Whenever it comes to riveting TV shows anime is rarely at the top of my wishlist. Full of seemingly constipated muscle heads the premise never really appealed to me, with only a select few like Yu-Gi-Oh, Shaman King and a dribble of Dragon Ball Z ever catching my attention for a decent duration. Although they never sparked my ultimate attention, they most certainly provided some fantastic childhood memories; Yu-Gi-Oh became somewhat of an obsession. In fact I still have my playing cards tucked away in the dark recesses of my room (my wardrobe to be exact) and even now I could happily recall the names of a unhealthy amount of monsters, traps and spells. I've grown out of it now, I promise.
I havn't touched an anime in years, and only recently with my new found Netflix account have I been introduced to them again. Afro Samurai stood out. With Samuel L. Jackson providing the lead, who wouldn't be willing to dip their toe into this show. After an episode, a dip simply wasn't enough and I took the plunge. Revolving around an almost silent samurai appropriately named Afro who lost his father to a warrior ironically named Justice, the premise is interesting, albeit simple. Afro's father was #1 and so sported the #1 headband, this is comparable to the status of a god, translating to the fact that you are deemed the best fighter the world has ever known. However, another band exists: #2. The warrior who wears this band has the right to challenge #1 for his title, after climbing a ridiculously tall mountain of course. However, #2 can be challenged by almost anyone who fancies themself capable of doing so. Wearing to #2 band then is dangerous, to say the least. Afro is out to avenge his father. Wearing the #2 band he must leave a path of blood, wait, a river of blood to get to his rival. Justice.
It's no mystery why he goes by the name 'Afro'.
Being a mini series, Afro Samurai only presents you with 5 episodes. For most anime fans this is precious little time to spend with the characters that they will grow to love. However, even with such limited screen time, the protagonist has really great depth, mostly portrayed through extensive flash back sequences which include the brutal death of his father, his quest to find the #2 band which came with dire consequences, and even his endearing love for a particular beverage. His enthusiastic companion accompanies him along his adventure, with the typical high pitched 'gangster talk' Ninja Ninja (also played by Samuel L. Jackson) becomes a crucial element and provides much needed comic relief. However, 5 episodes is still limiting, and less enthralling characters remain nameless, or are mentioned so little you tend to forget, their personalities remain mundane as a result.
Beautiful is the only word to describe the meticulous style that is lavishly weaved into Afro Samurai's visuals. Blood squirts, splats, drips, pours, and gushes in a way that never ceases to be satisfying. The over the top combat is sensationalized enough for it to be fun, not outrageous. Fights are more like dances, they flow like water, but are brutal, creative and have that 'urgh' factor. Sometimes it's shot that little bit close for my taste, but others may find it more technical. Encounters are not just the stripped back sword on sword affairs that the title may suggest. Guns, crossbows, grenades, and even robotic humanoids litter the battlefield with their destruction. As Ninja Ninja rightfully said 'Is that an RPG? You got a motherfuckin' RPG? An RPG in a motherfuckin' backpack?' The fact Afro uses only his blade and hilt makes him that much more badass.
''Man, you really are a cold blooded motherfucker''
Afro Samurai is full of excellent surprises. With only 5 episodes there is no room for deviation from the main story arch, it isn't designed to make you weep with sympathy, be enthralled by hundreds of artistic locations, or have that episode that involves fun and games. Think of 'The Fly' episode of Breaking Bad being a deviation from the main road, instead taking a country lane that involves an individual tale of a pesky flying insect. Afro Samurai is designed solely to get your heart pumping, and occasionally laugh. It's simply a tale of revenge, done to the best possible gory standard.
''Nothing personal. It's just revenge.'' - Afro Samurai