is a young water priestess named Kirara, who possesses a crystal that will guide her in finding samurai to help them. Throughout the search we are gradually introduced to one samurai after another, who all agree to take up the cause of the villagers for their own reasons. We are also introduced to a diabolical young man named Ukyo, who is the son of a prominent merchant, and has aspirations of becoming a political player.
Eventually, a total of seven samurai (thus the name of the series) are brought back to protect Kanna village from the raiding Nobuseri bandits. There is clearly much more to the series, but I'm going to shy away from divulging too much about the events that transpire during the raid on the village (and the continuation of the story beyond that point).
The pacing of "Samurai 7" is excellent, with plenty of time given to the introduction of each character. In fact, the first ten episodes deal mostly with the recruitment of the samurai warriors that will protect the village. This gradual method of introduction goes a long way in developing each character, and vastly increases the likeability of our would-be heroes. By the time I reached episode 11, I was itching for the samurai to converge on the village for the inevitable showdown with the mecha bandits.
The village showdown is when the series really hit it's stride. From that point forward, character development was put on the backburner. and the plot is thankfully given room to breath. In many ways, it was like getting past the initial origins movie in a superhero trilogy. The final 16 episodes feature plenty of impressive action sequences, political betrayals, and classic good versus evil showdowns. There's even a healthy dose of comedy courtesy of the bumbling samurai Kikuchiyo (who is thankfully not annoying like the comic relief characters in other anime series).
Unfortunately, the animation quality doesn't fair as well as the plot in "Samurai 7". In general, the animation quality is serviceable (reportedly budgeted at $300,000 per episode), but it's already looking slightly dated. The cel animation doesn't flow very well with the CGI, which doesn't bode well for any scenes that depict battles with the mecha. There's also heavy use of artificial film techniques that really take away from the animation. Fog or smoke seemed to be apparent in nearly 50% of the scenes, and was likely intended to ease the transition between cel and CGI animation. Instead, it merely serves to soften the picture, and create an unwanted haze over the screen. While it's interesting to see how far animation has come over the past 5 years, I wish I could say that "Samurai 7" looks better. Perhaps I've been spoiled by several recent anime releases on Blu-ray (Akira), and had expectations that were set too high for this series.
Regarding the voice acting, the Japanese and English actors showed a great deal of talent. The standout on the English track would have to be Christopher Sabat as the voice of Kikuchiyo, who did an excellent job with a script that could have been disasterous. He really nailed the comedy, while still managing not to be over the top (as mentioned earlier). Most of the voice actors brought a sense of individuality to their character, and the result is truly something to be proud of. The only acting I was disappointed in, would be J. Michael Tatum, who did the voice of Rikichi. Although his character is supposed to be emotional and heart-broken, I felt the majority of his work bordered on whiny.
Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080P using the AVC video codec, the transfer is certainly a nice step up from the DVD, but failed to impress me as much as I had hoped. The bitrate averaged between 15 and 20 MBPS, which is decent considering the nearly 4 hour runtime on each disc. Detail seemed to fluctuate from scene to scene, and as I stated above, the fine textures were often obscured by the presence of smoke, fog, or artificial brightening. I wish detail were the only thing affected by these techniques, but the black level and contrast also took a hit in these scenes. Colors were well-rendered in most scenes, but still looked somewhat less vivid when fog or smoke was present. As a screenshot example of a scene to scene variance, take a look at screenshot number 19 and 20. Both shots occur in sequence, yet you can see the muted coloring, and hazy look in the wider shot, with steam applied to the room. Other problematic elements included thin light halos around character outlines in darker scenes, some noticeable banding on color transitions, and an odd greenish tint across the skin on facial close-ups that ran at eye level.
By now, you are probably assuming this is a disappointing transfer, but I don't mean for it to sound all bad. Detail does look exceptional in many shots (especially when processing techniques are not used), which leads me to believe that some of the problems I described above are apparent in the source material, and not a problem with this transfer. In fact, many of these source issues were likely not as noticeable prior to bringing this to 1080P, which reveals any flaw in the animation. You should also keep in mind that the appearance of these problems will depend on the size of screen you are viewing this on. At 42 to 50 inches, you will likely find the transfer quite pleasing (especially compared to the DVD), but on a 100 inch screen, the video quality just doesn't measure up to other animated titles on Blu-ray.
Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Funimation has released "Samurai 7" to Blu-ray with two excellent audio options. The primary option is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track in the native language of Japanese. The secondary track is the English dubbed track, also presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I switched back and forth between the tracks throughout the course of the series, and no matter what your preference is, you won't be disappointed. The volume on both tracks is identical with the exception of the dialogue (which is somewhat louder on the English dub), The sound during action sequences showed a great deal of depth, and spacial separation was excellent. Your subwoofer will definitely get a good workout with the rumble of explosions, or the low hum of engines. Clarity is perfect, with not an ounce of distortion. Whether your hearing the clash of sword blades, or the swoosh of an arrow, the precision of the on-screen action can be jaw-dropping. Scenes that were heavy on dialogue seemed a little front heavy at times, but it didn't detract from the experience, and is barely worth mentioning (I would have preferred to hear the low level music during these scenes from my surround speakers, which would provide a greater sense of immersion).
There are two subtitle options depending on the audio track you prefer. If you prefer to watch the series with the Japanese language track, then you will want to select the subtitle track that offers English subtitles throughout the entire series. If you choose the English language track, you can select the second subtitle track which only presents English subtitles during the Japanese musical sequences (the opening theme song). As expected, you also have the option of watching the feature with no subtitles at all.
Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While not completely devoid of supplements, this box set hardly wins any awards when it comes to the inclusion of special features. If you go to the episode listing on disc 1 and 2, you will find a commentary track for episodes 1 and 14. The commentary features the director of the English language dub, the writer of the dub, and a voice actor/writer that worked on the dub. These tracks aren't really worth your time, and mostly involve such statements as "cool", or "I want that sword". If you couldn't tell, my recommendation would be to skip the commentary tracks.
On disc 3, we are presented with the following three features:
Promotional Video (5:24 min, 2-channel, 480P): This feature is an extended commercial supporting the show's airing on a Japanese cable channel. Containing clips from the beginning of episode one, and a sprinkling of clips from the rest of the series, the only interesting aspect of this feature is the ability to see clips from the show in 480P. For the most part, the Blu-ray video quality appears to be a worthy upgrade.
Textless Songs (2-channel, 1080P): If you've already watched all 26 episodes, you won't be jumping at the chance to view this feature. You can choose between the opening or closing theme from the show, and watch them individually.
Trailers (2-channel, 480P or 1080i): Funimation presents 8 trailers for other anime series coming soon to DVD or Blu-ray.
Lastly, the series is split over 3 discs, which are housed within standard size Blu-ray cases, and packaged within a sturdy cardboard box. In a welcomed move, Funimation has split each episode into multiple chapters, so you have the option of skipping the intro and closing theme music (which is nice if you choose to watch the series in rapid succession).
Samurai 7: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Samurai 7" is an excellent anime series that will hold up well in repeat viewings. The plot and acting are top notch, and the animation is decent (though far from exceptional). Regarding the Blu-ray, I would certainly recommend this set to anyone who is currently a fan of the series. The audio quality alone is worth the upgrade, and the video is a noticeable step up from the DVD version of the series. For anyone that hasn't seen the series before, I would base my recommendation on your love for all things anime. A series that mixes samurai sensibility with mecha is most certainly a concoction only found in anime, but most anime enthusiasts would likely smile just at the thought of that combination. Considering the budget price this box set is being offered at (26 episodes is a lot of entertainment), I don't have any reservation in saying this would be a great addition to your collection.
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