Afro Samurai (DVD)

I was trying to think of a good joke to explain why I’m writing about a samurai on Memorial Day, but nothing came to mind. Maybe that’s because I’m pretty well drained after a 9+ hour drive to Nebraska for the first ever face-to-face meeting amongst we Doomers (word is, there’s a photo floating around somewhere of the doom that ensued). So, yeah. Samurai.

While there is no Afro Samurai comic book (at least that I’ve seen), the Spike TV series has enough in common with comics (namely, violence) that I figure it won’t hurt to post a review here (thanks to the studio for a review copy). The show is about a black samurai with a huge afro who kills a TON of people. OK, there’s a bit more intricacy: Afro’s dad was the best warrior in the world but was killed. Now Afro seeks revenge. And the warriors of the world are ranked by headband. Did I mention that copious amounts of people die?

The DVD set (which comes in a great package that uses a hidden magnet to stay shut) contains two discs, one with five episodes and another with bonus features. Yes, that is a bit light on content, as the episodes are a half hour or thereabouts. The bonus material is typical making-of stuff, which is made infinitely cooler by the interview with RZA in which the main man explains his concept behind the music (It’s such a typically genius idea. You’ve gotta love RZA).

After watching everything, I’m a bit mixed still on the show. Samuel L. Jackson’s voice acting is pretty good (he balances the over-the-top routine on one character with a very understated approach to another) and Ron Perlman is excellent as the villain (who seems straight out of Stephen King’s Gunslinger world). As said before, there is a ton of fighting, and some of it is very creative and tense, but that’s lost to geysers of blood that overwhelm everything (and draw an obvious comparison to Kill Bill). Afro’s backstory is actually well crafted and revealed in layers through each of the episodes, making the simple vengeance tale more complex as it motors along. But all the episodes have far too repetitive of a structure (Afro is nearly beaten, he recuperates, he wins) and the final battle doesn’t top some of the scenes from earlier on.

The animation (it’s done by cells, not on computer, which is kind of cool) takes a ton of cues from the anime style. I dug some sequences, but then there’s a lot of the sort of jerky motions that make it seem like the animators left out a couple cells. I know this is the style they intended, but it’s a little too close to watching a strobe light for me. You can see what you think by checking out the trailer below: