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Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut (a J!-ENT Anime DVD Review)

December 1, 2009 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- Director’s Cut” is definitely for you.

 

Image courtesy of © 2006 Takashi Okazaki, Gonzo/Samurai Project.  All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut

DURATION: 5 Episodes (125 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: 16:9, English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, English Stereo

COMPANY: Gonzo/FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV MA

Release Date: May 22, 2007

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 following voice talent:

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 (voiced by Academy Award nominated Samuel L. Jackson) is an epic tale of a black samurai’s hunt for Justice (voiced by Ron Perlman: Hellboy, Alien Resurrection) who murdered his father.  With music store by the RZA (Kill Bill, Wu Tang Clan), Afro Samurai blends traditional Japanese culture, funky technology and hip hop to create a brutally fresh entertainment experience.

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.

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 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 one DVD and comes with another disc with special features.  Here is a spoiler-less summary of each episode:

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.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

GONZO has done a remarkable job with this series.  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.

As for the audio, “Afro Samurai-Director’s Cut” is featured in English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and 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 5.1 presentation.  I actually prefer to listen to the series with my receiver set at stereo on all channels (especially for those that have a 7.2 or higher setup).

“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.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” features the following special features:

  • 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.

I know that I’m coming on to this series quite late but for the most part “Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” is a solid series.  It’s definitely a violent series full 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.

Overall, “Afro Samurai” was entertaining, violent, gruesome but visually stylized.  It was something different and that’s a good thing.  Also, the fact that you can find “Afro Samurai – Director’s Cut” online for a pretty cheap price, definitely makes this DVD release worth checking out.

 






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