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R. Bruce Elliott,
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In a strange world of swords, guns and kimonos, cell phones and cybernetic body parts - a black samurai, Afro Samurai, seeks revenge from a man named Justice who killed his father and also happens to be the #1 fighter in the world. After Afro earns the rank of #2 fighter needed to challenge the #1, he starts his lonely walk to revenge. He faces bounty hunters, bar thugs and fanatical monks - all of whom seem to have clues to the whereabouts of Justice and all of whom covet the position of #2 for themselves. Also along the way we are introduced to Afro's chatty companion - the light hearted Ninja Ninja. Written by
"Afro Samurai" - Just a lil' dude wit' a head full of hair...
Can you dig it?
This is what you get when you mix Japanese samurai flicks, ultra-savvy blaxploitation attitude, future-tense technology, and hip-hop into one energetic camp hybrid that takes NO prisoners.
The pseudo-Anime' "Afro Samurai" is set in a futuristic feudal Japan, in which all the swordsmen in the world are in a murderous pursuit of the #1 Headband, which once obtained, would allow its wearer to call himself a god and master of all that he surveys. So when #1 is killed in a battle with gun-totting madman and #2 Headband Justice (Ron Perlman), #1's son Afro (Samuel L. Jackson) swears an oath of vengeance against now-#1 Justice. Undergoing conventional samurai training by a renowned master, young Afro grows up, receives the #2 Headband, sets out on his mission of revenge and attempts to obtain the #1 Headband, cutting down every single man who challenges him. Bearing witness to it all is Afro's loyal sidekick and only friend, Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Jackson), who provides much of the show's comic relief.
In many ways, at least to me, "Afro Samurai" was a long time coming. Ever since first getting wind of it in late 2006 and catching a few episodes during its short, five-episode run on Spike TV earlier this year, I've become an "Afro Samurai" fanatic. As a longtime fan of Japanese animation and Manga (Japanese comics), "Afro Samurai" cut and slashed its way into my heart from its earliest moments when Afro's father is challenged and defeated by the maniacal Justice. I've waited a long time for something to come along that fused hip-hop and Japanese animation into a relentless action feast and when it finally came along, I was not the slightest bit displeased. The animated show "The Boondocks" is another example of this Anime'/hip-hop trend done right.
But first and foremost, "Afro Samurai" is only concerned with one thing: style over substance, that means excessive sword-play and violence over anything even remotely resembling a discernible plot. Make no mistake, though, while this is a visually arresting feast for the eyes, it is definitely not for the squeamish, much less anyone under the tender age of 17. The brain-child of creator Takashi Okazaki, director Fuminori Kizaki and co-writers Tomohiro Yamashita and Yasuyuki Muto, "Afro Samurai" lets the blood flow (but really, more like spray) in fountains and geysers. The blood flows in copious amounts in the various martial arts sword-fighting sequences, which are excellently and stylishly executed much like Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies or your favorite samurai blood-letters. The dynamic and surreal score by Wu-Tang Clan co-founder and "Afro Samurai" soundtrack producer The RZA is quite a stand-out, and blares up during the most intense action. Any soundtrack that features hip-hop legends such as Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang Clan co-founder GZA, Q-Tip (formerly of A Tribe Called Quest), and Talib Kweli - you can bet I'm picking it up.
So as you can see, I've said nothing but good things thus far. Many have maligned the fact that since Afro speaks so little in this series, his character comes to be defined by the way he viciously cuts down his adversaries in the many battle sequences. Probably like your favorite swordsman who speaks little but carries a big sword, Afro is really nothing new. In fact, if you look deeper, his comic foil Ninja Ninja could also be considered Afro's wild, fun-loving, and talkative alter-ego (since there were a few times when I felt Ninja Ninja wasn't even real).
"Afro Samurai" also has one of the most memorable casts of bad guys ever assembled for animation outside of Japan. I already mentioned Justice, but there's also the monk/assassin collective, the Empty 7, the teddy bear-headed Kuma, and assorted heavy artillery-totting hired killers and disposable bandits and hoodlums. Although I was a little disappointed that babe Kelly Hu as Okiku didn't have a bigger role, she only seemed to be in it for the sex appeal (and as the director's cut proves, to give a little something for the guys who may be watching). Although an odd choice for a role such as this, Samuel L. Jackson is a thorough double-edged sword as both Afro and Ninja Ninja. (It's hard to believe this is the same man who once played the Bible-quoting hit-man Jules Winnfield in 1994's "Pulp Fiction.")
With "Afro Samurai," an Anime' fan gets something that he's always wanted and more: a piece of animation that blends so many distant genres and fuses them into one hell of an eye-popping action experience. Now, if only he can convince his other Anime'- and "Kenshin"-loving friends to watch the one and only dude wit' a head full of hair, "Afro Samurai."
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