This week’s blog post is on something I have been waiting for a while to “blog” about. If you haven’t noticed yet this week I’ll be taking about Afro Samurai. This series was originally a manga created by Takashi Okazaki. For those who don’t know what manga is, it’s more or less a Japanese comic except “Manga is unique due to its sexuality and quote end quote violence” (Samuel L. Jackson).
One day the production company Gonzo decided to turn the book into a short five episode TV series. After making a short pilot the company sent it out in order to get publicity for the show and so it could really take off. This is when a copy found its way to Samuel L. Jackson.
The official story is Samuel Jackson was walking through an office and spotted the pilot for the show on a desk. So he grabbed it planning to steal it. He was quickly snapped at by the owner of the desk saying “You’re not allowed to take that” where he respond “Uh yes I am.” Shortly after that Jackson viewed the pilot and immediately called the production company saying he wanted to be apart of the production.
With the addition of voice actors Samuel L. Jackson (Afro Samurai and Ninja Ninja) and Ron Perlman (Justice) the production took off. According to creator Okazaki, the idea originates with hip-hop, soul music, and how cool Afros are. From there he sticks with a classic theme “Vengeance.” Then it takes on a traditional samurai story but with soul culture to differentiate the uniqueness of the film (That being the merging of the eastern and western cultures). So when you put all this together you get the simple story of a man seeking revenge for the murder of his father.
Right know you may be asking if the story is so simple then why is this show so unique? Well to answer your question its the combination of art and music that makes this story so special. Lets take a look at the music first. The show was scored by the RZA and what he came up with was a musical story to go along with the story of Afro Samurai.
Afro’s Father represents Soul and Justice (Father’s murderer) represents hard rock. Rock then kills soul. Soul grows up over time incorporating pieces of itself and rock, becoming hip-hop, which represents Afro. Then hip-hop kills rock. So as the story goes on and the character’s change so does the music, evolving with them every step of the way. Here is a sample of the music used in the show.
Now lets talk about the Art. Most animation now a days are done using computers at some point of the production. With Afro Samurai they decided to have the entire feature to be hand drawn in cells. Also when animating the feature and coming up with the style they used the manga as a bible for the show, remaining as close as possible to the original concept by Okazaki.
Now lets talk about the characters. Know this show is considered to be a mix of east and western culture. When the created Afro they didn’t make him 50/50 of each they made him 90% samurai who happens to be black. Also when coming up with his movement they wanted to give him a free style that was low and have him use only one hand for his sword rather then the traditional two. As far as personality goes he is the “strong, silent, deadly type” (Jackson). Then we move on to Ninja Ninja, Afro’s side kick. He was based off the Cheshire cat from Alice in wonderland. Much like the Cheshire cat he is always smiling and mocking the hardship of your life. He also comments on his surroundings, whats going on, he voices his opinion about people, what just happened, he more or less takes on the figure type of the “Greek Chorus.” I would go on but I don’t want top give away any spoilers. Then we come to the big villain Justice. He’s not what you would you’d expect to be in a samurai film. His character suffers the same flaw as many other villains, that being he strives for peace but in his own twisted way strays off course. There is also another antagonist in the story, that being The Empty Seven. They are a cult of monks that believe they are worthy to become god. Throughout the show they indirectly confront Afro. Animation wise there actions / movements (specifically Brother 1) where based off of the movement Malcolm X used in his speeches. Then finally we come to Afro’s rival Kuma. Kuma is designed to be a traditional samurai but with a teddy bear head. He is probably the most tragic character (aside from Afro). He was a dynamic leader, nobel, and the only character that try’s to be Afro’s friend. When things go bad for him all his dreams shatter and he is brought back to life against his will, thus becoming a warrior of vengeance.
It is all these components (The story, art, music, and characters) that make this truly a unique and one of a kinda collaboration that will stand alone in the anneals of animation. And I hope I have peeked your interest to watch Afro Samurai.