First Impressions

Afro Samurai

Created by Takashi Okazaki

Produced by GONZO

Airtime: Spike TV – Thursdays at 11 p.m.

Rated: TV-MA

Genre: Martial Arts

Reviewed by Jon Minners

After the announced cancellation of Blade: The Series, Spike TV was left without a truly original scripted program and while one failed attempt could have deterred them, the network for men continues to push forward with the unique and niche-friendly Afro Samurai

The series, which is only slated for five episodes at the moment, is based on a Japanese dojinshi manga created by Takashi Okazaki and features the voice talents of Samuel L. Jackson (Afro Samurai and his sidekick Ninja Ninja), Kelly Hu (Okiku) and Ron Perlman (Justice). 

Afro Samurai is an Americanized version of anime complete with a fusion of the elements of Hip Hop and traditional Japanese samurai tales.  The story follows the lead character as he searches for his father’s killer, Justice. 

Viewers witness the events that lead to this quest for revenge in an opening segment that explains the whole crux of the series. 

Afro’s father, at the time of his killing, was the number one samurai.  Justice was the second greatest samurai.  Both wore ceremonial headbands to display this fact.  In order to be the best, Justice had to challenge the father.  Justice, the gun-wielding samurai, is able to defeat Afro’s father, cutting his head off in the process and handing it to the son, planting the seeds for revenge. 

But it is not that simple.  In this world, only the Number Two samurai can challenge Justice for the top honor.  Afro has to earn that right.  To make matters worse, while Number One only has to stave off the challenges of one fighter, anyone has the right to challenge for the second spot and once Afro Samurai earns that distinction, his quest for revenge is consistently interrupted by a wide array of opponents. 

The various villains that Afro Samurai must fight off, each complete with a unique look, fighting style and strength, will leave viewers comparing the show to Ninja Scroll, which also had an interesting gallery of characters. 

Like Ninja Scroll and other series of its ilk, Afro Samurai has an abundance of violence and bloodshed complete with well choreographed fight scenes and other mature elements thrown in for good measure, including a sex scene that seemed almost suited for the old Spawn HBO series. 

What separates this show from Ninja Scroll is the unique fusion of Hip Hop  flavor, making it more akin to Samurai Champloo, which viewers may remember from Cartoon Network in 2005. 

RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, also provides a bumping Hip Hop soundtrack to the mix.  Koch Records will be releasing that soundtrack in the coming weeks. 

In addition, while the show appears to be set in typical feudal Japan, viewers may be shocked that amidst the old customs and fighting attire, someone will pull out a cell phone or a rocket launcher while a character like Ninja Ninja will speak in modern Hip Hop slang.  This makes for a refreshing concept that breaks away from the traditional norms one would expect. 

On the same note, do not expect to see the usual wide-eyed anime characters or typical anime characteristics for displaying various emotions that usual add a light touch to even the most dramatic fare.  This anime is very American and one needs to look no further than to the distorted and lanky, narrow-eyed figures that populate the Afro Samurai world to see this is a very different show. 

The anime is also tight and while Afro Samurai and Ninja Ninja may remind viewers of characters straight from a Boondocks fantasy segment, it is the backgrounds that truly standout; beautiful in all its monochromatic splendor – truly allowing splashes of color, such as the blood viewers will see a lot of, to standout amongst the action of the show.  It’s a unique style that viewers will immediately notice and be drawn to. 

But at the cost of $1 million an episode, the series will need to be successful in order for others to find its way on the air.  Of course, Jackson is rumored to be starring in a live action movie of the same name and Capcom is said to have plans for a game based on the series.  A DVD is also in the works for a May release. 

If all is successful, Afro Samurai may, in fact, not be a thing of the past, but rather, setting the tone as the show of the future. 


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