3 February 2009 | dee.reid
Afro Samurai - Still just a lil' dude wit' a head full of hair...
"Afro Samurai: Resurrection" has finally landed on DVD!
As a fan of Japanese animation (Anime'), hip-hop, future-tense technology, martial arts movies, samurai movies and (sometimes) blaxploitation flicks, I was instantly enthralled by the 2007 pseudo-style Anime' "Afro Samurai" two years ago when I was able to catch parts of it during its short run on Spike TV. Like its predecessor, I missed the first of many sequels, "Afro Samurai: Resurrection," during its run on Spike TV.
"Afro Samurai" and its sequel remain strong personal favorites because they blend all of hip-hop, Anime', future-tense technology, martial arts movies, samurai movies, and blaxploitation flicks into one explosively entertaining and violent piece of Japanese Anime'-style slice-'em-up.
As you remember from the first series, Afro Samurai (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) had embarked on a lonely, lifelong quest of vengeance to obtain the Number-One Headband, after witnessing his father die in a fight against newly-crowned Number-One Justice (voiced in that series by Ron Perlman). Well, Afro eventually cut down his adversary, after being trained years earlier by a legendary sword master and obtaining the Number-Two Headband.
In "Afro Samurai: Resurrection," Afro's reign as Number-One is cut short when he is ambushed by Sio (voiced by Lucy Liu), a shapely assassin who is on her own crusade of vengeance against Afro because he killed members of her family while on his mission to become Number-One. Together with the diabolically twisted Professor Dharman, her older brother, the teddy bear-headed cyborg swordsman Kuma (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal), their three cyber-enhanced siblings and a slew of disposable, bargain-basement ninjas, Sio plans to resurrect Afro's slain father, for an apocalyptic final battle between father and son. So Afro, together with his sidekick Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Jackson), must again walk the path of the warrior, the path of violence and bloodshed, and once again become Number-One.
Now here is a sequel that lives up to its predecessor, and doesn't disappoint in delivering full-on, animated samurai action. Unlike most sequels, it actually lives up to expectations in being a great follow-up to a recent classic. Most importantly, it's a sequel that's on equal grounds with its predecessor; a few marks in terms of storytelling and characterization keep this second entry from being superior. And it's still way too concerned with style over substance. However, these are only minor grievances in what is a mostly superior second outing.
But there is a lot to like in "Afro Samurai: Resurrection." Series creator Takashi Okazaki expands greatly on the futuristic, feudal Japanese world he unveiled for the first time two years ago. Director Fuminori Kizaki has greatly improved the animation from the first film, which here, more heavily combines elements of Japanese culture and hip-hop culture. Here, both the animation and picture are also very crisp and crystal-clear, giving the "Afro Samurai" universe a few eerie, beautiful shades of vibrant color that reminds one of looking at a Japanese painting.
I've always thought that because Afro Samurai is such a stoic, one-dimensional character, the baddies are usually far more interesting, and here they don't disappoint. "Afro Samurai" and "Afro Samurai: Resurrection" are most notable for having one of the most impressive rogues' galleries in any animated piece I've seen from Japan. There is absolutely nothing sexier than Lucy Liu's purple-eyed Sio, who is not only very deadly in her own right, but she also displays enough ample cleavage that it's a wonder her chest doesn't bust out of her kimono at any given moment. And then there's also her tragic brother Kuma, now more machine than man, doing his best Darth Vader impersonation as a tragic and sympathetic villain wielding two swords, instead of one, and riding around on the most awesomely bad-ass chopper I've ever seen in this series.
The last great thing about "Afro Samurai: Resurrection" is its soundtrack. Like the soundtrack to its predecessor, it was produced by hip-hop producer The RZA (also co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan). It blares up during the most intense action, and features songs by legendary hip-hop greats such as Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck (both of the Wu-Tang Clan), Kool G. Rap, Rah Digga, Wu-Tang Clan affiliates such as Christ Bearer, Killah Priest and Prodigal Sunn, and finally The RZA himself. There's also more music from R & B crooners Stone Mecca, Thea van Seijen, and the legendary Sly Stone. And don't ask how or why, but an appearance on one track by System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian rounds out this killer soundtrack.
To sum it up, "Afro Samurai: Resurrection" is not better than its predecessor, but is on equal grounds with it. It successfully expands on the universe created in "Afro Samurai," one that's full of colorful characters, animation, great hip-hop songs, and vicious violence.
At the end of the day, Afro Samurai is still just a lil' dude wit' a head full of hair.