Welcome to Anime Vice’s first Complete Guide. This would be rather cumbersome to do with long series but it works great for miniseries. Also, for the first time ever, there is a trailer for the franchise at the end of the Guide. Enjoy!
Many anime and manga use cross-cultural tools to create something unique. That is exactly what Takashi Okazaki, a big fan of samurai and hip-hop music, was thinking when he created Afro Samurai. Okazaki first self-published Afro Samurai in the doujinshimagazine Nou Nou Hau from 1999-2000. After the release of the anime, he recreated Afro into a 2 volume manga, which was published in the US by Seven Seas and Tor Books from 2008-2009. A friend of Okazaki’s made action figures based on Afro Samurai and they caught the eye of animation studio Gonzo. It took three years to create the anime and by then it had reached Samuel L. Jackson. He became the third party in developing the 5-episode series. In addition, the RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan came on board for the score. FUNimation acquired the rights in 2006 and took charge of the dubbing. The anime premiered on Spike TV in 2007 and was followed up in 2009 with the TV movie Afro Samurai: Resurrection. Resurrection was nominated for 2 Emmy Awards that year and won Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation (Art Director Shigemi Ikeda). It was the first anime to be nominated for-and win- an Emmy. The anime and movie can be found on DVD or Blu-ray in both edited and un-cut versions with the option of being purchased separately or in one boxset. The franchise includes figures, soundtracks, and a video game (Xbox 360 and PS3). Rumors float around of a live-action adaptation.
As a boy, Afro witnessed his father, Rokutaro, get killed by the gunman Justice. His father was the owner of the Number 1 headband while Justice held the Number 2. Justice tells the boy to challenge him when he’s ready to duel a god. Legend goes that the Number 1 grants the wearer incredible God-like power and the only one who can challenge him/her is he/she who holds the Number 2. But the problem with having the Number 2 is that anyone can challenge the bearer. Thus, those who wear it live lives of blood. Afro gains the Number 2 and continues his lone journey of vengeance. Many mercenaries and a twisted organization stand in his way but two things are for sure: blades will clash and blood will spill.
|Afro Samurai is the current holder of the Number 2. He’s a silent tough guy whose only agenda is to move forward and get the Number 1. He has a distinct afro hairdo and a greenish tint to him and carries and long samurai sword. His skills are practically unmatched but he lacks personality. A cold-blooded murderer who reaps what he sows. As a boy he talked more and was quite normal as he trained under a swordmaster with other kids his age.|
|Ninja Ninja is Afro’s opposite. He walks a fine line of being real and part of Afro’s imagination (like a conscience). He sports a while afro and sunglasses and doesn’t like to keep quiet. He provides some comic relief and aids Afro when shit really hits the fan.|
|Justice is the present owner of the Number 1 headband. He sits in wait atop a mountain as Afro faces bloody hardships. He’s a gunslinger with a nasty secret: a sword-wielding third arm!|
|Kuma/Jinnosuke is Afro’s childhood friend from the dojo. After suffering devastating injuries he was fixed up by a mad scientist to become part machine. To that effect, he wears a teddy bear helmet and wields two swords. He wants revenge on Afro for getting their friends killed.|
|Otsuru/Okiku is another friend from the dojo. Over time she came to the employ of The Empty Seven. She has the ability to take people’s memories as they sleep and does so to aid the Brothers in their quest.|
|Sio is Jinnosuke’s sister. She hates Afro for what he had done do her brother and family. She takes Afro’s father’s remains and uses them to make Afro suffer.|
|The Empty Seven is a group of six monks who wish to own the Number 1 and Number 2 headbands so they can become immortal gods. Five of them are small, cone-headed, bearded old men and the other is a tall traveler-looking man. They use money and technology to hire the best mercenary hitmen from around the world and create a Terminator-esc android to kill Afro for them.|
This series turns many anime watchers away because it has a story too simple to mention and a lack of character development. But despite all that Afro Samurai is an interesting piece of work. The mixture of feudal Japan with modern technology is a cool touch along with the whole afro-headed samurai. Let alone, the animation is completely hand-drawn and the score pops all on its own. Don’t forget the voice talent from Hollywood, either! You’ve got Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman, Kelly Hu, Lucy Liu, and anime’s own Yuri Lowenthal (Sasuke Uchiha, Suzaku Kururugi) in this strictly dub canvass. The series and movie are rated TV-MA for violence, blood and gore, language, some sexual content, and some nudity.
Afro Samurai is a nonstop ride of gruesome sword fights, so it’s an extreme action lover’s dream. There isn’t much to the story or characters but the animation, score, and voice cast more than make up for them. Also, this franchise makes for an easy step into anime for those who want to get into the medium. Or, if anything else, the series is an easy watch if time commitment is an issue since there are only 5 episodes; each running for 25 minutes and the movie for 90 minutes.
*Author’s Note: Supposedly Okazaki has plenty of material on each character to make more for the franchise but nothing has come up. If you have already seen the series/movie or want a different take on the franchise, check out Dunce Cap: Afro + Samurai. Who Does This?!, where I share my thoughts.*