Danielle Leigh's Reading Diary -- Samurai 7 vol 1

How is it that, Samurai 7, an adaptation of an adaptation, is surprisingly clear in its story telling and artistic vision?  Although I'm not a big fan of pure "action" titles, I can confidently recommend Samurai 7 to those that are.

It is my understanding the manga is based on the anime of the same name, which is also an adaption of the classic Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa.  Although I've seen neither the film nor the anime, the manga has inspired me to seek out both versions as soon as time allows.

The manga opens to a distant future on some Earth-colonized planet in which epic war has been waged with...cyborgs.  Robots?  Robot cyborgs?  I know, right?  Anyway, it appears that the only thing that stood between the colony and complete annihilation were incredibly powerful samurai who wielded even more insanely powerful swords, which could cut a building (or a giant robot the size of a small moon) in half.  The war is over but it seems like these very powerful samurai have been corrupted, and now called the "Nobuseri," they generally go around terrorizing whoever they damn well please and taking whatever they want from the poor peasant class of the colony.  Also, these Nobuseri (no longer to be known as "samurai" since they lack the noble intent associated with that position) aren't really quite human anymore since have been replacing their body parts with cyborg parts.

The manga follows the journey of the young-samurai wannabe, Katsushiro, who rejects cyborg parts because he has no interest in "manufactured strength."  With peace now the order of the day, Katsushiro has no way in which to distinguish himself as a samurai, much less learn how to fight like one.  Katsushiro is a total babe in the woods but he's drawn into the plight of the even more innocent village girl, Kirara, who wants to recruit samurai of pure spirit to protect her village from the Nobuseri.  The first two-thirds of the book revolves around Kirara and Katsushiro recruiting the seven warriors who will protect Kirara's village.  These so-called "samurai" range from our stereotypical vision to a dis-embodied, um, so to speak, but intelligent, cyborg head (think of when Al has lost his helmet-head in Fullmetal Alchemist).  The final third shows the newly gathered samurai group fighting the tech-heavy "Nobuseri" in epic battles that dwarf the humanity of the warriors and the villagers they strive to protect.

If I have one critique of the title it is that the battles -- beautifully rendered in spectacular detail -- lack a sense of urgency.  Right now the "enemy" is faceless, without personality, and, therefore, it is hard to feel too invested in the violent proceedings.  It helps that the samurai all have distinct and interesting personalities but that isn't quite enough to make the title's focus -- honorable samurai versus evil!cyborg!samurai -- engaging.  Right now my entry into the title is watching Katsushiro follow wholeheartedly, and with the traditional energy of the shonen hero, his naive dream of becoming a real samurai.

Review Copy provided by Del Rey.

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