Afro Samurai (2006)
By: Michael McQueen on August 28, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 125 minutes
The Movie
Director: Fuminori Kizaki
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman, Kelly Hu Screenplay: Tomohiro Yamasjita, Yasuyuki Mutou, Derek Draper, Chris Yoo
Music: The RZA
Country: Japan
AKA: Afuro Zamurai
Afro Samurai started life as manga before renown animation studio Gonzo adapted the story into a five episode series that premiered online on January 1 2007. Like most contemporary anime, Afro Samurai blatantly targets the trans-Atlantic crossover market, pandering to a Western audience's sudden fascination with all things pop cult and hip overseas. Look no further than the shows' advertising strategies: "It's Kill Bill on crack!" Underlining this not-so-subtle agenda is the amalgamation of instantly familiar and likeable genres into the thematic scope. Afro Samurai pillages from sources as diverse as Blaxploitation, Samurai films, Hong Kong action/kung-fu cinema, splatter flicks, Spaghetti Westerns, gangsta films and, of course, Japanese animation. Samuel L. Jackson lends his talents in the voice department, and is also credited as one of the shows producers. If you've been turned off anime for a while, Afro Samurai will be a strong contender to renew your interest, making a big, bloody grab for your attention.

The plot revolves around cool cat and all-round hard arse, Afro (nicknamed after his hairstyle), a perpetually silent and bloodthirsty master swordsman, whose single-minded mission is exacting revenge on the man who killed his father. As the bearer of the 'Number Two' headband, Afro has inherited a life of murder and a lust for power; a trail of mangled lumps of human flesh lies in his wake. The path to vengeance is sodden with blood as Afro's quest sees him battling ninjas, warrior monks, cyborg terminators and demons from his own past – all of whom he extinguishes without mercy or discrimination. His ultimate goal is to claim the title of 'Number One'; a warrior whose powers are comparable to those of a god, and the title his father's slayer currently holds. It's a re-telling of the classic 'revenge' narrative, redolent of Kill Bill – an inevitable comparison, but without any of the excess that it implies. Given only five episodes to work with, structure is pretty tight here, so there are no filler episodes, meandering off-sides or tangents to distract from the narrative's focus. Although the series seems to lack that 'epic' journey feel, episodes are never anti-climactic. This is a relief to the casual anime viewer who just wants to get to the carnage.

And carnage there is a-plenty. The plot of Afro Samurai is really just an after thought; it's the fight scenes that are really the star of the show here. A word to the squeamish: Afro Samurai is one of the bloodiest, goriest and most anatomically detailed anime series on the market, so if you've got stomach issues with splatter flicks, avoid this one. If, however, high-definition animated gore-porn is your thing, Afro Samurai will not disappoint. Each fight scene is beautifully choreographed and fluidly animated to deliver some truly jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching, wince –"oh man, that's gotta hurt"-inducing scenes of unadulterated devastation on the human body. Be-heading, disembowelling and eye-stabbing are just an entrée to this five-course meal of spilling entrails and severed limbs.

The only thing wrong with Afro Samurai is that it's all over too soon. Most anime fans are used to more meat on the bones, so for many the narrative will feel underdone and the characters under-developed. This is probably a side-effect of the show's creators attempting to cross anime over to a mainstream Western audience: in doing so they seem to have sacrificed content for carnage. And while carnage seems to be the whole point of Afro Samurai, five episodes is still remarkably short. Although the series swiftly resolves itself in a fairly predictable way, there is an immense potential for spin-off projects (there's a movie rumour already doing the rounds in cyberspace) and the show itself is rewatchable many times over, if only to sample the audacious ultra-violence again and again. Watch Afro Samurai and see why the 'exploding body' is Japan's gift to cinema.
Afro Samurai is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. Created using cell animation techniques rather than CGI, Afro Samurai's look is a contorted roughly sketched style that's reminiscent of Todd McFarlane's Spawn comics. Gonzo introduces us to a world of pain that is visually astounding as it is uncompromising.
Presented in English 5.1 (2.0 option also available), the sound effects are crafted with the same loving care as the visuals: the swish/whoosh of steel through air and the chunky sound of flesh being impaled are crystal clear against a backdrop of gangsta beats, uber-hip seventies-flavoured funk and cathartic heavy-rock riffing. Samuel Jackson pulls double duty as the silently stoic Afro, and his motor-mouthed companion, Ninja Ninja, delivering a mixture of jive-talking street slang and neurotic posturing.
Extra Features
Madman have included a great set of complimentary extras that do the series justice. In The Booth is a making-of featurette that interviews original creator and manga artist, Takashi 'Bob' Okazaki, and Samuel Jackson, who reveal that a mutual love of samurai mythology brought them together to create Afro Samurai. Also available are detailed character profiles with commentary by co-producer Eric Calderon; a behind-the-music interview with RZA; plus loads of production artwork, character sketches and the usual assortment of trailers.
The Verdict
Given the unprecedented hipness of all things comic-related in the last five years, Afro Samurai is a super-cool and defiantly unique proposition. Its appeal is less broad than its Tarantino-flavoured genre-pastiche culture-jamming premise would suggest – the gore-drenched ultra-violence is hardly consumer friendly, family-oriented fun – and though it pleasantly dispenses with the ambitious narrative pomp and excessive trappings of anime, one feels that, in the process of removing the fat, Afro Samurai may have hacked off a limb. No matter, though. Afro Samurai won't change your life, but it's a fresh look at adult-oriented anime that delivers a brutal spectacle guaranteed to give you goose bumps many times over. A classy package that's a worthy addition to any video collection.
Movie Score
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