2004's animated miniseries Samurai 7 is set in an unspecified future and tells the story of a Japanese peasant village, Kanna, struggling to free themselves from the terrifying domination of a group of machine bandits out to steal their harvest. The series is a loose - and I mean loose - retelling of Akira Kurosawa's classic film Seven Samurai. It works as an amusing piece of nonsensical fun, but ultimately fails to be the moving drama it wants to be.
The story centers around the plight of Kanna village, home to a few peasant farmers. For years, they have suffered under the iron rule of the bandits (also known as Nobuseri), terrifying hunks of machine metal that raid their farms every year, intent on stealing the annual crop of rice. Finally, after the bandits make one unreasonable demand too many, the farmers realize it's time to take a stand. They send a "water priestess," Lady Kirara, out to the big, scary city to round up a few Samurai to take up their cause. The problem is, the only payment they can offer is a few bowls of rice. The only thing the citizens of Kanna have going for them is that the samurai are as down on their luck as they are.
Many years ago, the characters' world was decimated by a war between humans and machines. This war, told in a few brief flashbacks, provides most of the political and social backdrop for the series. The Nobuseri are former Samurai-turned-machines that torment and plague farming villages such as Kanna. The few Samurai still standing are a shadow class. Mostly in hiding, they eke out an existence on the edge of society, finding work when and where they can.
Lady Kirara, her little sister Komachi, and sidekick Rikichi are eventually successful in rounding up a motley crew of seven Samurai to defend their village. The seven include Kambei (a world-renowned warrior), Katsushiro, (an inexperienced apprentice in desperate need of guidance), Gorobei, (who makes a living performing magic tricks), Shichiroji (an old friend of Kambei's), Kikuchiyo (a cyborg Samurai), rice-obsessed, mechanically-inclined Heihachi, and Kyuzo (a mysterious Samurai who dedicates his life to saving Kambei's so that he can one day have the pleasure of murdering the old man himself.)
There are enough good stories here to keep the story going for much more than the series' twenty-six episode run, yet the writers unfortunately choose to focus on all the wrong things, turning what was originally a great concept into a mishmash of elements that are either annoying, unnecessary, or just don't make sense.
Instead of focusing on Kambei's back story or the epic chip on Kyuzo's shoulder, the series makes main characters out of the annoying, inexperienced Katsushiro, equally irritating Kikuchiyo, and cutesy baby sister Komachi. Even street performer Gorobei (possibly the most entertaining Samurai) is glossed over, killed off in one of the first episodes, in favor of these other, more annoying, characters.
Katsushiro, who becomes one of the main Samurai characters is also the least interesting. It's frankly impossible to account for his obscene amounts of screen time. Throughout the twenty-six episodes, he's grating and sycophantic, displaying a fanboyish obsession with the older, more experienced Kambie. Katsushiro calls Kambei "Sensei" long before the older man ever agrees to take him on as his apprentice. When Katsushiro finally matures, it's too late in the game, and too sudden to be satisfying.
The series also makes much out of Lady Kirara's love life. Many episodes are wasted focusing on Katsushiro's unrequited infatuation with her and on the equally unrequited feelings she has for Kambei.
Meanwhile, several key questions go unanswered. It's never explained how human beings are able to turn themselves into machines or how a single Samurai with an antique sword is capable of taking down huge, metal robot warriors.
Despite these flaws, Samurai 7 is still worth watching. It's a solid piece of good, clean fun. It's just not the well-thought-out epic that it wants to be or so easily could have been.