Come on, how could you go wrong? Afro. Samurai. Samuel L Jackson. If this isn't a recipe for awesome, I don't know what is. If the notion doesn't immediately strike you that this is the coolest concept ever, move along; there's nothing for you to see here. But if you're a fan of animated carnage and you think that Sam Jackson is the king of cool, then this series is well worth it.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world (don't they all?) and follows Afro's pursuit of the "#1 Headband" which is said to grant god-like power to the one who possesses it. Just so happens that the guy who currently possesses it killed our main man's father right in front of him at an early age, hence Afro's quest for vengeance. The trick is that nobody can challenge the owner of the "#1 Headband" unless he possesses the "#2 Headband". Needless to say, the owner of #2 is beset on all sides by every bloodthirsty yahoo who lusts for the power of the #1. That's where the endless carnage comes in. Limbs and heads fly to and fro with whimsical abandon, blood splatters everywhere, death is at pretty much every stop on the Afro-train. Along the way he encounters seductive kunoichi, cyborgs, a dual-bladed opponent in a teddy bear mask, a rocket-launching psychopath, a cybernetic double, and much, much more.
The backstory is filled in with near-constant flashbacks, some of which help alleviate the confusion of what the hell you are watching, and some of which just add to it. The series is short, real short. Like, five 20+ minute episodes short. This is enough to satisfy one's bloodlust and build a decent story, but not nearly enough to fully flesh out the world or the people who inhabit it. The series is fantastic and a great introduction to the anime art form for the curious and uninitiated, but it's not perfect. The ending kind of left me cold, as the final battle is rather anti-climactic, and it never really shows what #1's "god-like powers" entail; or if they are just a legend. All these guys seem to do once they get it is sit atop the mountain and wait for the next sucker to climb on up and challenge them. There is one confrontation that takes a full episode and half of another to conclude because it is packed so full of flashbacks. This is acceptable when you have a full season of a show to pad, but not when you've only got 5 episodes to pack with all the awesomeness one expects from a series named "Afro Samurai". Still, this one is a must-see for animation fans.
The director's cut gives us an extra dose of blood, some nudity, and a little extra much-appreciated character development that adds much to an already great series. The extra disc gives us a brief "making of" documentary and a well put together featurette profiling the many interesting characters Afro meets (and beats) during his journey. There is also a very short segment about The RZA's, excellent score. Samuel L Jackson's resume speaks for itself and his performance as Afro's companion (Afro himself rarely speaks) provides constant humorous and stylish banter that does a great job of both lightening the tone of a show where nearly every character is stoic and deadly serious -if not tragic- and giving voice to Afro's innermost doubts and fears. Ron Perlman is another who never disappoints and his performance as #1 is bone-chilling. The very sexy Kelly Hu also turns in a great contribution. Bottom line: if you like afros, if you like samurai, if you like animation, and if you like violence then this show is for you.