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)
Going into this show, I thought it was going to be much like Samurai Champloo with rap and hip hop during the Edo period of time. I was definitely mistaken by that idea as this seems to be set in a post apocalyptic world where both technology and samurai values are intermixed. This follows a black samurai as he seeks revenge for his father’s murder. Sadly, there is a lot of stereotypical depictions of black people as almost all of them have Afros and and the ninja that follows him talks in a rather gangster style.
I feel rather odd watching this seeing as how it should be feudal Japan in look and feel, yet not at the same time. It throws me off when just as I get comfortable in my surroundings, I see a large robot or something off in the background, people have flip phones(why they have flip phones is another question I would love to be answered), and even one character fights with a RPG for crying out loud! I guess it would explain why there are so many different people with different styles of fighting, some with guns and others with swords, but here is the small problem. They talk about how the legendary headband is supposed to be worn by a great warrior, but what honor of a warrior do you have when your shooting RPGs at someone with just a katana? Answer; there really is no honor I think. People want to become the ‘god’ or ‘number one’ by any means necessary and for some reason, which means that they will do anything at all to get number two. Why not just go after number one if they are going to do cheater moves like that?
Shall we talk about the Characters now? There are not very many to talk about as there are really only 2 main characters and a lot of side characters to go through. We will start with Afro, the silent strong type. Alright, so this isn’t a dating sim but he really is very quite. When we get some backstory on Afro, it shows that he was a very silent child as well; he only spoke when he actually wanted to. There really is not much about him except he is a skilled samurai and he is a very silent and caring person when he gets a chance to relax which is not many times.
Now talking about him, I also have to talk about Ninja (they really don’t give him an actual name). There are many things you can debate about this character. Some may call him a different character, following Afro around and watching from the sidelines in order to see where his story will play out. I like the later idea that he is sort of the Hyde to Afro’s Jekyll. He is overly loud and talks with a lot of slang, not really what you would expect of a ninja. The only thing that links him as a ninja is how extremely agile he is and how other people never seem to end up seeing him or acknowledging he exists. The reason I think that he is actually in his mind is because even when he is loud, no one acknowledge him. He is never in any danger while hanging around Afro like everyone else. Ninja seems to be the one that pretty much says anything that Afro will not say himself, whatever he actually thinks or doubts. Of course, Afro doesn’t really listen to him, telling him to shut up sometimes like what some people would do if the little voice in their head is trying to tell them something that they don’t like. I also think in a way, he may be the only one keeping Afro sane to a point where he keeps going on no matter the cost. Ninja also seems to be the comedy that brakes up what would be a very dull or boring anime sometimes during the standby phases.
The only other characters that seem to be a main staple of this show are the odd monks who keep calling each other brother. They are monks but each one has a different virtue to them like one would always be shown with headphones, the leader would have women with him all the time and so on. They talk like a stereotypical black priest with a lot of soul in their voice but in actuality, they are pretty much very white with strange heads. I guess you could call them whites who want to be black in a way… not that I have any problem with that. That’s just the stereotype that I see here.
The art style is really high detailed and can be very beautiful in this sort of abstract way. Gonzo was the studio that drew it and it shows as many of the tropes that they are known for show in this. Sometimes there is awesome artwork that is high detailed and fluid, and then there are a couple movements that I would consider the runny egg design. The later is not enough that it would harm the show. The movement of the characters is so fast that you can’t really tell if the characters are keeping proportions but I do notice that there are some times Afro’s Afro and some of the fabric that trails off in the wind changes size. It is also very dark, making it sometimes hard to see what is going on; a lot of it is thrown into shadows near dusk or at night.
Some of the voice actors are pretty good in the English dub (Couldn’t find the Japanese dub) and then some of them feel very out of place. It’s hard to say anything about Afro since he doesn’t talk very often, although when he does speak, it’s to the point and rather good. I actually liked the idea of Samuel L. Jackson (yes, The Samuel L. Jackson) playing him even if his voice seems a tad to deep once in a while. On the other side, Ninja is a rather interesting voice, also done by Samuel as well which adds to the point I made before about him being the Hyde to Afro’s Jekyll. It surprises me that Samuel was able to play both characters rather well even if they have different personalities. The monks caught me off a bit when they first started talking and even after they just didn’t feel like they fit in all the way. The background characters are really forgettable in voice and in character personality. The music is actually pretty good with a little bit of hip hop feel in the opening and closing song. The rest of the music though is always in the background and don’t really stand out. Lots of times, you can barely hear it over the sound of the wind and fights.
While I wasn’t really into this show, it does have some interesting aspects to the ideas and concept. It was alright though not something I am really into.
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.