Afro Samurai—for all the anime heads out there

Fans of quality animated entertainment should definitely tune in to Spike TV on Thursday nights at 11p to catch Afro Samurai, which may be the first mainstream anime series to feature a black character in the lead role. It’s got some top-level talent behind it: the vocal castGactu1197103918.jpg includes Hollywood heavyweights Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United, the Scorpion King), and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Blade II); the RZA supplies its score; and acclaimed anime studio GONZO drew the pictures and made them move. Additionally, AS appears to be a true co-production between Spike and GONZO, rather than an adaptation like most animes. What this means for non-anime fans is that it avoids most of the translation and cultural-reference issues that bedevil series originally created for Japanese audiences and later dubbed and/or subtitled in English.

GONZO poured over a million bucks into each episode, and it shows. The graphics are rich and evocative, but not for children or the faint of heart: be prepared to witness rampant cussing, sexual innuendo, severed body parts, and many, many gallons of spilled blood. Like Samurai Champloo, another hip-hop/anime genreclash, AS creates an anachronism-filled fantasy world driven by the rhythms of black music. The Afro-Samurai himself brings a stoic, pre-Meiji steeliness to his earthtoned environment, which is otherwise populated by killer robots, demonic gunslingers, and cameraphone-wielding spies. As in many anime series, the setting is presented completely devoid of context: the putative time period and the circumstances behind the convergence of the aforementioned incongruities are all left to the imagination.

I can tell you this much about the plot without spoiling anything: the Afro-Samurai (he kicks it Man-With-No-Name style) is out for revenge against the man who killed his father. Like most good samurai, he hardly ever speaks; most of the dialogue comes from the show’s most annoying character, a motormouthed comic-reliever named Ninja Ninja who speaks in an exaggerated “urban” argot. Much as I can’t stand that hypervocal, jive-talking black archetype, the titular character has fortunately retained full control over his dignity thus far. One of the lead villains talks like a Southern televangelist, and many of the lesser baddies (we’re talking hakama-clad samurai here) have Southern accents as well, which is an effective touch given the hero. Overall, the series looks exceedingly well-composed, and if the plot doesn’t quite measure up, it’s because the atmosphere and visual style have set such a high bar.

Besides, I’m just kinda hype about seeing a black hero on TV that doesn’t completely suck. The Afro-Samurai’s personality is a little low-key, but it works, especially in a media environment in which nearly every black male character is completely overblown. Plus, I’m lovin’ that GONZO didn’t half-ass the production—the show’s worth watching for the quality of the animation alone. So even if you don’t consider yourself a dedicated otaku, check AS out—it’s probably the best action series currently running.

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Published on January 17, 2007 at 12:01 am. 9 Comments.
Filed under black image,entertainment,television.