The first episode of Afro Samurai, the Japanese-animated and Samuel L. Jackson-voiced Gonzo production, is now available for viewing for free on the Spike TV website. It’s a fairly safe bet that the project rides almost entirely on Jackson’s name recognition (Ron Perlman also has a voice too). But how does it stack up, as an anime? If this were any other anime with standard Japanese voice seiyuu, would this stand out?
The answer is, unfortunately, no. Jackson, for one thing, hardly has any lines in this episode, so those watching who are mainly hoping for him to redo his Pulp Fiction routine in animated form will have to rent The Boondocks instead. And while it’s hard to judge too much from just the first episode, the story feels cliched and unsurprising, a rehash of animes like Ninja Scroll and (you’ll see in the story summary) Jubei-chan and the Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch. (It should be noted that the screenplay was scripted by Japanese then translated into English, so it’s their cliches we’re working with. It’s actually based on a doujinshi by Takashi Okazaki.) We learn very little about the title character other than the facts that 1.) he watched his daddy die; 2.) he’s a BADASS MOTHER (shut yo mouth), but this time I’m talking WITH A SWORD (we can dig it).* In other words, exactly what he appears to be, so far. (And right off the bat, he gains an annoying Eddie Murphy-like sidekick, the Ron Perlman character.) There’s also a Fuu-like girl who works at a restaurant, but she only appears in one scene.
The animation quality is, as one expects from Gonzo, predictably high, with a overreliance on flapping clothes in the wind and a rather limited color palette. RZA’s music is actually decent, or at least fits the scenes.
On the whole, it’s not really anything beyond what one would expect from the title, Afro Samurai. Time will tell whether it will match the greatness of its most immediate competitor, Samurai Champloo, or past greats like Ninja Scroll and the Rurouni Kenshin OAV, but so far…yawn.
* Note: Jackson does not actually swear in the show, yet. I’m sure he will eventually…if they were willing to reshoot “Snakes on a Plane” to add profanity, they certainly can do it to an anime where people’s heads get sliced open.
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