Reviewby Luke Carroll,
Dub.DVD - Uncut
SAMUEL L JACKSON IS... AFRO SAMURAI!
Afro Samurai (voiced by Academy Award nominated Samuel L. Jackson) is an epic tale of a black samurai's hunt for Justice (voiced by Ron Perlman: Hellboy, Alien Resurrection) who murdered his father. With music score by the RZA (Kill Bill, Wu Tang Clan) Afro Samurai blends traditional Japanese culture, funky technology and hip hop to create a brutally fresh entertainment experience.
Production Company: Gonzo
As popular as anime has become in the US, Australia, and other parts of the globe, it has always been a known fact that not everything made will eventually find its way outside its homeland of Japan. Distributing companies are out to make a profit like everyone else, and thus the decision to what titles they release are based on what they believe will sell. Anime in general has never been specifically made to cater for the US audience, however American cable network Spike TV decided one day to change all that and with Studio Gonzo's assistance they have brought Afro Samurai to life, an anime they hope will cater to the youth of today.
Those who dislike bloodbaths may not even survive the opening minutes as Afro Samurai is not one to shy away from staining every crevice it can in red puddles. Originally the brain child of manga artist Takashi Okazaki, Afro Samurai sets the stage in a futurist hybrid world of modern technology and the Japanese feudal era. In this unique world, the man with the best sword fighting skills is known as Number One. Being Number One has alot of perks, not only do you get a headband which labels you as the best, but you become untouchable and can only be challenged by one other person, which is whoever carries the Number Two headband. Having the Number Two headband is no easy feat to get, and an even harder feat to hold onto considering that anyone can challenge you in a bid to become the best in the world.
The opening scene introduces us to a young Afro and his father, the current Number One. Moments later however, a challenger appears in the form of Justice, a gun slinging barely human cowboy who happens to be the Number Two. With Afro's eyes fixed on the fight, the two duelists slug it out until Afro's father falls at the hands of Justice. After claiming the Number One headband, he tells Afro to challenge him if he ever wants to duel a God. With the plot to revenge his father set in motion, we are thrown into the future where a now grown up Afro shows off his talents as he annihilates a large group of bandits wanting the Number Two headband he possesses. We soon learn that Afro is already nearing the final stage before meeting Justice and so these next few episodes serve as a way follow Afro in his final stage of battles as well as giving us an insight into Afro's younger life and how he came to be where he is. A noticeable downside about the plot though is that it seems to move at almost lightspeed pace in a bid to cram in as many fights as physically possible into these five episodes. Although a fair chunk out of the second episode is used as a background plot for Afro, not much consideration is given to many of his foes, except for the inevitable fight between best friends near the end. It ultimately felt though that Afro Samurai would have served alot better story wise had it been spread over an extra episode or two and allowed for some more character expansion.
Style and detail are the orders of the day as Studio Gonzo makes every dollar of it's high production cost count. But Afro Samurai is far from vibrant, with many of the cast and backgrounds consisting of a similar darkish tone of colours that give a very hazy feel to the show. That doesn't stop the fluid high quality animation from showing through the plentiful action scenes that Afro gets himself into. The backgrounds and cast are uniquely drawn, and for the most part it works well with the show. There are definitely some interesting designs incorporated, especially that of Justice and a teddy bear masked foe who makes an appearance in the final 2 episodes. There is very little that can be taken away from the animation that Gonzo have done, it is quite unique if a little exaggerated in design, and sets the style of the show well.
In what at first seems like a bid to endorse more youth to see Afro Samurai, famous American rapper and hip hop producer RZA was given the green light to construct the musical score. Surprisingly RZA has done a great job with the music, avoiding the urge to plague the show with constant rapping tracks and instead providing us with a wide array of pieces that bring out the intent of each scene yet still retain a hip hop beat. Sadly the music is not used as much as it really should have been, leading to some of the best pieces to be barely audible and drowned out at times where it really could have shined. The opening and ending themes are barely worth listening too, however that doesn't stop the fact that RZA has done some magic with Afro Samurai's musical score, producing a wide array of tracks that constantly step outside the hip hop boundaries and result in a piece that surpassed all of my expectations for this series.
The dub however is quite a different story. The choice of Samuel L Jackson as the blood spraying Afro certainly felt more like another ploy to appeal to today's youth rather than a serious casting choice. One thing can be said though, Afro is a man of very few words, so few though that he barely speaks more than a handful of times an episode. His lines usually consist of either "Shut up" or "Do what you want", both mainly aimed at his trailing imaginary friend Ninja Ninja also played by Jackson. Ninja Ninja however is the polar opposite to Afro, a constant chatter box that has a tendency to drop profanities left right and center. Most of the supporting cast are not memorable either, with many putting on some very unappealing urban street tones that seem forced at times. Some saving grace is given to Ron Perlman and Yuri Lowenthal who managed to bring forth some good performances for their respectable characters, however Ron and Yuri's performances are not enough to make this much more than an average dub at best. Surprisingly there has been no Japanese track for Afro Samurai made, so if you're a sub fan, you'll sadly be stuck with the dub only and worse yet, no subtitles.
On the extras side of things, Madman have equipped their release almost the same as our US counterparts. First up is 'In The Booth: The Voice Talent of Afro Samurai' a fifteen minute making of piece that goes on to describe how Afro Samurai came to be, as well showing what drew in some of the voicing cast to the show. The second extra 'Interview and Character Profiles with Commentary' runs in at a little over twenty minutes and gives us a nice insight into the backgrounds of each of the main characters as well as to how their designs came to be. The final extra on the disc 'The Music of Afro: RZA Music Production' is the shortest piece of them all running in at a measly five minutes and is probably the least interesting, describing briefly into RZA's ideas for the show and where he got his inspirations from. Overall, the extras are nothing spectacular, however there is enough hidden content given about the show's characters to still make them worth watching at least once.
Afro Samurai plays out very much like your run of the mill big action Hollywood movie, it features plenty of amazing action scenes and lots of blood, but it lacks any real story that isn't an excuse to get into another fight further down the track. The show runs at a breakneck pace in order to cram in plenty of fights, and the cast produces a very forgettable dub full of random profanity and dull lines. Of course that does not make it a bad series at all if you are itching to see something that aims for nothing more than mindless violence, just be sure to leave your brains at the door before you enter.
Overall : B
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : NA
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Lots of fluid action scenes, Interesting character designs, Surprisingly decent music score.
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