Japanese Title: Afro Samurai
Related: Afro Samurai Resurrection (sequel – included in this review)
Similar: Ninja Scroll the movie
Shigurui: Death Frenzy
Watched in: English
Length: 5 episodes (season 1) & movie (season 2)
- Gory, stylised action complemented by bleak visuals.
- Great and sometimes unusual voice work, particularly from Samuel L. Jackson.
- Poor sound mixing muffles speech under the music.
- Not much to the plot, even with flashbacks.
- In particular, the anime doesn’t explain why the headbands are worth anything beyond pieces of cloth.
- Though the action animations are great, the lip movements don’t match the words half the time.
After seeing his father decapitated for a headband, Afro trains up as a samurai to avenge his father and reclaim the number one headband. Afro Samurai is set in a feudal Japan meets futuristic Wild West world of swordfights, gunslingers, and Mexican standoffs, wind blowing through your afro. Legends say the strongest warrior and owner of the number one headband is a god and only the number two can challenge for that power. Being number two, challengers beset Afro as he works his way to the mountain of number one. He knows no love, no happiness, only the murderous violence the number two headband incites in the heart of every man after the power of number one.
Afro Samurai’s biggest draws are its over-the-top action and style. The action is in the vein of Kill Bill with its excessive gore, blood spraying in ludicrous amounts. No shot is standard, not shot is dull. The camera zooms into every unsheathing of a sword, light sparking off the blade, every cocking of a hammer, pull of a trigger.
From its desaturated colours to no-cares-given protagonist, Afro Samurai is sombre anime. The only source of humour is Afro’s chain smoking sidekick, Ninja Ninja (both voiced by Samuel L Jackson). He is the antithesis to Afro, never shutting up and a coward. He doesn’t do much beyond provide commentary to the adventure and say what Afro is really thinking. Ninja Ninja is Jackson at his silliest and quite humorous.
Afro Samurai’s bleakness doesn’t just cover its tone but also extends to its sparse plot. On his quest, Afro meets various characters from his childhood (including a Vader-type samurai with a teddy bear head), which the plot does try to inject personality into by way of flashbacks. However, these flashbacks are minimal in content and depth, and little effort is made to characterise in the present. There is also this brotherhood of monks looking to create a clone of Afro with all his skills to claim number one for themselves. While I found their Evangelical preacher of a leader amusing, the brotherhood doesn’t feel particularly relevant and could have been cut from the show with ease, but then you would have even less to populate the narrative.
What bothered me most were the headbands. They never explain why these mere pieces of cloth have any kind of power. I fail to see how you have to own a headband to be the best or challenge the best. Furthermore, if they are as powerful as they claim, can’t one simply bury the headband in the middle of a forest to stop challengers hounding you? If they don’t know you have the headband, they won’t bother challenging. Hell, if you have to have it on you to gain its power, then stuff it in your sock instead of parading around with it on your head. Misery solved.
If you can look past these logical fallacies and want an anime all about the action and blood, then Afro Samurai is for you. On the other hand, if you want more than ankle-deep characterisation and story, then skip this one.
Art – High
Afro Samurai uses a high number of key frames to bring the gruesome animation to life. Desaturated colouring enhances the bleakness of Afro’s quest. The mouth animations don’t match the words half the time – not just out of sync, but the wrong shape altogether (this anime was drawn for English).
Sound – Medium
Great voice work overpowered by the poor mixing of music, which is an even bigger shame since the music itself is decent – a mix of rap and long whistles for Mexican standoffs.
Story – Medium
The flashbacks provide backstory to the characters, but in the present, the plot doesn’t involve much beyond killing a series of enemies to reach the top.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fans of over the top action. Afro Samurai is worth your while if you want an anime all about the action and with enough backstory to give the characters purpose, don’t expect more than that.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)