Samurai 7 vol 1 was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. Managing to retain much of the greatness of Akira Kurosawa's classic epic Seven Samurai but have a voice of its own, it successfully avoided the mediocrity most remakes fall into, but could this second volume live up to it?
The volume starts with the the villagers still in the city, having recruited just two samurai and two wannabes from the expected seven. With time running out things are made more complicated when the head of the city's merchants declares a purge of samurai following the assassination of an imperial envoy. With dangerous groups of hunters closing in on our heroes, the leader of the recruited samurai - Kambei - decides that they must cut and run to avoid the chance of the villagers getting hurt. Fleeing the city isn't going to be an easy task though, the hunters and the head merchant's spoiled son are closing in but help is at hand, although a club host and a woodcutter don't seem quite what they need...
The last volume focused a lot on the city and setting of the series, allowing a glimpse into the society that has put the villagers in their predicament. This time round the series delves even further into this society, and in the process veers away considerably from the story of the original film. As well as adding the samurai purge subplot that causes the group to flee before they can gather the necessary warriors the series also takes us into the strange world of the Shikimoribito - an enigmatic, ever-watching race of cave dwellers who's power cell manufacturing ensures them a shaky peace with the city merchants. Considering the length of the series you knew there would be some original elements added, and the quality of this added material would be the making or breaking of the series in my eyes.
Luckily the new material is not bad, the Shikimoribito may be a bit of a clichéd anime ninja clan, but they are nicely sinister and the journey through their underground realm gives some interesting insight into the past of the villager Rikichi. There is plenty of mystery in this volume but the main attraction is once again the action. The big action scenes are once again excellent, especially the group's flight into the ancient tunnels and caverns below the city with the samurai hunters hot on their trail. For once the robotic samurai wannabe Kikuchyo steals the show with some truly heroic and selfless scenes that at last allows him to be more than just the comic relief, and the new characters - a cheerful swordsman who does woodcutting in lieu of paying for things and one of Kambei's old friends - are excellent. Each new character really adds to the series in terms of story development and improving the series as a whole, and as the cast increases so does the viewer's enjoyment.
Samurai 7 vol 2 manages to keep up with the pace and quality of the first volume, and blends aspects of the original film with new material to largely excellent effect. The head merchant's arrogant son is a bit crap, but the drama and tension is ramped up this time to great effect. There is also a great cliffhanger at the end of the volume which will leave you desperate for volume three, but even without it there is no doubt that anyone who had seen the previous two would come back for more anyway. Samurai 7 remains a great series that is most definitely worth your money.
Clean opening and closing sequences, character profiles and trailers are included once again, but this time there is also the original Japanese trailer for the classic Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai! Admittedly the trailer is laughable in that 1950's way, with lots of pointless declarations from the voiceover guy ('They were SAMURAI!.......SEVEN SAMURAI!!!') and a bad selection of clips that manage to make a very good film look a bit crap. However, despite the comedy value if you haven't seen the original film and don't want to know what happens give this trailer a miss, as - in a typical 1950's trailer way - it gives away the ending and several other important plot points too! Great to see some stuff for the original film on here, but they maybe should have kept this one back for the final volume...