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Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 11, 2010 by  



Violent, gory and stylish!  Definitely an original and unique, action-packed short anime series featuring an awesome collaboration with actors Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu in to bring out the original manga vision of Takashi “Bob” Okazaki.  Beautiful artistic visuals and animation by GONZO, if you’re  into anime that focuses more on the action, “Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” is definitely for you.

Image courtesy of © 2009 Takashi Okazaki, Gonzo/Samurai Project.  All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions

DURATION: (Disc 1) 5 Episodes (125 Minutes) / (Disc 2) Afro Samurai: Resurrection 97 Minutes

 

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition 16×9 HD Native, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Dolby Digital: English 2.0, Subtitles: English (for special features)

 

RATED: TV MA

 

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

 

RELEASE DATE: June 22, 2010

 

Directed by Fuminori Kizaki

Written by Takashi Okazaki

Executive Produced by Leo Chu, Eric Garcia, Shinichiro Ishikawa, Samuel L. Jackson and Arthur Smith

Co-Produced by Eric S. Calderon

Consulting Producer: Tommy Blacha

Character Design and Chief Animation Director:  Hiroya Iijima

Art Director: Shigemi Ikeda

Music by RZA and Michael Baiardi

Casting by Jamie Simone, Kendra Carter

 

 

Featuring the voices of:

Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Afro Samurai/Ninja Ninja

Ron Perlman as Justice

Kelly Hu as Okiku

Yuri Lowenthal as Juma

S. Scott Bullock as Dharman

Jeff Bennett as Foo

Tara Strong as Otsuru

Jason Marsden as Sasuke

Phil LaMarr as Brother

Afro Samurai: Resurrection:

Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Afro Samurai/Ninja Ninja

Lucy Liu as the voice of Sio

Mark Hamill as the voice of Bin/ODen Shop Master

Grey DeLisle as the voice of Tomoe/Ogin

Dave Wittenberg as the voice of Adolescent/Fencing Brother

Liam O’Brien as the voice of Shichogoro

Zachary Gordon as the voice of Kotaro

Yuri Lowenthal as the voice of Jinno

Afro Samurai. A relentless brother with an ice-cold soul and a jones for revenge. His path is long and violent, and the entire journey so far is now yours to witness.

First, the legendary series: Afro Samurai. As a kid, he saw his father slaughtered. Now a man, Afro walks to the mountain where destiny waits on high. The perpetrators must atone, and they’re gonna get what they deserve. Nothing personal – it’s just revenge.

The saga continues in Afro Samurai: Resurrection. Afro is forced back into the game by a beautiful and deadly woman from his past. She won’t quit until Afro is schooled in the brutal lessons he dealt those who stood in his way. One brother. One path. One thousand deaths.

 

Violent and visually entertaining!  Definitely an original and unique, action-packed anime series featuring a fantastic collaboration with actor Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki and GONZO.

The popular anime and manga series is created by mangaka Takashi “Bob” Okazaki and produced by world renown Japanese animation company STUDIO GONZO (”Full Metal Panic”, “Vandread”, “Gantz”, “Samurai 7″ and many other anime) brought us the popular five-episode series (which aired in the US on SPIKE TV back in 2007 ) was released as a special Director’s Cut featuring 15 minutes of never before seen footage.

The short animated TV series featured a collaboration with Samuel L. Jackson, creator Takashi Okazaki and anime production studio GONZO and took three years to develop and the series was followed by a movie titled “Afro Samurai: Resurrection” which takes place a year later after this series.

Because of it’s impressive visuals, violent action scenes, unique characters (especially since the main character is a Black samurai) and its hip hop music courtesy of RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame), the anime attracted many fans in the US.  Although both the series and the film “Afro Samurai: Resurrection” were previously released on DVD and Blu-ray, FUNimation Entertainment is re-releasing both in one complete Blu-ray package on June 22, 2010.

The five-episode series revolves around a wandering samurai known as Afro Samurai in his goal of wanting to exact revenge for his father’s death.

In this futuristic, feudal-like Japan,  the country is dominated by the person who is known as the top #1 fighter (which is designated by a “ichiban” headband).  Afro’s father happened to be the #1 man at the time, the person to beat and one day, he was killed by the #2 opponent (note: only the person who has the #2 headband can challenge the #1 fighter) that goes by the name of “Justice”.

Justice decapitated Afro’s fathers head in front of him when he was a child and since that traumatic moment, Afro has trained and has become an excellent swordsman in order to become #1.  So, the series focuses on Afro trying to get his vengeance by challenging the top opponents out there and becoming #2 and finally getting the opportunity to challenge his father’s killer, Justice.

Accompanied by the mouthy Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Samue L. Jackson) during his adventures, the five episodes feature Afro taking on a variety of opponents and also flashbacks of his past when he was a child.

“Afro Samurai-Director’s Cut” features a total of 5 episodes on the first Blu-ray Disc:

DISC 1:

  • EPISODE 1 – Revenge – The series features Afro when he was young and watched as his father was killed during a battle.  Now Afro, grown up and a feared samurai, is now wanting his revenge on the man who killed his father.
  • EPISODE 2 – The Dream Reader – Afro is taken care of by a woman named Okiku and we see flashbacks of Afro’s past as a child bent on revenge.
  • EPISODE 3 – The Empty Seven Clan – A clan sends out a robot based on Afro to take on the Afro Samurai.
  • EPISODE 4 – Duel – Afro comes face-to-face on someone sporting a bear mask (a face resembling a teddy bear that Afro’s young female friend used to have) and a flashback from Afro’s past.
  • EPISODE 5 – Justice – The final battle between Afro and his childhood friend and the final confrontation between Afro and Justice.

Afro Samurai: Resurrection:

The top samurai with the afro is back for another round of slicing and dicing galore.  Okazaki’s “AFRO SAMURAI” returns with the animated film “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” that is action-packed and poetically violent.

The popular anime and manga series is created by mangaka Takashi “Bob” Okazaki and produced by world renown Japanese animation company STUDIO GONZO (“Full Metal Panic”, “Vandread”, “Gantz”, “Samurai 7” and many other anime) that brought us the popular five-episode series (aired on SPIKE TV back in 2007) made its return returned with a feature film in 2009.

Because of it’s impressive visuals, violent action scenes, unique characters (especially since the main character is a Black samurai) and its hip hop music courtesy of RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame), the anime attracted many fans in the US.

The series revolves around a wandering samurai known as Afro Samurai in his goal of wanting to exact revenge for his father’s death.

In this futuristic, feudal-like Japan,  the country is dominated by the person who is known as the top #1 fighter (which is designated by a “ichiban” headband).  Afro’s father happened to be the #1 man at the time, the person to beat and one day, he was killed by the #2 opponent (note: only the person who has the #2 headband can challenge the #1 fighter) that goes by the name of “Justice”.

Justice decapitated Afro’s fathers head in front of him when he was a child and since that traumatic moment, Afro has trained and has become an excellent swordsman.  So, the series focuses on Afro trying to get his vengeance by challenging the top opponents out there and becoming #2 and finally getting the opportunity to challenge his father’s killer, Justice who is #1.

With “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION”, the action takes place a year later.  The story focuses on Afro who tries to live an ordinary, peaceful life since the last events (from the TV series) have transpired.   Afro is literally hated by people due to the people he had to kill in order to get the #1 spot.  Some people who were really bad but some who are pretty good.

As Afro tries to live this normal life, his peaceful life is suddenly changed when Sio and Kuma make their return and steal his #1 headband and also his father’s remains.  Sio’s goal is to avenge the many people killed by Afro but also what Afro did to her step brother Kuma.  By resurrecting Afro’s father, the former #1, Afro will be made to suffer because he will have to fight and kill his own father.

So, Afro’s peaceful and normal life is dampened and now the samurai must return to his old killing ways in order to find out what happened to his #1 bandanna but also to get back at the people who stole his father’s remains.

VIDEO:

GONZO has done a remarkable job with this series.  Presented in 1080p High Definition, the animation and the painted backgrounds are well-done!  Daytime scenes are colorful and vibrant and night-time scenes are dark and work well with this series.  It’s also important to note that “Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” has quite a bit of talent involved with the look of the film such as character designer and animation director, Hiroya Iijima (”Gantz”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Black Cat”).  Also, art direction from Shigemi Ikeda (”Gantz”, “Gasaraki”, “Inuyasha”, Infinite Ryvius, “Black Cat” and many of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” TV series and films).

The series is featured in 16×9 and for the most part, the picture quality really brings out the detail of the surroundings, including the rocky cliffs to the disembowelment of several characters.  And color from the lush green painted backgrounds, blue skies and huge clouds, villages and buildings to the action sequences which showcases a lot of blood.

“AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” is an anime film that looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray. One thing is clear, the film just looks so much better than the TV series and the film showcases its vibrant colors during daylight scenes, its darkness during the night and most of all, impressive detail in the backgrounds courtesy of its 1080p High Definition (16×9) transfer.  The film just looks great!

It’s also important to note that “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” has quite a bit of talent involved with the look of the film such as character designer and animation director, Hiroya Iijima (“Gantz”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Black Cat”).  Also, art direction from Shigemi Ikeda (“Gantz”, “Gasaraki”, “Inuyasha”, Infinite Ryvius, “Black Cat” and many of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” TV series and films).

The picture quality really brings out the detail of the surroundings, including the rocky cliffs to the disembowelment of several characters.  And color from the lush green painted backgrounds, blue skies and huge clouds, villages and buildings to the action sequences which showcases a lot of blood.

“AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” is just far superior to the look of the “AFRO SAMURAI” television series in picture quality and animation detail.

AUDIO:

As for the audio, “Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” is featured in Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Dolby Digital: English stereo.  The series actually sounds quite awesome with the clanging of the swords and the metal healing, sounding quite awesome.  Also, scenes with weapons being launched or fireworks being shot up to the sky, “Afro Samurai” has a solid lossless presentation.

“Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” is featured only in English, there is no Japanese soundtrack.   Voice acting is well done by actors Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Yuri Lowenthal.  Samuel L. Jackson definitely brings out the believability of both Afro and Ninja Ninja and gives the series that cool, funky vibe.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” comes with the following special features:

Disc 1:

  • In the Booth – Voice Talent of Afro Samurai – (14:48) Interviews with voice talent Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman, Kelly Hu, creator Takahashi Okazaki and co-producer Eric Calderon discussing how the series came about.
  • RZA Music Production Tour – (4:54) RZA showing us how he created the music and crew talking about how RZA’s music was important for the series.  How hip hop is blended with Japanese animation.
  • Character Profiles with Commentary by Co-Producer: Eric Calderon – (23:42)  Gonzo’s Eric Calderon talks about Afro Samurai, Okazaki’s vision, the voice talent involved in the series and what is cool about the character and the series.

Disc 2:

  • Afro Samurai: The Game – (11:41) Interview with the staff who created the “Afro Samurai” video game.  From the cuts, the music, movement, character animation for the video game and more.
  • Enter the RZA – (6:20) RZA talks about how he came up with the music for the film and the various hardware and software used.
  • Afro In-Depth – (6:37) Interview wtih Takashi “Bob” Okazaki and how “Afro Samurai” became a manga, an animated series and an action figure.
  • Afro Samurai: East Meets West, Part 1 – (19:14) Interviews with creator Takashi “Bob” Okazaki and director Fuminori Kizaki about having more freedom now than when they had with the TV series and now, wanting to blend of the cultures and how they had much more freedom to work for “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION”.  Also, interviews with the crew that includes character designs and artistic backgrounds. And also the Eastern staff  working with the Western staff.
  • Afro Samurai: East Meets West, Part 2 – (25:03) Interview with actor and executive producer Samuel L. Jackson, executive producer Arthur Smith, voice actor Yuri Lowenthal, actress Lucy Liu and the crew from the Western staff.
  • Afro Samurai at San Diego Comic-Con 2008 – (8:10) Series creator and mangaka Takashi “Bob” Okazaki,  Samuel L. Jackson and RZA at San Diego Comic-Con discussing the series during their panel and also interviews with the excited audience.
  • Part A Video Commentary – (28:59) A roundtable video/audio commentary by Director Fuminori Kizaki, Creator Takashi “Bob” Okazaki, Character Designer/Chief Animation Director: Hiroya Iijima, Animation Producer: Yuji Hori and Animation Producer: Kenichi Hayashi.   The guys have a fun time watching the animation and discuss what they wanted to accomplish for the film, things that they wanted people to see and taking pleasure in discussing scenes that were well done and more.
  • Trailers – FUNimation Entertainment trailers for upcoming or currently released series or films.

EXTRAS:

“Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” comes with a cardboard slip cover.

“Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” is a solid, violent action anime series.

It’s definitely a violent series  (and I emphasize “violent”) that features plenty of blood and dismembered body parts but it’s interesting to see how samurai anime-based series has come since the early 90’s.  The action is fast and fierce but for “Afro Samurai”, the series is highly stylized.  Even the blood flowing and how the colors are feature is quite artistic in presentation.

Of course, some people may have a hard time seeing characters that are non-Japanese who are samurai, especially a Black anti-hero with a huge afro.  But Takashi “Bob” Okazaki, who was a big hip hop fan definitely was inspired by the music and wanting to do something different and sure enough, Afro Samurai was a unique creation.  Okazaki has done a wonderful job with this series and for the most part, doing something unique and different.  “Afro Samurai” may feature five episodes but in the overall plan, Okazaki has mentioned, that the series is just a very small part of what he has planned for Afro Samurai and for the most part, one can only hope that the series receives a larger storyline than just five episodes.

The “Afro Samurai” series has star power with Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu contributing their voices to the series.  You have RZA bringing the hip hop to Japanese animation, so for the most part, it’s a unique blend of East meets West in bringing two cultures together.  I felt that was pretty awesome!

GONZO also has done a fantastic job on the animation and artistic backgrounds for this series.  I felt the action and fighting choreography was well done!  Again, everything is stylized.  Even down to the packaging of this release.  I have to say that “Afro Samurai-Director’s Cut” also features a pretty awesome package design.  Featuring a magnetic case and how the folds are, it’s pretty cool.

As for the TV MA rating, despite the series being shown on television, this is not a series to have children around watching.  It’s violent, bloody and features nudity and a sex scene.   In fact, some might find the series a bit disturbing and too gory for their tastes.

Overall, if you are a fan of “Afro Samurai” that was shown on television, the director’s cut features 15 extra minutes will definitely entertain you.   I personally can’t comment on where the extra footage is located but I would assume that the majority of those extra minutes are the extremely violent scenes.

As for my opinion on the series, for one, its short. The series obviously focuses more on the fighting and violence and the goal for people to become #2 in order to fight the #1 fighter.  I felt that the nature of this series was keeping the Western audiences in mind but utilizing Japanese animation by GONZO.   As far as storyline execution goes, “Afro Samurai” is nowhere near the deepness of other samurai anime like “Samurai Champloo”, “Hakkenden”, “Rurouni Kenshin” or “Samurai 7”.  But again, the series is short and Okazaki has not had the opportunity to have a full-length animated series.

But it’s also a different style of anime that although it uses the concept of samurai and has some inclusion of Japanese culture, the series is very Western.  Afro is stoic, while Ninja Ninja could be easily too vocal or mildly annoying but what I did like about the series is its style.  Sure, it’s bloody but somehow the way these fight scenes, no matter how violent they were, the execution was quite artistic in someway.

Also, the series is unique and how it tries to bring together samurai and hip hop music.  And of course, having the main character being a Black protagonist.  But “Afro Samurai” is a series that is literally action and style over substance.  If Okazaki was given a chance to have a full-length anime series of 26 episodes, it would be interesting to see what he would be capable of plot-wise.

“AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” is definitely going to appeal to the fans of the show.  It was pretty unique to see the collaboration between the East and the West for this series and I can only hope that GONZO continues to further production of more episodes (note: Okazaki says that what we have seen so far on the TV series and film is such a small part of what he has already written/planned for the characters).

As far as samurai anime goes, “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” is a violent anime.  Part of Afro’s unique fighting style is his ability to slice and dice people with multiple hits with his sword.  There are a lot of decapitations, loss of limb and blood featured throughout the series, so for the parents wondering if this film is child-safe, the answer is that this film is definitely not child-safe.

There is a lot of Western appeal and as seen at San Diego Comic-Con back in 2008, this series has its large fandom who love this series.  For those who enjoy samurai violence and a samurai anime that is just full of action, there are many positives of “AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION” from its beautiful animation, magnificent art and of course, the music by RZA just adds another positive reason why people the series but also the film.

Also, another major plus is that this Blu-ray goes beyond what many anime Blu-ray tend to have in terms of special features.  You get several featurettes and the Blu-ray definitely explores the Japan and American side of their working collaboration.  So, there are a good number of special features include on this Blu-ray disc.

Of course, the biggest question is if you own these previously on DVD or Blu-ray, is there a reason to buy “Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions”? The answer is that if you have the DVD, then the upgrade to 1080p HD is worth it, if you enjoyed the series.  For those who own the previous two Blu-ray releases, the answer is no.  This is simply a collection of both releases, re-released in one complete package.    So, if you haven’t purchased “Afro Samurai” before, then most definitely, “Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” is the way to go!

Overall, “Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions” is an anime film that features a ton of action, humor and violence.  If you dig samurai anime and a lot of fighting and violence, definitely check this film out!

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