Tentacle-Free Anime: "Afro Samurai" (2007) Review
- by Kazekun, 30 January 2013
The goal of these reviews is to show off anime I feel are worth watching. It is to turn people on to anime, and to show current fans more anime. So it may be a very rare occurrence to find an anime on here I did not like. This feature will mostly tell you about anime that's the best, most appealing and... the most unique. That being said: here’s an anime starring black people.
Afro Samurai, in a lot of ways, is the black sheep of anime. When it first came out, airing on Spike TV in America before airing in Japan, you knew you were in for something different. And boy we weren’t disappointed. It was the shiniest anime we had seen yet, with much care taken into its animation and design by the animation company GONZO, and boasted a stellar cast and the funkiest hip hop music this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The music was done by the RZA, and the cast consisted strongly of Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Kelly Hu (Lady Deathstrike) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy).
What more could you want?
And everyone will stop at nothing to see Afro drop dead at their feet. Afro himself is a man of few words, only speaking here or there throughout the whole series. He’s played by Samuel L. Jackson, which one would think is a shame considering how many few speaking parts our main character gets.
So enter Ninja Ninja, Afro’s trusty sidekick and best buddy, always traveling along, giving hysterical commentary and filling the gap of black man stereotypical speak. He too is played by Jackson, and Jackson has a ball with it. Ninja Ninja is where Jackson really shines as a voice actor, because the first two times I ever watched this anime I had no idea they were even the same actor. It wasn’t until I sat down to watch this show for a review did I notice it.
This is Jackson in his zaniest, balls-to-the-wall, having a blast role I’ve ever seen him in and he doesn’t disappoint. Kelly Hu is also boasted as a big name for the series, but like Afro she gets few lines, only truly starring in one episode of the series. We mostly get to know her character through flashbacks from Afro’s past so it becomes hard to care for her.
But I think in general, Perlman gets the shaft here. He plays Justice, the big bad of the show. The character is seen at the very beginning and at the very end of the series, leaving a huge gap between speaking parts for Perlman. Though he does a good enough job on screen when he is there, as you can’t even tell it’s his voice you’re listening to. Justice is a pretty 2-dimensional villain so again it becomes hard to care for him by the end.
I feel the biggest problems with this anime come from the fact that it is so short and that there are so many characters introduced between episodes 1 and 5. Majority of the characters are gone soon after they are introduced leaving us little time to develop feelings for them. Any characters we do end up caring about are usually brought on by their flashbacks where they get the most development. So even with the show constantly moving forward, it falls a bit under that weight because it doesn’t take a break to allow us to breathe.
Also 2/3 of the big names it marketed for this anime are not given as much screen time as we would hope, which is a real shame.
The narration could, at times, use a bit of work though, cutting to some scenes that actually can make things a little more complicated than they should. Especially at the end, there’s a few things you’ll be shown that quite frankly don’t follow into Afro Samurai’s sequel (we’ll get to that eventually) and so I am not really sure why they’re here. The voices too can sometimes be almost inaudible, but these are mostly relegated to characters of very little importance; though it still bugs me when I find them.
The animation is top notch, GONZO really outdid themselves here. It’s sleek, crisp and shiny; but still gritty, bloody and dark. This is one of those anime that you could look at and go, “this is how I always want my anime to look.” It blends color and black and white as well, the backgrounds are full of color while all of our characters are pretty much black and white, which sticks to the nature of the few dimensions many of them are given. They will have a few colors here and there, such as Ninja Ninja’s red goggles, or the red sun of Japan’s flag on Afro’s headband. But mostly you will look at these characters and notice they’re black and white all the way. And oddly enough, it works and doesn’t feel out of place.
The music is stellar and really fits the overall tone of the series. It’s dark but hip and keeps the action moving. Plus it’s subtle and only rears its head when needed, leaving the silent moments to be that: silent. The RZA creates a soundtrack worth owning here and should be listened to over and over again.
Overall, this is a show that despite its bloody tendencies is something you can just sit back after a long day of work, feel as if Afro is slaying your boss in every battle and simply enjoy. It’s not overly complicated, it’s not meant to be “deep” though it may act like it from time to time. It’s a revenge story through and through. And it’s not racist. ["Afro Samurai" being racist is apparently a quite common, extremely dumb complaint about the show. - Ed.]
Final Verdict: 3 head banging monks out of 5.
Have you seen "Afro Samurai"? Enjoyed the review? Let us know in the comments section!
Tagged: Tentacle-Free Anime.