Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (anamorphic)
Now implicated in the death of the Emperor's Envoy all samurai in the city are being rounded up and questioned. Naturally this makes the continuing search for seven skilled samurai that much more difficult for Kirara. Kambei however correctly deduces that the city is no longer safe to stay in and the group begins to leave for safer grounds. However Ukyo has other ideas about this and pursues the group relentlessly, more to obtain Kirara for himself than any sense of familial loyalty. Sufficiently driven he even raids a previously inviolate town forcing the group to brave the wrath of the Shikimori, guardians of a cave system who have a unique relationship with both the merchants and bandits...
With a title like 'Escape from the Merchants' and the fact that the story follows the films overall arc it should came as no great surprise that our hereos not only elude the merchant's pursuit but indeed collect two more experienced samurai to aid in the defence of Kanna. What is unusual is the expanded relationship between the bandits and the merchants via the Shikimori. In many ways this relationship serves two major purposes, firstly explaining who the heck is providing the power to fuel the Nobuseri in their machines and why the Nobuseri are so obsessed with collecting rice in the first place. As suspected it isn't that they need it directly themselves but it does serve as a useful trade good for what the Nobuseri really do need. The other thing that the Shikimori bring is a sense that the politics of the post war environment is going to feature heavily in the story.
After all who doesn't expect the carefully laid out balance that the Shikimori must adhere to between the Merchants and the Bandits to be upset? This suggests that the defence of Kanna itself may well be simply the prelude to larger events. Especially when you consider the killing of the Envoy which also hints at larger machinations on going and well beyond the scope of the fight for Kanna. But all in all the series is hitting the same plot points as the film, even the same general thematic intent, just via a different route.
All is not entirely perfect however. Running episodes back to back does tend to highlight the heavy reuse of animation frames that the series indulges in. Things like Komachi's letters back to Kanna updating the folks there on progress are cute when viewed the first time but when seen two or three times in close succession don't fare nearly so well. I tend to let this slide a bit as the series was intended and designed to be seen with a week's pause between episodes so this is more a problem with the DVD release and my viewing habits than anything else. It also should be noted that I am marathoning the series because the pacing is sufficiently tight that you do want to see what happens next.
The volume continues the odd mix of high tech fused with more traditional Japanese mores and never loses sight of what the original story stressed - the humanity of the various protagonists in all their flawed glory. Very much a transitional piece this sees the heros closer to Kanna and establishes more of the political backdrop that no doubt will become important later in the series. It remains a very watchable and strangely faithful remake of a classic film while still bringing its own unique twists to the tale. Definitely a solid continuation to an unexpectedly good series.