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Afro Samurai: Director's Cut
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The violent five-part adventure Afro Samurai marks both the increasing confluence of American and Japanese pop culture and the shift in Japanese depictions of African-Americans. The popularity of hip-hop in Japan has led to more positive images of blacks, including Takashi Okazaki's original manga. The "Director's Cut" contains an additional 15 minutes of footage, and is even gorier than the broadcast version on Spike TV. As a boy, Afro Samurai saw his father beheaded by the maniacal Justice. The murderer sought an ancient headband that marks the wearer as the #1 warrior in the world. As an adult, Afro seeks only revenge, cutting down anyone who blocks his path to Justice. Afro Samurai depicts a oddly anachronistic world that infuses cell phones, cigarette lighters, and cyber technology into traditional Japanese culture. The elongated character designs recall Peter Chung's Aeon Flux, and much of the series is rendered in moody grays, accented by gobbets of scarlet blood. Afro is such a taciturn figure, most of the dialogue goes to his motor-mouth comrade Ninja Ninja. This big budget production features an eclectic score by Wu-Tang Clan co-founder RZA and an A-list vocal cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman. But for all its elaborate production values and over-the-top fights, Afro Samurai suffers from a weakness at its core: Afro is so monosyllabic and cold-blooded, he's not very interesting. His inevitable duel-to-the-death with Justice lacks the emotional punch of Spike's face-off against Vicious in Cowboy Bebop or Kenshin's one-on-one with Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin. This extremely violent series is not for the faint of stomach. (Rated TV MA, suitable for ages 17 and older: graphic violence, profanity, sexual activity, grotesque imagery, nudity, risqué humor, alcohol and tobacco use)
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Afro took those words very seriously and took a few things of his fathers including his very cool Katana. Afro immediately went from an innocent child to an almost emotionless man with a ton of weight on him as he begins his vengeful journey. Afro Samurai is a unique anime or story for that matter. You don't see too many people willing to put out a story with basically nothing but very bloody fight scenes for about two episodes before a really good story starts up. Especially in a 5 part series where the episodes are only between 20 and 30 minutes long. I can't lie because I love stuff like that and it made Afro Samurai all the more tempting to finish watching. The second is that this was a pricy anime to make costing $1 million per episode so I'm sure a few viewers from the Hip hop community were expected to watch this. Even if you're an action film fan you have to admit when there's too much action and not enough story Even in a revenge tail like Kill Bill with a certain scene that this anime could relate to 88 times over it had a mystery and story.
Afro was on the verge of being in the too much and not enough category and then a cool story hits you somewhere around the end of episode two. Flashbacks of Afro's life are showed, you see him as a kid again and the people who took him in and gave him his gritty skills. All throughout the 5 part series you see that the money was well spent because the animation is amazing and beautiful. The things that Afro does with his skills are crazy and this animation was a giant step up for anime samurai fight scene, it was flawless. The voice actors are great including Sam Jackson who is great for co-producing this and putting his foot in it.
I think it would have been cool to actually give Afro a real name, it's cool for people that take him on to call him Afro but I think he should have had a name for his other life before he became the Afro Samurai. In other words I kind of wish the story went just a bit deeper with a little bit more complexity. I think that Afro Samurai is a great series that everyone should see especially to view its beautiful quality.
Comprised of 5 episodes, Samuel L. Jackson plays Afro who has a boy saw his father killed right in front of him by the evil Justice. Justice wants the #1 headband which says that he is the best fighter ever. Afro, growing up and full of dreams of revenge, has the #2 headband which means only he can take on the number one. Only thing is whoever is number 2 has to fight everyone and really anyone who thinks they can take him on. And so the bulk of the series is basically Afro taking on any moron who thinks they can go after him as well as revealing backstory on old friends and how he got the #2 headband back.
First I should talk about the positives because the negatives might be a little bit extensive. Gonzo Animation, known for such titles as Samurai 7, Trinity Blood, and Chrono Crusade, Gonzo has really outdid themselves with the animation here with is just as fluid and beautiful as it should be with character designs on the mark a large part of the time which was a problem I always saw with Samurai 7. One battle, taking place in a snowfield is just as serene in its atmosphere as is some of the lighting in other places. However, the fights, while cool, have a certain overeager quality or a lack of confidence and they're almost haphazardly directed and hard to tell what's going half the time. It's here where it's easy to see it's basically a case of "if it looks cool, who cares if the action's confusing?"
Here's where I'm basically going to bomb the series. Characters aren't terribly interesting. Afro is so quiet and withdrawn that he's not the most likable anti-hero around. At least Hellsing was a likable bad***, as skillful in battle as he was cool to root for. Jackson also plays Ninja Ninja which is the antithesis of Afro's quiet demeanor. This is the Jackson you'd probably hear the most in films as he has that kind of "I'm the man" tone of voice and he quickly gets irritating. You almost wish Afro would pull a Fight Club on him (if you've seen the movie, I've probably spoiled this for you). As for the 2 other stars, Kelly Hu and Ron Perlman, playing Okiku and Justice respectively, they're barely in this. Not that they do good jobs anyway.
There's way better anime out there such as Bebop, Champloo, Kenshin, hell even Fruits Basket is better than this. Should you at least rent it and try it out? Sure. Some of you will love it and find "this **** is the bomb!" while others will find a rather hollow anime entry.
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.
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