Welcome to my second installment of The Otaku Corner anime reviews. Tonight we take a look at the funky fresh fight-fest, Afro Samurai.
Afro Samurai was created in 2006 by Takashi Okataki and Studio Gonzo, dubbed by Funimation, and features the voice talent of Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Hu, Ron Pearlman, and Yuri Lowenthal.
The greatest warrior in the world is recognized by the possession of the ancient No. 1 Headband. He who possesses it shall be heralded as a god among men. The only one who can touch him, however, is the wearer of the No. 2 Headband. The only downside to that is that ANYONE can challenge the No. 2. Thus is the curse of Afro, the son of the former Number 1 who was murdered by the current Number 1, a psychotic cowboy named Justice. With the No. 2 Headband as a reminder of his quest, and the companionship of a loud mouthed ninja, Afro must feed the steel of his blade to a thousand men if he ever hopes to avenge his father’s death.
If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve guessed that this was made by the same people who made The Boondocks. But as a matter of fact, this was made by Studio Gonzo, the same studio that brought us Hellsing, Full Metal Panic!, Gankutsouo and Last Exile, just to name a few. Usually the big problem with this studio is budget management. Some shows will be given lavish budgets while others get nothing, or they’ll spend all their money on certain scenes or episodes and then run out and make certain scenes look like they gave up and let an 8-year-old animate everything. Luckily for Afro Samurai, it’s only 5 episodes, so the budget was more easily manageable (I assume). And boy howdy does it show. However, they did spend a reported one million US dollars per episode and it really shows. When they say it’s the little details that count, Gonzo took that to heart. The animation, especially the fight scenes, are surprisingly clean cut, and well edited. The setting is some bizarre hybrid of feudal era Japan with some highly advanced technology thrown in for good measure.
The fights in particular are pretty brutal, showing Afro plowing through armies of men in a sea of blood, dodging arrows and missiles, duking it out with a robot version of himself, and partaking in an especially enticing duel with a twin blade wielding adversary wearing a large mechanical teddy bear head (Wow, there’s a phrase I never thought I use in a sentence).
So if I had to sum up what this show is like, I’d say it’s similar to a miniature version of Samurai Champloo. That is to say that it’s a traditional Japanese samurai anime with an urban-American, hip hop twist. Its style, like I said earlier, is very similar to The Boondocks, the music is done by Wu-Tang Clansman RZA, and it stars – who else? – Samuel “Mothafuckin’” Jackson. You see, while he does voice the main character Afro, he barely says a word. On the other hand, he also voices Afro’s imaginary friend Ninja Ninja, who is crass, loud, never shuts up and always has something to say about everything. Think of him as the Mugen to Afro’s Jin, except where Mugen and Jin were total opposites and hated each others’ guts, Afro and Ninja are one and the same. I like to think of Ninja Ninja as a representation of Afro’s emotions and inner thoughts, which explains why no one else ever comes in contact with him, and why the headstrong Afro always ignores him and tells him to shut up. Like whenever Afro has done something, or about to do something, Ninja Ninja’s reaction is what Afro is really thinking, but he wants to cast out his emotions, so him ignoring Ninja Ninja, or telling him to shut up, is his way of trying to rule out and toss away his emotions. But while I do like this character and he’s funny as hell, his constant shouting can be annoying at times and reminds me of a certain anime ninja who shall not be named.
However, the strongest aspect of this little series is without a doubt the story. It’s a story as old as time itself. A hardened warrior seeks to avenge the death of his father while losing oneself in the process. Seen it! But somehow, the setting is really fresh and original and adds a new spin to things. If you got the No.1 Headband, you’re basically living the good life. If you have the No.2, you’re life’s a living hell, having to accept any challenger foolish enough to step up to you. And everyone wants to challenge this guy. Hell, there’s even an organization that went out of their way to build a frickin’ robot clone of himself! But of course, no one wants Afro’s head more than Jinno, the man with the teddy bear head I mentioned before. He’s an old friend of Afro’s who wants revenge after he killed their master to get the No.2 Headband. Of course, it’s hard to take him seriously when he looks like Kanye West’s mascot, but damn was their fight intense!
So what it all comes down to is that while Afro Samurai has a lot in common with other shows out there, it’s like no other anime around. If you want to see Samurai Champloo but don’t have the time, this would be more than enough to wet your appetite. It’s stylistic, it’s hip, it’s Afro Samurai. There’s not that much else I can say.
I give Afro Samurai 8/10