I first heard about Afro Samurai in a random article back in 2003. Ever since then I've been itching to find out what the show would be like. So I finally got a chance to see it on Spike TV last month and I have to say that it met all of my expectations.
This was a great show because of one thing ... the visuals. A combination of the character designs and the excellent animation made for some thrilling action sequences. Sure there wasn't a lot to the storyline, but who cares when you get to see action of that degree.
The budget for production was reportedly $1 million per episode. Now I can't exactly say that it looks like it cost 1 mil, but still, I can't stress enough how dynamic everything looked. From the camera angels to the expressions of the characters, it was amazing just to watch.
Of course, you have to be able to stomach an inordinate amount of violence because there is plenty here to even rival even the Ninja Scroll movie. But it's all so stylized, and the character designs and pretty much the whole general concept of the anime is so unrealistic -- if not downright goofy -- that it's hard to take it all that seriously. I mean, at one point you have a samurai with a gigantic afro fighting another one with a giant teddy bear head. At times it even seems as if the show is intentionally mocking itself, because through all the goofiness, the characters -- with the exception of Afro's loudmouth sidekick -- maintain their sober, brooding tones.
As I mentioned before, you don't get an extremely deep story in these 5 episodes. The main plot is just and excuse to move Afro from one violent encounter to the next. And other than Afro -- and to an extent his side kick -- you don't learn a lot about any of the characters or their motivations, which is a shame. The "Clan of the Empty Seven" is the best example of something that could have benefited from more depth. Not that I'm complaining too much, because there's not much more that you can expect from a 5-episode series that concentrates on action -- at least not without sacrificing the cool action scenes.
One thing that I was curious about though, was how they revealed the origin of Afro's sidekick. The way it was revealed didn't make sense (i.e., how could Justice (aka, #1) know that's who he was) and I can't help but wondering if Justice's line was just thrown in to make it more obvious to US audiences. I wonder if that line will be included in the Japanese audio track considering that Japanese tend to prefer implied -- as opposed to direct -- explanations.
One other thing that I wanted to mention is how some people will probably compare this to Samurai Champloo -- the other anachronistic samurai anime. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a rip-off though, because Afro has much darker tone and more of a sci-fi edge to it.
Overall, this was a great show and I'll definitely be buying the unedited DVD when it comes out. But that being said, I probably wouldn't care whether or not Gonzo decided to make more episodes. The animation and character designs were incredible, but that can only take an anime so far before it becomes tiring. I read in an article that the original manga author developed something like 1000 years of background story, so if Gonzo develops that in future episodes (assuming that future episodes are developed at all) I'd be interested. But if they continue with just concentrate on visuals without more character or plot development then it'll loose it's charm fast.