Afro Samurai franchise review

I bought the Afro Samurai PS3 game on Saturday, naturally I played a bit this weekend. The game is quite fun so far, and it also finally made me sit down and watch the series. I watched the five episode miniseries (Director’s Cut DVD version) as well as the movie in a little marathon on Sunday. Overall, I liked it.

One could probably over-simplify Afro Samurai by calling it Berserk meets Samurai Champloo. That’s not an entirely inaccurate statement, as you’ll certainly get vibes from both those great works here, but Afro has its own flavor too. While the series certainly has its unique points, I did find myself on occasion asking “did they forget what anime they were making?”

The story here is pretty simple, so I’ll review that first while trying not to give too many big spoilers. In the world of Afro Samurai there are two scared head bands denoting the two greatest fighters in the world. The owner of the number one headband is granted a god-like status, while the number two is the only person with the right to challenge the number one. There are apparently a number of lesser headbands as well, but the purpose of these is not clear.

Afro’s father is killed at the beginning of the series. He was the number one at the time and is slain in front of a child Afro by the number two, a gunman named Justice. Justice gives the number two headband to Afro and tells him to come for him when he’s ready. Though as a child he loses the headband, Afro regains the title of number two in a turn of events that finds him casting aside his close friends in favor of revenge.

As an adult, Afro is a quiet, cold, and calculated killer. As number two, anyone and everyone can challenge him for the headband and the right to face Justice. This, along with his tragic past, has found him hardened and mostly without outward emotion. This helps when he becomes the target of a crazy cult on his path to the number one.

Afro is oft accompanied by a mysterious character know as Ninja-Ninja. This character is essentially Afro’s alter ego and provides some of the comic relief to the otherwise dark story. Now, this isn’t comic relief as the average anime fan expects (IE: a cute and/or annoying character), we’re talking raunchy ‘rated R’ shit here. Jackson’s performance as Ninja-Ninja not only stole the show, but pretty much made the anime.

Without giving away too much more story, let’s just say that it gets pretty outrageous. The setting is something along the lines of feudal Japan and most people have weapons and attire appropriate to that time period. But then comes the stuff like cyborgs, cellphones, miniguns, RPGs, flamethrowers, electronic binoculars, and even a Darth Vader-esc live support system. Oh, and the technology to completely regenerate a certain character from only a jawbone. You can tell this is more than just a standard tale of samurai vengeance.

The fight scenes are equally radical, with Afro and others showing superhuman strength, abilities, and unrealistic longevity. Now, this is anime after all so one can use suspension of disbelief to ignore most of this, but it does get pretty over the top. Either way you look at it though, the animation is fluid and stunning. The level of gore here is pretty high, though not nearly the worst I’ve seen.

The voice acting is excellent, with stand out performances from Samuel L Jackson and Ron Perlman. The Justice character does not get much screen time, but Perlman gives a chilling performance as him. Jackson is not a stranger to voice-over work, and of course, is perfect here. The supporting cast does a great job as well, and fans of dubbed anime will no doubt recognize a few voices and names.

The hiphop/rap music sound track may not exactly be my style, but there is no doubt that is goes well with the stylish samurai action here. I even found myself enjoying the music played during the fight sequences.

Bottom line time: This is a short, fun and stylishly unique series that I recommend. The action is over the top with plenty of violence and interesting opponents. With only five episodes and a movie, the character development is not as vast as some might hope for. However, they do make good use of their time alternating between back story and the present-day battles. The voice acting is perfect and the music complements the series well. I’d give the series an 8.5 out of 10, just make sure you watch the director’s cut. Afro Samurai consists of five episodes and a movie, Resurrection, that takes place after the events of the series and is within canon.

And the game? Well, pretty much everything I’ve written above holds true to the game as well. An important thing to note is that the story of the game does not follow the story of the anime very well. It seems to get the gist of it though.

The game play is fun but nothing ground breaking. This title will certainly not hold up to the patriarchs of the genre (Devil May Cry, God of War) but is good none the less. It’s certainly the best game based on an anime that I’ve played thus far. The voice actors reprise their roles in the game, and again give stellar performances. The cell-shaded graphics are nicely done and do the series justice. I’d say 7.5 out of 10 for the game so far as I’ve played it.

-Dave out

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