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.
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)
Afro Samurai is a very solid show. It's got all the combinations for success and yet sometimes it still manages to be a bit boring. Which is why it didn't score higher for me.
The Story gets an 8 for being somewhat original, it definitley takes the idea of the Ronin seeking revenge and gives it's own stylistic flares.
Animation gets a 9 because Afro really does look pretty. It always sticks to a pallete of very dark, vivid and saturated colors to give it that rough edge the show definitely goes for.
The Sound gets a 9 because this show is not only voiced by a great actor (i.e. Samuel L. Jackson) but it also contains beats by The RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan. Put those 2 together and it's pretty much as good as it gets.
The Characters only get a 7 not because they didn't have much depth, it was because despite the attempts to make the characters round a lot of them were just unlikeable or very very uninteresting. Afro himself doesn't really say much, but that is made up by his ghostly alter ego who is always filling the conversational void.
Overall I really like watching this show and would recommend highly for anybody to watch.
Afro Samurai is interesting in that it is a bit of a different take on the typical ronin seeking revenge. The story is about a guy named Afro who just happens to also be a samurai as he goes on a journey to find the guy who killed his father inorder to take the title of Number 1. Afro being the one who currently holds the title of Number 2 is the only one who is allowed to challenge Number 1 but there are several people who want to tak the Number 2 title away from Afro so that they can challenge Number 1 themselves. So that's the basic premise of the story and truth be told it works well for the series. We get some pretty good action and never really become bogged down with boring details. The animation looks really good and creates an atmosphere that really works for the series. Having a rather dark vivid color pallete the does wonders for the show. The sound gets high marks because of one very simple reason and that is the fact that Sameul L. Jackson does the voice over for the main character and include a good soundtrack and there's not much to complain about. As for the characters they tend to be a bit flat and uninteresting. There's Afro who doesn't say much instead leaving that to his inner self that voices all the thoughts that Afro his having without him actually expressing himself. Which is a major problem Afro never seems to change and instead always has that same stern look. As for the other characters none of them have any real depth to them and the only purpose they really serve is to end up as bloody stains on Afro's sword. Overall the series is still pretty entertaining and will fill anyone in need for a fix of violence.
Sorry, this is more of a rant than a review.
A lot of people love this anime and swear by it. In fact, as a huge fan of samurai/swordfighting, I'd have thought that I would have loved it too.
But as much as I like (a) samurai; (b) swords; (c) bloody action scenes; (d) great animation sequences; and (e) Samuel L. Jackson, I must say that Afro Samurai was, well, absolute drivel. Nonsensical storyline. "Characters" who I would barely even call characters. Gratuitous gore and a random tasteless boobular sex scene that might as well be anime porn. Lame-o boring "plot," if you can call it that.
I've already seen the whole anachronistic shtick. Cell phones and RPGs and guns and people swinging Japanese swords to rap music. Yeah, yeah, yawn. Samurai Champloo did it, and did it much better.
Sure, this series had action, and I love me some action. (The bloodier the better!) But quite frankly,with no emotional heft--no investment whatsoever in the "characters," not a care in the world for the storyline--even the fluid action scenes got boring after a while. They got overly stylized and overly unrealistic. Kind of like a Steven Seagal movie--you know the protagonist is never even going to get a scratch.
Well, I have nothing more to say about Afro Samurai other than . . . thank god it's over, and I won't be watching Resurrection or whatnot.