In a futuristic and wild west-inspired Japan, there are only two rules: the Number 1 rules the world and only the Number 2 can challenge him; these ranks are worn with pride in the manner of headbands. In these harsh times, Afro is a samurai who is on a mission for revenge – an evil gunman killed his father to become the Number 1, and it’s up to Afro to take him down in a shower of blood and entrails. He has mastered the art of the sword and become Number 2, but many others want to hold his title and the title of Number 1 for themselves. With competition and sword fights at every turn, can Afro finally exact his revenge?
StorySet 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.AnimationAlongside 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.SoundUnfortunately, 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.CharactersThe 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.OverallCompact 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.
STORYIt’s just a generic action flick about someone wanting to avenge 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… And that’s pretty much it. Nobody was watching it for the plot, anyways.CAST- Afro is another cool dude, ultra-powerful no matter what his opponent may be. He doesn’t talk much 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, making him distant.- There is a sexy woman in the story, supposed to soften his heart. She is there to show him that happiness doesn’t involve killing a dozen people every day. But her contribution is hardly felt 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 wasted on “I don’t care what you say” Afro and he becomes 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 off as Afro’s lap dogs.So yeah not much to praise when it comes to the characters.PRODUCTION VALUESThe artwork is weird. Rough edges and as black palette colors as the samurai’s race. Kinda like a dark-themed American graphic novel, it makes it stand out compared to generic shonen and so-cute-that-you-want-to-puke moecrap.Action scenes get all the focus. Animation and sound effects are detailed and flashy albeit improbable in physics. 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. Swords versus rocket launchers and laser guns may sound ridiculous to go up against each other but then again Hollywood is famous just for being extravagant. And this series tries to follow Hollywood’s footsteps.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 static image, called the background. It also helps to hide the outcome of every attack for dramatic effect although that means you never really see the finishing blow.Music themes are a combination of rap and techno, appealing to African Americans instead of being some J-pop nonsense. They fit in a story that has a black man as a protagonist, voiced by Samuel efing Jackson. Cursing included.LEGACYAfro Samurai was standing out for three things. The first being the only anime with a black samurai protagonist, something which no longer applies after Netflix made the Yasuke series. The second thing was the very cool action scenes regarding sword fighting. That also doesn’t matter once shows like Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen came out. That leaves us with the third thing, the protagonist being voiced by Samuel efing Jackson.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-themed series.SUGGESTION LISTSamurai SevenSamurai ChamplooSword of the Stranger
Afro Samurai is made up of 30% action, 33% style, 30% badass and 7% everything else. It's main purpose is to show how awesome Afro is, and nothing more than that. Straight up, this is a tale of revenge; Justice kills Afro's father and Afro goes for revenge. That right there is the story. There are flashbacks to Afro as a child to give him more depth, but that's pretty much it. Unfortunately, Justice doesn't appear much, but it is mostly about Afro journey to get revenge, so that probably explains it. It's also a mix of modern technology and samurai-era weaponry, which works quite well. The battles are the bread and butter of the series and is what you should be watching this for. Violent and pours out style just like a slash wound. Fights where Afro is against a group of foes are basically curb-stomp battles but are fun to watch and the best ones are 1 vs. 1, particularly some of the ones later on. The animation is nothing short of style, that's for sure. From the character designs to the setting, it oozes style. It's fluid, slick and is simply stylish. Not to mention the decapitations, dismemberments and slashes are met with blood and lots of it. Unsurprising, but damn, does it look good. Which is part of the reason to watch this. For VO, you have Samuel L. Jackson as Afro Samurai and Ron Perlman as Justice. Music is done by The RZA, which I enjoyed quite a bit, especially the song that plays in the fight scene Afro's Father vs. Justice. The amount of violence goes with the hip-hop soundtrack, as a more feudal-like one or classical music sounding one (Or something you would find in a more traditional samurai series) would sound out of place. Characters... Afro is badass, he's a killing machine, he's out for revenge and makes it look good. The already mentioned flashbacks give him more depth but to go too much into that would spoil it a bit but his present form is for the most part an emotionless killing machine of style. Ninja Ninja, his travelling companion is more talkative by a mile and provides some commentary throughout, which is kinda nice. Otherwise, everybody else is there to be killed by Afro or share a few words to him. Probably before he kills them. It's not about the story, it's not about character development, it's not about any of that stuff this show would call filler. It's about violence, style, action, badassery, stylish violence and fighting. It does what it does and if you expect that, then you'll have a fun time. I expected action, style with some good music and more style in terms of fighting and that's what I got and am perfectly content with that, hence why the final score doesn't entirely match the other sub-scores. Still needed more Ron Perlman. Seriously, he was amazing for what few lines he had.
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