Set in a world where everyone’s desire is to beat up the bigger, tougher guy in order to become the biggest, toughest guy in the ’hood, Afro Samurai serves a plate of standardised plotting. Much of the development comprises a lot of macho standoffs followed by gruesome resolutions; furthermore, the protagonist has no other motive for his deplorable actions except revenge against the nasty guy who killed his beloved father when he was barely old enough to remember it.
So what? Well, there are three notable points which, despite Afro Samurai’s simplistic premise, make it worth following. The first thing is style. The second thing is style. And the third thing is… style. As Afro predictably hacks his way through one unfortunate challenger after another, the creative design continues to retain its fascination – consider a kind of irreverent world setting where rocket launchers are used in close-combat as easily as daggers; sex and violence are equally gratuitous; and the main character wears a pair of 18th century oriental bell bottoms. Heck, even the chief antagonists are a kind of menacing Pentecostal sect with fervent sermons drawn directly from the gospel preacher stereotype.
Generally, Afro Samurai consists of smooth, groovy, funky stuff and borrows its hard edge from African American culture in a way that brings to mind a bloodier, brawnier, but less original Samurai Champloo.
Alongside visual feasts like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Afro Samurai is at heart a long sequence of set pieces intentionally arranged to wow viewers who like pretty shiny fast things. Afro dodges crossbow bolts, parries double swords, and carves flying bullets with the unnerving precision of a murderous master chef, all to an eerie backdrop of deep shadows, sinister greys, and hot splashing reds.
More than that, the show offers some excellent stylistic ‘comic book’ touches, from the majestic way hair floats to the ethereal fluttering of bandannas and other loose material. Afro Samurai also makes the best use of smoke I’ve seen anywhere, including claustrophobic shots of steaming gun nozzles and cigarette fumes pumping out of nostrils, which adds to the intense hellish atmosphere.
Unfortunately, stylistic excellence doesn’t extend to the soundtrack. Comparisons with the hip-hop themed Samurai Champloo are unavoidable once more: unlike Samurai Champloo’s memorable OP and catchy ED, Afro Samurai’s equivalents are respectively generic and bland. Many of the scenes avoid music altogether, opting for natural sounds, but when there is music, it consists of nondescript instrumentals or vague hip-hop-ish beats.
As a pleasant surprise, the English dub consists of street lingo to match the show’s urban flair. It’s novel but it’s also rather corny. At worst, there’ll be Samuel L. Jackson’s monosyllabic deadpan performance as Afro, which adds nothing to the feel of the show except to render his scenes flat and uninteresting.
The men are ‘badass’, the women purely decorative, and the ham-fisted villains fall to Afro’s sword at the drop of a dismembered head. As for Afro himself, viewers need only know one thing: he’s hard. He’s so hard he could break rocks by just sitting on them. He’ll fuck a brother up quicker than he can utter ‘Yo momma’. Etcetera. In short, Afro is vacuous and only entertaining while he’s killing people; in fact, his blinkered, unrepentant lust for revenge even at the cost of allies is wholly unattractive without the necessary background substance to make it understandable.
Afro is not the worst of them, though. No, that award belongs to his invisible sidekick, who presumably is some crude external representation of Afro’s inner self and whose incessant blabbering is meant to fill Afro’s stifling silences. His rapid-fire statements of the bloody obvious (‘We’ve got a stalker and I think he wants to fight you!’) are annoying as hell; moreover, he’s redundant as a foil since Afro’s glacial personality never wavers or develops in response to him. I’d much rather those precious minutes wasted on the sidekick had instead been used to flesh out Afro.
Compact but viscerally impressive, Afro Samurai is also one for the adults. It provides excellent visual entertainment and a gritty atmosphere that countless will find transiently enjoyable. Come for the style, watch for the stunts, and stay because it’s short and won’t waste too much of your time.
GONZO is one of the worst anime studios in existence and Afro Samurai is yet another example of that. It even ruins the minds of the people it employs; just look what happened to poor Kizaki Fuminori. His first work was the rather good Basilisk. Instead of improving, GONZO turned his brain to mash potatoes and afterwards he directed this lame Afro Samurai anime, while later on the complete flop X-Men anime. DAMN YOU GONZO! But enough with that; let’s now talk about the anime and how horrible it is even if we don’t know it was GONZO who made it.
[Where have I heard that one before?]
A black samurai (!) wants to revenge his father’s killer, the holder of the No.1 headband. Because he is wearing the No.2 headband, he is targeted by all those who want to make a name for themselves… That’s it.
For starters, an action-based series with revenge being the only excuse for the plot is not original nor it is smart. The series doesn’t try to go any further than that, leaving all characters with a depth in personality that even toadpoles would find hard to live in.
[All show and no meaning]
- Afro is another cool heavy-dude, ultra-powerful no matter what his opponent may be. He talks too little and doesn’t care about anyone else other than himself. He never tries to reason with someone and simply solves all his problems with brainless violence. He doesn’t care about anything else, other than revenge, making him distant and hard to believe that someone can actually spend his life like that (is this even called life?).
- There is a sexy woman in the story, supposed to soften his heart. She is there to show him that happiness doesn’t evolve killing a dozen people every day. But all her presence is wasted on that brainless Afro and in reality she’s just there for fan service.
- There is this funny imaginary guy that follows Afro everywhere. In a way, he is Afro’s inner voice of reason, and is supposed to question his motives of revenge. Again, his words are also wasted on “I don’t care what you say” Afro and becomes just the comic relief in the story.
- The bad guys are typical insane megalomaniacs that engage with an obviously superior opponent but are too stupid to realize that they can’t win. The only thing they care about is wasting their lives on becoming the No.2 in the world. Why? So murderers like themselves will target them for the rest of their lives. What the hell are they thinking? They can be much better by being just Afro’s famous lap dogs.
What is there to praise about the characters? The cool way they fight? That’s not personality, nor character development. Personally, I have left behind any respect I had about muscular/shallow heavy-dudes. No matter how awesome they fight, if they don’t have a descent backdrop story or personality, they are like the drone characters of every MMORPG: Cool to look at but without a hint of reasoning behind anything they do (pressing a button is hardly called a reasoning).
But you know what? I bet the GONZO retards thought that all it mattered was to have some famous dude giving his voice to one of the characters. And thus we have Samuel Jackson voicing the main hero. There you go, half the people ran to watch this just to hear his cool voice. And that is as far as good personalities went.
The artwork is weird. Rough edges and as black palette colors as the samurai’s race. It was hard to get used to it but then again I prefer this sort of drawings to those so-cute-that-you-want-to-puke Air or Kanon artwork. So, I won’t say they are bad but rather they are “alternative”. More reminiscent of dark-themed American graphic novels than anime; it’s up to your personal tastes if you like them or not.
Action scenes are the whole focus. Animation and sound effects are greatly detailed and flashy but also hardly realistic. Again, it’s your tastes that will decide if you find them to be cool (it’s high-octane action!) or fake (it’s a brainless slug-fest). If realism is set aside, you get to see some of the best fighting a series can offer.
Villains with cool gadgets and an insane look will engage the grimace-less Afro in faster-than-sound speeds. The speed of the battles is extremely high and has no intervals(like in typical shounen).
There is apparently a lot of air in the world of the series, as a breeze seems to run through everything and makes headbands, coats and hats to flap endlessly. This gives a non-stop movement to even stale images. You could even say that the breeze is in fact the strength of the characters’ resolve and lust for power! … Or just hot air coming out of those airheads… Whatever it is, it makes everyone a lot cooler and imposing.
The “air effect” also causes a lot of dust. As an optical trick, every action lifts considerable amounts of dust, giving the feeling that the characters are not fighting in a stale image, called the background. It also helps to hide the outcome of every attack … and the mistakes in the animation of the action’s reaction. It makes the battles much more interesting but also more confusing as many moves are hidden and leave you to imagine what happened.
Swords versus rocket launchers and laser guns may sound ridiculous to compare but then again Hollywood is famous just for being extravagant. And this series sure tries to follow Hollywood’s footsteps.
Music themes are African American-oriented and appeal mostly to people that are accustomed to them (the rest of us are used to hearing J-pop). Personal tastes decide yet again. But they sure do fit with a story that has a black man as a protagonist. Being a combination of rap and techno, there is a lot of strength (and beat!) present to the point of reminding you all those AMVs some make with action clips from anime while awesome music themes play in the background. I still think that Rock and its variations is the best kind of music for battle themes. African American music is about fighting the system and describing the cruel society of the Ghettos black people were left to live; a theme not present in the series. So, it’s not that fitting with the action and becomes another thing that only those accustomed with it will appreciate.
But to heck with whatever I said about the music so far; most people will only care about the hero being voiced by Samuel f-ing Jackson himself. And he is cursing, and killing, and doing stuff. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Ever heard of another black samurai? How many series with so well made action scenes are there? These are the good parts that stand out. How many myriad series/movies with heavy-dudes bound on revenge have you seen? This is the bad part that ruins most of the replay value. Meh, besides the quality action scenes, you get a hollow cast and a pitiful story. In other words, a typical GONZO show.
P.S. This series reminded me of the song Dust In The Wind, performed by Kansas. It is full of dust and air. And it dissolves with the slightest wind before other good Samurai series.
Sword of the Stranger
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-done)
Character Figures 1/2 (weird looking; they stand out but non in a particular positive way)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 2/2 (fluent although it has its problems with the wind and stuff)
Visual Effects 2/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (Samuel f-ing Jackson’s voice is in it)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 0/2 (zero)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 3/10
Presence 1/2 (cool in a blunt way)
Personality 0/2 (cheesy and barely founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because there is very little to see in it)
Memorability 2/4 (Samuel f-ing Jackson offers some reason to remember it but that is all)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 1/1 (looks cool)
Sound 1/2 (cool songs, stupid dialogues)
Story 1/3 (generic as hell)
Characters 2/4 (cool but shallow)
Well, let me put it this way. You have to be engaged within the story to like it. It really depends on how you look at it. The animation is rather nice and the beginning and middle are brilliantly developed and give the story an edge, but then as we reach the ending, things start to slip. Where it is revealed that Afro killed his master for having the #2 headband, which he must obtain to get the #1 headband (I know, I know, dumb rule, but that's how it is). Why is Afro aiming to get the #1 headband? To avenge his father's death at the hands of the #1. Everyone is planning on attacking Afro to get to kill the #1, but Afro is too strong. Then later in the story he comes across a former friend, who was a fellow student of the master Afro killed for having the #2 headband (seriously, if he wanted to hide it, why didn't he just give the headband to Afro and fake his death, would've worked out a lot better for both of them). So his friend tries to kill Afro in hopes of getting revenge (which is rather hypocritical because he hated Afro for choosing revenge over forgiveness). DUDE, THE GUY CUT HIS DAD'S HEAD OFF!. So it also ends in a stalemate with the outcome ambiguous (not cool).
Unless you think profanity and nudity makes up for a poorly assembled story with an unsatisfying final act I highly suggest you avoid this, it will bring disappointment.
Sam. U. L. (yes i know thats not how you spell it. ENNUNCIATE, CHILD!)
you know to whom i refer and I know that you know that no matter how many snakes he unceremoniously hurls from a Boeing you still love him really.
Unfortunately, apart from our heavily tanned Avenger, there isnt much else to get your panties bunched for when it comes to Afro Samurai.
The story is quite simplisitic and although it holds the watcher into finishing the series, I feel if I had not watched this, not much would have been missed. True, there are some relatively epic fights but it feels like a loosely wooven obi belt, the strings dont really connect. From Afro's turbulent backstory to the bloodlust generated by the 2 Headbands mixed in with a semi futuristic, semi fuedal environment it all seems like its being rushed along several trains of thought all at once.
I must here make mention of who I regard as the greatest character in the series, Priest No. 3 who literally chills while his fellow Priests plot Afro's downfall. What does he do while chilling you may ask? Well, he listens to his sweet beats on his headphones, bops his wizened head to undoubtedly chilled hip hop (old school or die) and drinks tea. A bad ass, simple as that and he's also courteous to Afro upon his arrival. He has no rival. No. 3 is alright with me.
Aside from this, watch Afro Samurai if you have a few hours to kill on a rainy day. apart from that, theres other better anime series out there and this one shouldnt take up the time of decent hardworking honest animes that you resolutely trawl for, my Anime Planetary friends.
Please take the time to experience the series as well as this review and make your own opinion upon the matter, particularly if you disagree with what is written above.
Now Afro Samurai was on my to watch list not really because I actually wanted to watch it, but for the fact that it was pretty popular in United States when it came out. It was to be one of those titles that I had to watch just to say that I actually watched it; and I really had no intention of watching it anytime soon.
That was, until my friend (who is still new and fresh to the world of anime) was flabberghasted that I had watched so many different series and have not watched Afro Samurai. All my attempts to explain to him that I had a set list that I wanted to complete first fell on deaf ears, and I was promptly plopped in front of his computer and watched the first episode. My first thought was ‘oh God….*sigh*’ and it didn’t quite leave me even as I watched the last episode.
It was said that the original Afro Samurai manga was severely lacking as Takashi Okazaki didn’t really have a talent for storytelling. And from what I’ve seen from the animated adaptation of it, I’m inclined to agree.
The story is pretty straight forward -- we’re set in a world that’s mixed with a modern day inner city feeling with sci-fi elements in a feudal Japan theme. And in this world there are two headbands that symbolize the greatest fighters in the world; Number 1 is considered a God, and untouchable. While Number 2 is the only one who can challenge Number 1, but cursed to fight everyone seeking their headband.
We start out as 1 and 2 are about to fight. 1’s son watches as 2 kills his father and takes the headband and title of Number 1 for himself. He challenges the young boy, telling him that he’ll be waiting for him at the mountain of the Gods when he feels like he’s ready to fight him. And so the young boy grows and fights as the new Number 2, vowing to seek revenge against 1 for killing his father and becoming the legendary and feared Afro Samurai.
And that’s what we see him do through the entire 5 episodes, making his way to the mountain to fight Number 1. Each episode appears to be separate from one another as a new enemy comes to try and kill him, with a little bit of his life as a youth as Number 2 is revealed in every episode. We soon realize that his past is not only tied in to the present, but it serves as a key component near the end.
But other than that, it’s just a story about death, and not much else.
Now the art is where Mr. Okazaki shined. Apparently in his youth he liked to draw African Americans and was inspired by hip hop. We see a style that is mixed with the Boondocks and Samurai Champloo. It’s all exaggerated and stylized, which I found to be fitting for the show. None of the men are good looking, they either look plain or look like thugs which adds a certain realistic feel to the art despite the stylization (that being said the women are beautiful, which is always a staple in these sorts of adult themed shows apparently). The animation is also stylized and exaggerated, which again works with the art that makes it look good rather than makes it an eyesore.
As odd as it is to say, I didn’t really notice the background that much. I was too busy paying attention to the characters and their dialogue. The purpose of the background isn’t meant to take over the entire scene, but to help set the mood of the scene as well as give the characters room to interact with it and with each other. In this sense the background served its purpose well.
The color scheme is also similar to the Boondocks and is somewhat opaque and dark. It’s also due to the time in which it came out, as the early 2000’s produced a lot of anime with a dark and dreary color scheme. You won’t really find a vibrant color in the show, save for the sunset orange.
One last thing I would like to mention. There is a TON of blood in it. However, this is to be expected since the story just has Afro killing a bunch of people.
I’m sorry to everyone who likes hip hop and rap in their anime! The music score was composed by none other than RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, which is sort of a big deal considering how popular they are. You will find him rapping throughout the anime as well as through the Opening and Ending theme songs.
And who else to play a better Afro Samurai and his alter ego Ninja Ninja than the man Samuel L. Jackson? Right from the moment you hear Afro speak (or perhaps if you haven’t heard his voice that often, you’ll better recognize him when Ninja Ninja speaks) you know who the voice actor behind the animated character is. At first you might think that this is impressive, but then you realize that Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t say no to anything…..and you still might think that this is pretty cool.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for such flare or stardom incorporated into the show. Don’t get me wrong, the music fit the theme and Mr. Jackson’s acting was fine - it’s just not my cup of tea. But at least you can tell that this show was definitely made in America!
The characters are about as straightforward as the storyline is. We really only see Afro’s background getting the focus of the story, which shows how he grew in strength and resolve. Personality wise we see him stay as stoic and revenge driven as ever. The other characters aren’t touched on at all, and the bulk of who Afro interacts with wants to kill him for his Number 2 headband. This serves its purpose to the story, but if you’re wanting deep character growth then I suggest you check out another anime.
Another thing I’d like to mention -- even though the characters are pretty two dimensional they act as though they are ‘gangster thugs’. Well, they are -- but what I mean is they act like modern day, inner city thugs. This makes the show a little more comical, I will admit. Also, there is A LOT of cursing in this show. So keep this in mind.
Sorry everyone! I just couldn’t get into the show, but at least I can say that I watched it. This is a very adult show, so I don’t suggest watching this with children nearby. I wouldn’t even recommend young teens watching it since there is seriously a huge amount of cursing and killing and blood. On the other hand, if you just want to kick back and have something to watch where it will entertain you without heavy thinking or story involvement, then I would suggest Afro Samurai because it’s only 5 episodes of death and bad assery.