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Title: Afro Samurai
Genre(s): samurai, drama, violence
Age Rating: 18+ (extreme violence and brutal scenes)
Episodes: 5 + Movie
Aired: January 4, 2007 - February 1, 2007
Official Site: at http://www.gonzo.co.jp/index.html
Authors Rating: 9/10
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 stand-offs followed by gruesome resolutions; furthermore, the protagonist has no other motive for his deplorable actions except revenge against the individual who killed his beloved father - the owner of the number 1 head band - when he was barely old enough to remember it.
As Afro predictably hacks his way through one unfortunate challenger after another, the creative design continues to retain its fascination. Consider a 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. Even the chief antagonists are a menacing Pentecostal sect with fervent sermons drawn directly from the gospel preacher stereotype.
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 Afro Samurai is at heart a long sequence of set pieces intentionally arranged to wow viewers who like rapid story progression, gory battle scenes and action so fast that if you blink you will miss. 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 bandanna's and other loose material. Afro Samurai also makes the best use of smoke I’ve seen in Anime, including claustrophobic shots of steaming gun nozzles and cigarette fumes pumping out of nostrils, which adds to the intense 'hellish' atmosphere.
Unfortunately, stylistic excellence does not extend to the soundtrack. That is what many would tell you. I, however, completely disagree with the majority. I think the sound track is completely incomparable to Samurai Champloo's. The two Anime's are completely different. Afro Samurai is much darker and sinister. For this reason the opening music fits perfect with the dark nature of the show. If I had to compare it to Samurai Champloo I would say that I honestly preferred Afro Samurai. All that can really be said is to listen to both of them for yourself. Both Anime's have very memorable opening themes. Music within the show - Afro Samurai - has been heavily restricted and replaced by natural sounds and that add to a more eerie setting and provide a heavier atmosphere to the scenes. Music that is used is usually upon victory where our ... hero? ... Is leaving the battle field.
The men are all cold killers or shop owners, 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.
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 filling up the empty scenes of the show, and making the 'lone traveller' part much more entertaining and gives the show some comic value. This character represents the internal Afro Samurai, which he suppresses but never the less is still there.
Compact but viscerally impressive, Afro Samurai is 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.