This week, I took a trip to my local Best Buy and purchased the director's cut/unrated edition DVD of Afro Samurai. I'd only watched the first episode (and it was online when Spike made it available during its initial promotion of the series) but I took the plunge anyway.
Throughout the five 20+ minute episodes, we're dropped into creator Takashi Okazaki's netherworld where hip hop, Japanese samurai culture, robots, deformed gunslingers, a Buddhist monk/Evangelist cult, and cell phones inhabit the same realm. But while the surroundings appear to be haphazard, the story is pretty simple: A black samurai (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) is on an epic journey to get revenge against Justice (voiced by Ron Perlman), the man who killed his father. The action is pretty intense, sometimes too cunfusing to really get a grip on what's happening. At times it reminds me of the current shakey cam movement that's become so popular among Hollywood directors. I would've preferred the sleek, cool action pacing seen in Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
Taking into account that slight criticism, the $1 million/per episode budget is visible on screen. Aside from a few, noticable 3d/CGI special effects, the entire series is hand-drawn; a staple of animation that has gone by the wayside. The rich atmosphere is moody, rendered in gradiants of grays and dark blues. But when the violence kicks in, blood red flows, especially on the unrated version. Along with Jackson and Perlman, the voice talent is rounded off with Kelly Hu and Phil Lamarr. And finally, The RZA provides a music score that takes pays homage to old school kung fu flicks with a touch of hip hop/soul/rock.
Considering how few and far between quality direct-to-DVD animes are nowadays, Afro Samurai is well worth the price of admission. And if you get the director’s cut/unrated edition, along with the extra 15 minutes of footage that didn't make it past the TV censors and a slew of extras (making-of, interview with The Rza, character Commentaries), you also get some pretty cool packaging...
If you're interested, you can check out the official website right here.