Eleven thugs corner a big-afroed warrior. There’s a reward for his death by the Empty Seven, quintuplet cyborg monks. The thugs attack and a gush of blurred limbs and crimson gore blots the page, and then only one figure remains: Afro Samurai.
Imagine a bleak world that evokes a feudal Japan mixed with a cyberpunk cool. This world’s all-powerful ruler is called No. 1, and wears a headband that gives him this power. His only weakness is that one man can challenge him — the wearer of the No. 2 headband. For his part, No. 2 is forever hunted by countless warriors and continually plunges into blood-soaked battles. Technology is one of the most unique aspects of Afro’s world. Some characters use flip phones similar to ours. Higher tech, like cybernetics, also exists. However, the vast majority of the technology evokes samurai-era Japan — warriors fight with swords, bows and matchlocks.)
Most of us may associate Afro with the Spike TV miniseries that appeared last year, but the story got its start as a doujinshi
(self-published) manga comic by Takashi Okazaki that first appeared in an independent magazine.
Reading the graphic novel, you’re definitely getting a more Japanese experience. Okazaki kept the katakana "sound effect" characters in while appending English translations ("kyaa!" and "whoosh" being examples.) A glossary in the back gives fascinating explanations of cultural phenomena glossed over in the book, like iai, or quick-draw technique, as well as a quick background of the notable geographical phenomena of Afro’s world, which pulls much of its content from Buddhist legend. If I have one complaint about the graphic novel, the 5.5" x 7.5" dimensions of the book (presumably reduced from a larger size) reduces the detail a little too much. The tightly packed and stylized cells give the storyline a frenzied and claustrophobic feel.
In 2007, Spike TV brought Afro Samurai to America. If the original manga had a distinct Japanese feel, the miniseries put a Hollywood spin on it while keeping Afro true to his roots. Color is one way that the two differ: The graphic novel is simple black and white except for the dramatic sprays of gore. Contrast this with the Spike adaptation that sported post-apocalyptic tints and a grim RZA soundtrack, not to mention the star-heavy cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Hu and Ron Pearlman.
If you’re familiar with Afro Samurai and want to see more, be sure to check out Season Two of the miniseries, coming to SpikeTV in 2009. Here’s the trailer:
To explore the story as it stands today, be sure to check out the Afro Samurai Web site as well as the Season One products on Amazon: