What kind of person names their child after their own hairstyle? It’d be like if Miley Cyrus was called Mullet, or if Keith Flint asked for Terrifying Negative Clown Mohawk at the christening. It doesn’t leave much room for experimentation, but it seems our main character Afro took this limitation to its natural zenith; this is the craziest afro since the incredulous Miror B.
It’s not just the ridiculous thundercloud hair that’s a touch over the top, however, as Afro Samurai is another in the long line of ultra violent slash-em-up shows with limbs and heads flying everywhere and vast amounts of crimson ticker tape spewing from every newly created orifice. It’s not quite as violent as Hellsing Ultimate, but it’s extremely close. There’s no dying peacefully in this show, hell, there’s barely any dying with your most of your body still attached.
The story is pretty simple; as a child Afro witnesses his father get killed for his obnoxiously long headband by a lower ranked warrior and vows revenge. That’s literally it. It’s a story where all the interesting things have already happened, and if they ignored all the flashbacks it would literally be a guy who doesn’t talk and his annoying sidekick friend who definitely does walking up a mountain and killing some guys.
Luckily there is more to it than that, and the flashbacks are by far the most interesting part of an otherwise tepid plot. Why is Afro so silent and emotionless, who is Ninja Ninja and what happened to all their childhood friends? The storytelling is much more Western in style than the majority of other shows, and I don’t think there’s one time where a character shouts out the exact details of something that has happened, is happening or will happen in the near future like in almost everything else. Lots of major revelations are heavily implied rather than told, which leaves a lot for the viewer to work out, and most of the time these twists are genuinely satisfying and answer a lot of questions. That is of course until the ending, which is over too quickly and mildly confusing at best, but I guess they want you to make up your own reasons for why a guy can talk with no neck left.
This leads me to the most glaring issue with the series; it’s criminally short. There are five 30 minute episodes with a plot that could easily have lasted for another twenty. There’s very little time to form any connection with the characters when they’re revealed and removed within half an episode, let alone when a whole host of villains are just flat out cancelled in less than 10 minutes. There’s one befuddling character in particular who appears, talks and leaves with no ceremony or explanation, despite being a mad scientist with a body somewhere between a folded airbed and an egg timer. It’s baffling at times, and while I applaud the ‘show not tell’ attitude to storytelling I’m not enough of a whiz to understand and fully place a maniacal orange postbox with grabby claws and a snooker ball for an eye.
The action itself is as bloody and violent as you’d expect, and given how long the fights normally last (not very) it feels more brutal than it otherwise would, as a single strike can and often does win a fight immediately. The art style is fantastic and the animation as fluid as you’d expect from a modern anime, and some of the shots can leave you breathless. Afro Samurai apparently had one of the biggest ever budgets for an anime, and it shows.
Of course, most of that budget probably went to the ridiculous array of high profile talent on board, like Samuel L Jackson, Ron Perlman and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. Jackson puts in his usual no-fucks-given performance on a couple of characters, Perlman is suitably creepy as the main villain Justice and RZA does an incredible job on the soundtrack. Once you think about it, putting a hip hop soundtrack on a story set in modern day feudal Japan with an inexplicably black samurai just makes all kinds of sense. It works better here than it does in Samurai Champloo anyway.
Unfortunately there really isn’t much more I can say about Afro Samurai. What’s here is great, but there is nowhere near enough of it to make a proper lasting impression. The storytelling is a breath of fresh air but the plot itself is bland and doesn’t really go anywhere. The characters are verging on interesting but don’t have enough to do to be fleshed out properly. It’s about as long as your average movie but is structured like a series, making it all feel a bit rushed. It feels like a bite sized chunk of what seems to be a longer anime, or a short pilot run before the full thing arrives. As it is it’s fun but quickly forgotten, like the fastest wank in the world.