Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing the release of my novel Lightning Wolves. One of the characters in the novel is a former samurai named Masuda Hoshi. I didn’t just introduce this character because I thought the idea of a samurai in the wild west seemed cool. He provides a bridge to the next novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, which is set in disputed territory between Russia and Japan.
A couple months ago, I learned about an anime series that retold Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai in a steampunk setting called Samurai 7. Yeah, the titles can mess with you, especially if you try discussing both at the same time, hence the title of the post! All in all, it was a nicely done series. For those who may not be familiar with the source material, Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village plagued by bandits who steal their crops. The villages go to the city and hire samurai to protect them. The only catch is that villagers can only pay the samurai in meals. As a result the group they recruit is a mix of tired war veterans and young men, anxious to prove their worth. It’s a wonderful tale inspired by Kurosawa’s love of American Western films. I find it fitting that Seven Samurai was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Eli Wallach.
Samurai 7 expanded the story of Kurosawa’s original movie considerably, providing more background about each of the characters and adding a new story arc about merchants using the bandits as puppets to rule the land. The steampunk elements were largely incidental, but added some nice visual styling to story. The animation was generally good, although there were three episodes where it looked like a less talented company did some fill-in work. I also had something of a suspension of disbelief issue in that the samurai were so easily able to defeat mecha and advanced guns with swords, but if you can let that slide, it’s fun to watch.
As to which I liked better, the anime or the 1954 film, I’m going to go with a somewhat heretical choice and say that overall I enjoyed the anime more. The reason was simply that there was more time to develop the characters. There’s no question that Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of film making, but it is limited by its, admittedly lengthy, three-hour run time and the period that produced it. Although I liked the samurai Kambei and Kyuzo better in the movie, I liked the arc they went through in the series. What’s more, Seven Samurai has almost no meaningful women characters. The only ones are the farmer’s daughter Shino, who serves as a love interest for the young samurai Katsushiro, and a grandmother who wants vengeance on the bandits for killing her son. Samurai 7 introduced Kirara, a strong-willed water priestess who recruited the samurai. Also, a farmer’s wife captured by the bandits who has no lines in the Kurosawa classic is given a real part including exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome in Samurai 7.
One element I found interesting in comparing the two versions of Seven Samurai was that many of the things that made the anime compelling seemed based on ideas introduced in The Magnificent Seven. The water ceremony of Samurai 7 evokes the fiesta where the gunmen are welcomed in The Magnificent Seven. The western adaptation also introduced the idea that one of the heroes betrayed others in his past. In Seven Samurai the bandits are essentially anonymous, but in the other two adaptations, we get to see them as individuals with problems of their own.
It’s hard to say how all this will influence my new novel, if at all. At the very least, it inspires my creativity. If you want to meet my samurai character, Masuda Hoshi, pick up a copy of Lightning Wolves. It’s on sale for 50% off all this month as Smashwords. Just use the code SSW50 at checkout. If you prefer print copies, they’re available at Amazon.com.