What They Say
Afro Samurai (Samuel L. Jackson) is the tale of a black samurai’s hunt for Justice (Ron Pearlman), who murdered his father. Afro Samurai blends traditional Japanese culture, funky technology, and hip-hop to create a brutally fresh entertainment experience.
Includes 15 minutes of never-before-seen footage including an extended ending.
I listened to the English 5.1 audio track for my viewing session; the mix for this series balanced action, music, and dialogue beautifully creating a rich, expansive audio experience. The elements blend well together and make full use of the entire front and rear soundstages. There were no discernible dropouts or distortions during playback.
Produced in 2006, Afro Samurai makes use of traditional cel-based animation rather than the common digital processes used by most series. The result gives the story a dark, noir feel with streaks of color, usually bright red blood, cutting through the mostly black and white images. It paints the screen with dark, brooding, detailed scenery and punctuates the bleakness with vibrant colors. With no noticeable issues resulting from the digital transfer, this was a rich visual experience.
The main menu rotates through the images seen on the DVD case with the series title to the right. Music loops in the background, and the menu items are across the bottom of the screen. Transition delays are nonexistent allowing you to get setup and into the content quickly.
A second disc contains three features regarding the production of Afro Samurai. The first is a fourteen-minute piece about the making of the series; it features interviews with the various voice talents along with insights from the Japanese creator and the English producer. Second is a four-minute piece with RZA regarding the music production. Last is a twenty-three-minute piece where the English producer provides in-depth character profiles.
Legend tells of two headbands that can only be worn be the strongest warriors. He who holds the number two headband is the only man strong enough to challenge the man that holds the number one. Afro Samurai is a young boy, and his father currently bears the title of number one across his forehead. A gunslinger named Justice is number two and challenges Afro’s father to a duel. Justice brutally strikes down his father and leaves Afro with the invitation to get his revenge when Afro is strong enough. So begins a young boy’s path to a manhood devoid of all emotion save for revenge.
Little else about the story needs mentioning; what follows is a bloody but stylish path of violence towards the inevitable showdown between Afro and Justice. A chatty “conscience” called Ninja Ninja follows Afro, and people from Afro’s past cross his path to settle old scores. His past shows how Afro became a brutal and single-minded killing machine, but this is the extent of the character development for the series. Afro Samurai is concerned more with violent action scenes, and it delivers one stylish battle after another.
Visually, this series sucks you right in from the start; after the colorful flashback to his father’s death, the present day looks bleak and gray in comparison. Reminiscent of Sin City, the initial battles for Afro take on the feel of pulp noir, the black and white images punctuated with bright red and numerous sprays of blood. The stark imagery matches the cold demeanor of Afro’s character.
As the co-producer would state in the “Making of” feature, Afro Samurai is a fusion of Eastern and Western pop culture influences. The tone of the story is distinctly Eastern, focusing on one man’s quest for vengeance at any cost. However, the character designs and the world of Afro Samurai are heavily steeped in Western idioms from the titular character how could have stepped out of a ’70s blacksploitation film to the Buddhist monks who act more like fervent televangelists. The soundtrack adds additional flavor by combining elements of hip-hop, soul, and rock to match the frenetic martial arts action on screen.
For all its style, Afro Samurai provides little substance for its story. It is a predictable and uninspiring tale of revenge that tries to push the moral of how violence is a self-perpetuating circle. Afro cuts neither a tragic nor turmoiled figure; he made his choice long ago and not even the ceaseless banter of Ninja Ninja will dissuade him from his path. The end result leaves the viewer as cold and distant to his plight as Afro is to those around him. You simply sit back and watch the carnage unfold.
It was fascinating to see Afro Samurai experiment with combining Eastern and Western pop culture. It is this exchange of ideas and talents that can help push both shores of the industries into new directions. This experiment fails to provide a substantial and engaging plot to draw more than the eye to the screen; but if you are looking for a great action film, Afro Samurai is an easy recommendation as it provides plenty of stylish and visually stunning violence.
English 5.1 Language, Takahashi Okazaki Original Artwork, Interview & Character Profiles with commentary by Eric Calderon, RZA Music Production Tour, In The Booth: The Voice Talent of Afro Samurai
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 26th, 2008
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mitsubishi 27″ TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable