Afro Samurai is the adaptation of the manga series of the same name. The story is fairly straightforward and it focuses on a samurai named Afro who is on a quest to avenge his father. Afro wears the number two headband and in the lore of the show, those who wear the number one headband is said to be a very powerful warrior who can only be challenged by the number two. If the warrior who wears the number one headband falls then the number two becomes the number one leader. The one who wears either the number one or number two headband lives a life of constant violence and death as the wearer is challenged by many who dare to stand up against the one who wears the headband.
Afro’s father was the previous number one head band wearer and he was killed in combat by his former clansman Justice, who is currently the new number one. Justice is a very power hungry, vicious and psychotic character and the main reason he killed Afro’s father was to further his own selfish goals and to bring chaos and violence upon the land as he ascends to godhood.
Afro vows revenge on Justice and has spent his life training to defeat the number one headband wearer and any who would come to oppose him. As Afro is the number two wherever he goes death and violence will always follow him. Throughout the 5 episodes, Afro deals with a variety of challenges from those who want to steal the number two head band from him. One such group is the Empty 7, a dangerous cult led by 6 deadly monks who believe that stealing the headbands will allow them to ascend into godhood. Some of the other enemies he deals with are petty bandits who think they have what it takes but are easily dispatched by Afro.
Afro has no allies or friends to count on so he must do things by himself and everyone associated with him will more often than not, die a violent death. Someone could help him at one moment but betray him unpredictably at the next, so he cannot trust anyone. Afro is truly alone.
The action is the main highlight of the entire story. It is brutal and bloody with frequent decapitations. Combat is intense and always fatal. The show has an exceptionally high body count. Afro faces many different powerful opponents who want to take his headband from him. Every fight and action sequence is different and it never feels repetitive or stale. The show was fast paced without a dull moment. The atmosphere is dark and heavy with anticipated violence.
Afro is stoic and never really speaks much in the show and is more focused on fighting and he lets his actions to speak for him. Ninja Ninja is his imaginary friend and main source of comedy. He is loud and vulgar and is actually representing the thoughts of Afro Samurai whose taciturn nature makes him difficult to read. Ninja Ninja is mostly an annoyance to Afro who threatens him whenever he becomes overbearing.
The voice acting is quite good and the dialogue is very profane and laced with sexual remarks. Kelly Hu voices Otsurru, Samuel L Jackson voices Afro and Ninja/Ninja and Ron Perlman voices Justice. There is a lot of black comedy and dirty jokes in the show and it helps break the unbearable tension at times while providing some much needed humour.
The music is a cross between Hip Hop, Soul and Eastern Feudal music and many Hip Hop and Soul related aesthetics are mixed in with the sci fi and feudal design of the show. Fans of hip hop and soul music will really enjoy this.
The camera shots were stylish and the animation was very smooth and slick. Small touches such as wind blowing and snow falling feels natural. It is mostly hand drawn with some occasional CG which transitions seamlessly with the hand drawn style. The character models were all very unique and creative.
The art is highly detailed and the mixture of sci fi and feudal is impressive. The dark visual scheme is perfect for the tone of the show and the coloring was superbly coordinated with the overall atmosphere of the show. The background of the world was also well executed and really adds to the overall feel.
The director’s cut version has extended the story introducing a brand new character with more graphic violence and sexual content then in the television version. There are plenty of special features to look at from the original artwork and new interviews with the cast and crew. You can change to English and Japanese dub if you like on both the DVD and Blu Ray issues.
The story its style over substance and its pretty short with about 5 episodes and can be finished in just one hour in total. The concept is unoriginal and can be seen in many other different entertainment mediums. Characters are not that fully developed in terms of background and personality. Afro Samurai not a deep story wise and it is more focused on entertainment rather than characterization or complex world building. Afro Samurai is overall a great anime adaptation with great fight scenes and never a dull moment.
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
Fans of Hip Hop music and action anime will almost certainly to enjoy this anime.