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Samurai 7, Animax
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Caution: spoilers.

In 1954, Akira Kurosawa's classic film "Seven Samurai" was released. (I think I must have seen it at some point in the late 80s or early 90s, but if so, I now don't remember anything beyond the basic premise, so I really need to see it again someday.) And the basic plot has inspired countless other things, most famously the 1960 John Sturges film "The Magnificent Seven." (I don't think I ever saw that, but it's possible I saw it and completely forgot about it. Anyway, I've always wanted to see it.) In 2004, this anime series, which was also inspired by "Seven Samurai," aired in Japan. I bought the series on DVD in 2009, but I didn't get around to watching it until September 2016-April 2017. (It had aired on Adult Swim's Toonami block in 2012, but at the time I didn't have access to Cartoon Network, so I didn't get to see it.) The reason I decided to finally start watching the DVDs at the time I did is that a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" had just been released, so... it seemed an apt time to see the series, since I couldn't see the movie. (And I wouldn't want to, until having seen the original 1960 movie, anyway.)

The series is set in the distant future, though I'm not sure when exactly. Sometime prior to the series, there had been a war, but I don't know many details about that. But... the world has many aspects that seem more historical than futuristic. There are huge machines, sort of like mechas or something, but otherwise it seems more like feudal Japan. Anyway, there are bandits called Nobuseri, who are former samurai that now either pilot these machines or are fused with them. Or whatever. And they prey upon farming villages. One such village is Kanna, and its elder, Gisaku, decides they should hire samurai to defend them against the Nobuseri. So he sends out a young woman named Kirara, who is the village's water priestess, to find and hire samurai. She is accompanied by her little sister, Komachi, and a farmer named Rikichi. They travel to a city called Kogakyo, where Ukyo, the son of the local magistrate Ayamaro, sees Kirara and becomes obsessed with adding her to his harem.

Meanwhile, Kirara and her companions meet a young man named Katsuhiro, who wants to be a samurai, but has no experience or training. They also meet someone named Kikuchiyo, who appears to be just a suit of armor (which kind of reminds me of Alphonse from Fullmetal Alchemist, though his personality is quite different). (I also want to mention that it sounds to me like his name is pronounced "Kikujo." But people will commonly call him "Kiku" for short.) He calls himself a samurai, though it's unclear whether he has any such experience (he's very strong, though not particularly skilled), and he mostly seems like a comical, boastful character... so of course little Komachi immediately comes to really like him. The first real samurai that they meet is a stoic veteran named Kambei, who initially declines to join them. But it's not too long before he changes his mind. Katsuhiro wants him to become his sensei, though for awhile Kambei seems unwilling to do that, either. They're later joined by a former samurai (currently a street performer) named Gorobei. Later still they recruit another former samurai (currently a woodcutter and machinist) named Heihachi, who is the friendliest, most laid-back person the Kanna villagers have yet encountered.

After leaving the city, the group goes to an inn where one of the proprietors is Kambei's former partner, Shichiroji (aka Momotaro), who also ends up joining them. But they are still pursued by Ukyo and his men, including a pair of samurai named Kyuzo and Hyogo. (In one battle, I think Kambei developed feelings for Kyuzo, based on his fighting skills, though I'm not really sure about that.) But eventually, Kyuzo leaves his allies to join the good guys, though no one except Kambei seems to trust him. (And he had sworn to kill Kambei, so... it's complicated.) And oh yeah, prior to that, Kambei (who is basically the leader of the group) finally acknowledged Katsuhiro as the fifth of the seven samurai whom Kirara was trying to recruit. And it's not long after Kyuzo joins them that they all finally arrive in Kanna (in episode 11), at which point everyone says there are seven samurai, so... I guess Kiku was also accepted as a samurai, though this isn't made explicit until episode 12.

I also want to mention that for all the episodes up to the point where they arrive in Kanna, there would be a bonus scene after the closing credits and preview of the next episode, in which Komachi would write a letter detailing the events of the episode, to someone named Okara. I wasn't sure who that was, and kind of thought it might be the village elder (whose name I didn't learn until checking Wikipedia to work on this review after episode 11). But upon their arrival, we meet Okara, who is apparently Komachi's best friend, a girl her own age. But she's really snarky, and has a laugh that reminds me of a mischievous Pokemon named Zorua. You know, I kind of adored Komachi all along, but seeing her with Okara revealed a new side to her... like, she always seemed so brash or snarky or whatever, but in an endearing, sunny, childlike way. (Which makes sense, since she's a child.) Aside from Kiku, she had the biggest, funniest personality of anyone on the show. But once she gets home, she seems... more like a sidekick who's just trying to emulate her cooler friend Okara. Or something. And at the end of the first episode back in Kanna, Okara takes over the narrative duty that had been Komachi's, up til then. And... I also want to say that any character can sometimes display different layers than we normally see, such as Heihachi being unforgiving or Kiku having pathos.

Anyway, after a fierce battle, the samurai defeat the Nobuseri (though one of the samurai doesn't survive the battle). Then they begin helping to rebuild Kanna village, which had been badly damaged in the battle. But Kambei leaves, to go to the capital (which is actually a flying warship). He had promised to find Rikichi's wife, Sanae, who had given herself up to the bandits some time ago. She and some other girls had been sent to the capital for Emperor Amanushi. Also in the samurai's travels before getting to Kanna, they had met a woman named Honoka, whose little sister, Mizuki, had also been taken to the capital. Kambei had also promised Honoka he'd get Mizuki back. So... now he's trying to rescue both Sanae and Mizuki. Meanwhile, some time after Kambei leaves Kanna, Katsuhiro and Kiku set off after him. Kirara and Komachi insist on joining them, and now that they're away from the village again, Komachi resumes her old habit of writing/narrating letters to Okara. Also, Ukyo, who is now in control of Kogakyo, has some plan for using a bunch of other samurai. And eventually, he murders the Amanushi and becomes the new emperor. And finally, there's a battle between the samurai and the capital (and the Nobuseri). And... I'm leaving out plenty of details of the plot.

Anyway, it's a great series, with great characters, great animation, great battles, great drama and humor, and, you know... it's all just... great. And sad. And stuff.


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