I couldn’t help it. I got anxious. Waiting out the rest of this - - covering the last four episodes one-at-a-time - - was just impossible when the story was ramping up like this. Here’s the first, and likely only, time I’ll write up this many episodes at once on Watch & Learn, and that’s really got a lot to do with how fundamentally satisfying SAMURAI 7 has been in comparison to most other series I’ve featured here.
Watching this along with CASSHERN SINS, in particular, really put its successful delivery into sharp relief. After wading through eight hours of post-Apocalyptic ennui that tried, at all times, to remove any sense of dramatic tension or escalation, it became so much more preferable to deal with a heroic action-adventure that, you know, actually resolves its plot. Indeed, this finale’s really a reminder of how so many other anime series get so obfuscating over what would seem like storytelling basics.
At the same time, even though this closes the loop and reinforces the SEVEN SAMURAI parallels right down to the kill count and closing lines, I so enjoyed the much more complex tributaries it explored before shut-out. Kambei’s memorable closing observation about how the samurai have actually lost has much more resonance because we’ve also seen the civil war and the way Ukyo’s manipulated everybody who’d already been chewed up by it.
Likewise, we’ve also gotten much more time to get to know Heihachi, Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo, so their deaths make far stronger of an impact without necessarily getting too overwrought, either. (Hell, I just didn’t want to see this team dynamic ever get broken up. I could watch many more seasons of these guys bumping heads). It’d be a little macabre to start ranking the best death scenes but, honestly, the one cel of Kikuchiyo’s severed and soldered feet carried more weight than any of the pondered-and-brooded-upon, multi-episode mortal coil shedding in SINS.
Following all that, it’s interesting how the relationship between the samurai and the villagers were improved for this. In the original, the farmers were in a hurry to kick these warriors out as soon as the job was done. Here, we get the sense that Kikuchiyo’s death will actually shape his “little bride” into a stronger woman in the years to come - - a notion that’s far more moving than the outright tragedy of rejection from some ungrateful townsfolk.
And there’s not much of any scandal floating around the prospect of the Water Priestess falling in love with one of the samurai. While that development was treated as the most egregious taboo in the original flick, here it’s something the town elders repeatedly encourage.
Actually, it’s the changes surrounding that now doubly or triply unrequited love that intrigued me the most. I’m not sure what the implication was supposed to be for the seer stone seemingly taking a young girl’s crush so seriously. If Kambei had been open to such a relationship, could it have healed him? Did the reinforcement of the subject somehow motivate him even more to defeat these villains? Both his wise and gentle refusal, and the way the shift of affections prompts Katsushiro to a nomadic life, felt utterly fitting.
Like I said last time - - to my utter surprise, the over-eager little rookie wound up being my favorite character. The implication that this tale of lost love, lost comrades and lost idealism might prove to be the backstory of some legendary and hardened warrior is a really fascinating development. Who’s to say that it won’t be a weary and deadened Katsushiro turning down another foolish girl’s advances during another adventure far off the future?
Once again, I’m out of space to get into everything I enjoyed about this episode. The raid on the capital was spectacular. Katsushiro’s cannonball deflection was totally rad. Heihachi’s explosive last stand was gripping stuff. The emperor’s aid’s secret samurai skills made for an awesome surprise. And watching Ukyo squirm like a little weasel after he ran out of doubles to hide behind was bloody satisfying.
I’m so happy I finally got around to watching this series for myself. It’s definitely on my list of favorites for this column. I can't state it any more plainly than that.