Afro Samurai (アフロサムライ, Afuro Samurai, stylized as ΛFΓO SΛMUΓΛI) is a Japanese seinen dōjinshi manga series written and illustrated by manga artist Takashi Okazaki. It was originally serialized irregularly in the avant-garde dōjinshi manga magazine Nou Nou Hau from November 1998 to September 2002. Inspired by Okazaki's love of soul and hip hop music and American media, it follows the life of Afro Samurai who witnessed his father, Rokutaro (owner of the No. 1 headband) being killed by a male gunslinger named Justice (owner of the No. 2 headband) while he was a child. As an adult, Afro sets off to kill Justice and avenge his father.
|Genre||Action, period piece, post-apocalyptic|
|Written by||Takashi Okazaki|
|Published by||Self-funded dōjinshi|
|Magazine||Nou Nou Hau (dōjinshi)|
|Original run||November 1998 – September 2002|
|Anime television series|
|Directed by||Fuminori Kizaki|
|Original network||Fuji TV|
|Original run||January 4, 2007 – February 1, 2007|
The Afro Samurai dōjinshi was adapted into an anime miniseries by Gonzo in 2007, along with the television film sequel Afro Samurai: Resurrection in 2009, both of which starred Samuel L. Jackson as the title character. The anime gained two Emmy nominations, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation, which it won an Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More). After the release of the anime series, Okazaki remade the original Afro Samurai dōjinshi into a two-volume manga. To be only released in North America, Tor Books and Seven Seas Entertainment licensed the title and published it under their new Tor/Seven Seas imprint.
In addition to the miniseries, Afro Samurai has also been adapted into a video game and an upcoming live action film. For the television series and film, two soundtracks by the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan have been released as well as a profile book in Japan.
In a feudal yet futuristic Japan, it is said that the one who wields the Number 1 headband is the greatest warrior in the world and shall possess god-like powers. Some believe that the Number 1 headband grants immortality, while others believe that the headband had been sent down by gods. The only way to obtain the Number 1 headband is to challenge and defeat the current wearer in combat. However, only the wearer of the Number 2 headband can challenge the Number 1 whereas anyone can challenge the Number 2. Thus, the Number 2 must constantly fight to stay alive. The Number 2 headband's current owner, the outlaw Justice, fights and kills Rokutaro, Afro's father and owner of the Number 1 headband. A young Afro witnesses the fight and vows revenge against Justice, who tells him to seek him out when he is "ready to duel a god."
Years later, Afro now bears the Number 2 headband. He slaughters the Empty Seven Clan, defeats an android made to resemble him, and confronts an array of assassins, criminals, and mercenaries, all of whom seek the Number 2. Recalling his tragic past, he goes to Mount Shumi to face Jinno, his childhood friend and fellow samurai, who blames Afro for murdering their master (which is how Afro claimed the Number 2 headband). He defeats Jinno and tracks down Justice, who explains that there are other headbands in existence, ranging to an unspecified higher number. Claiming that he intends to use his power as the Number 1 to bring peace to all mankind, Justice reveals that he has hunted down and slain every headband bearer alive, decorating his safe house with their corpses. Afro kills Justice in a duel and takes the Number 1 headband, and the corpses turn to dust. Afro settles in as the new Number 1 while Jinno, now wearing all of the headbands Justice collected, returns to exact his vengeance.
In Afro Samurai: Resurrection, Jinno and his sister Sio steal Rokutaro's corpse and the Number 1 headband. After killing the new Number 2, Shichigoro, and taking his headband, Afro confronts the resurrected Rokutaro, who kills the siblings and beats him half to death. Afro defeats Rokutaro, gives the Number 2 headband to Shichigoro's angry son Kotaro, and continues to wear the Number 1 as he finally makes peace with his past. Elsewhere, a man named Takimoto meets up with a stranger who is revealed to be Justice, returned from the dead.
Takashi Okazaki started drawing African-American characters on items like Kleenex boxes when he was a teenager, inspired by his fondness for hip hop and soul music. He also drew ideas from American media and their depiction of Japanese culture. Takashi started combining elements of samurai into his work, eventually developing the design for Afro, which was also based in the legendary black samurai Yasuke who existed during the Sengoku period of Japan. Okazaki began writing the original dōjinshi, then called Afro Samurai!, when he and his friends started independently publishing the art magazine Nou Nou Hau. The preparatory "issue 0" of Nou Nou Hau was released in November 1998 with Afro Samurai artwork featured on the cover. Takashi Okazaki wrote the entire manga in the English direction, with elements from English and Japanese comics. He also used Afro Samurai for a cat food advertisement in the last pages of his manga book. In addition to the anime production, Okazaki re-made the dōjinshi, with an increased display of artistic skill. At the Japan Society from March 13 to June 14, 2009, original Afro Samurai dōjinshi artwork (as used on issue 0 of Nou Nou Hau) was showcased at the KRAZY!: The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games exhibition.
Written and illustrated by Takashi Okazaki, the series was originally published in the self-funded Nou Nou Hau dōjinshi magazine. First appearing in issue 0, the dōjinshi version was first published from September 1999 to October 2000. After the release of the anime version, Takashi Okazaki recreated the original dōjinshi. Although the recreation of the original manga was created in Japan, it was first published in the United States by Seven Seas Entertainment and Tor Books in two tankōbon volumes. As a special supplement, thumb-nail sized clips of the original dōjinshi were shown at the end of the first volume. The English release of the manga was Tor Books and Seven Seas' first joint publication under the newly formed Tor/Seven Seas imprint. The manga was also released in Italy through Panini Comics' manga publishing division Planet Manga, starting on April 9, 2009. The manga was released in one volume in Japan on December 18, 2009. The limited edition came with all the issues of the original dōjinshi included in a separate volume.
|1||Nothing personal, kid.||September 2008||978-0-7653-2123-7|
|After witnessing his father killed by Justice, Afro with the No. 2 headband sets forth to avenge his father's death. On his way, he encounters and kills several foes.|
|2||Death isn't the end...it's only the beginning.||February 2009||978-0-7653-2239-5|
|After killing Justice, Afro takes the No. 1 headband and challenges Jinno.|
One of Okazaki's friends decided to make action figures based on the character, which were released in small amounts. After the action figures were created, a producer from the Japanese studio, Gonzo, happened to find them and thought of an animated TV project based on the series. The anime took three years to develop, and in the three years the studio also created a trailer, which happened to fall into the hands of Samuel L. Jackson. It was announced that the series would be a five-episode "creative collaboration", between Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki and Gonzo, with a music score by hip hop artist The RZA from the rap group Wu-Tang Clan.
In 2006, it was announced that Funimation acquired the rights to the anime series which would premiere on Spike, now known as the Paramount Network, later that year, and that Jackson would voice Afro. Afro Samurai debuted on January 4, 2007. The series premiered worldwide on Spike's website, where they streamed the first episode online. On May 3, 2007, the series premiered on Japanese television, in English with Japanese subtitles, and for the first time completely uncut.
On May 11, 2007, Funimation released the first Afro Samurai DVDs at Anime Central, at their own booth, the regular Afro Samurai: TV Version and the uncut Afro Samurai: Director's Cut. Both DVDs were released to the public on May 22, 2007. On September 4, 2007, all five episodes of Afro Samurai were released on iTunes. To promote this, Funimation released eight custom designed iPods by Takashi Okazaki. In 2008, Funimation released the Afro Samurai anime series onto Xbox Live in high definition format and also debuted on Blu-ray Disc in that year. Also in 2008, Afro Samurai was shown at the German Film Festival in Germany.
|#||Title||Original air date|
|January 4, 2007|
|As a boy, Afro witnessed Justice beheading his father and wears the No. 1 headband. As a man, he has the title of No. 2 and sets out on his journey of revenge.|
|02||"The Dream Reader"|
|January 11, 2007|
|Afro relives his harsh past through his dreams when he is discovered by an old friend, Otsuru (Okiku) at a riverbank who tends to his wounds. In the present day, she attempts to kill Afro, but she makes love with him. She sacrifices herself to save Afro from the group of assassins.|
|03||"The Empty Seven Clan"|
"THE EMPTY SEVEN CLAN"
|January 18, 2007|
|As the Empty Seven Clan continues to put pressure on Afro, he battles and kills them while destroying their Afro Droid.|
|January 25, 2007|
|Jinnosuke (Kuma) fights with Afro about the consequence lesson of choosing revenge over family and what it really means to wear the No. 2 headband.|
|February 1, 2007|
|With his opponents defeated, Afro finally reaches Justice's lair and duels him. After killing Justice to take the No. 1 headband, Afro reconciles and battles with his childhood friend Jinno.|
In an Associated Press interview in 2007, Okazaki confirmed there would be a sequel to the anime series, and that it would air on Paramount Network. In 2008, the sequel was announced to be a television film, Afro Samurai: Resurrection, with Lucy Liu and Mark Hamill joining the cast. Hip hop artist The RZA also came back to provide the soundtrack for the movie. Afro Samurai: Resurrection debuted on Spike on the night of January 25, 2009. On July 16, 2009, Afro Samurai: Resurrection was nominated for an Emmy in the "Outstanding Animated Program (for programming one hour or more)" category in the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards and the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. At the Emmy awards, Afro Samurai: Resurrection lost to Destination Imagination, a TV movie based on Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. The art director of Afro Samurai: Resurrection, Shigemi Ikeda, won an Emmy for his work on Resurrection, which is the first ever awarded for work on a Japanese-animated production. Afro Samurai: Resurrection was the first Japanese anime to be nominated for and win an Emmy. Late 2009 also saw the release of Afro Samurai: Complete Murder Sessions on Blu-ray and DVD. A 4-disc collection of both Afro Samurai Director's Cut and Afro Samurai: Resurrection, together in one complete boxset.
Announced at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con International, a live action version of the series is said to be in the making. On July 21, 2011, Gonzo K.K. announced that Indomina Group had obtained the rights to produce the film, with Samuel L. Jackson, Jasbinder Singh Mann (Indomina Group Vice Chairman and CEO), Shin Ishikawa (Gonzo Studios) as producers; Eli Selden of Anonymous Content as executive producer. Production, however, stalled when Indomina Group suspended North American operations and shut its US office.
In 2005, Gonzo had awarded Namco Bandai Games exclusive rights to publish two Afro Samurai video games, as announced that year. The debut trailer of the first game was released at the company's Editor's Day presentation. Afro Samurai was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 27, 2009. A sequel, titled Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma was released for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows on September 22, 2015. That game was developed by Redacted Studios and published by Versus Evil. An Xbox One version was planned to be released on October 9, 2015, but after the negative reception of the game, it was never released. The game was eventually delisted in November 2015, due to the negative reception.
Wu-Tang Clan member RZA produced the soundtrack for both the Afro Samurai TV series and the TV movie sequel Afro Samurai: Resurrection. The first soundtrack for the anime series, The RZA Presents: Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack was released on January 30, 2007, by Koch Records (now known as E1 Music). The second soundtrack for the TV movie, The RZA Presents: Afro Samurai: Resurrection: The Soundtrack was also released by Koch Records on January 27, 2009.
- Samuel L. Jackson - Afro Samurai, Ninja Ninja
- Kelly Hu - Okiku / Otsuru
- Ron Perlman - Justice
- Jeff Bennett - Hachiro (ep. 2), Foo (ep. 3)
- Steve Blum - Assassins (ep. 4)
- S. Scott Bullock - Dharman
- Terrence C. Carson - Sword Master, Brother 4
- Grey DeLisle - Oyuki (ep. 1), Woman (ep. 1)
- John DiMaggio - Brother 2, Giant (ep. 1), Patron #2 (ep. 1), Ivanov (ep. 3)
- Greg Eagles - Rokutaro, Brother 6
- John Kassir - Shosun (ep. 1)
- Phil LaMarr - Teenage Afro Samurai, Brother 1, Brother 3, Brother 5, Kuro (ep. 1)
- Yuri Lowenthal - Jinno/Kuma
- Jason Marsden - Sasuke (ep. 2, 4)
- Liam O'Brien - Kihachi (ep. 1), Patron #4 (ep. 1)
- Crystal Scales - Young Afro Samurai
- Dwight Schultz - Assassin (ep. 1), Patron #1 (ep. 1), Ronin (ep. 1)
- Tara Strong - Otsuru (ep. 2), Jiro (ep. 4)
- Fred Tatasciore - Juzo (ep. 1), Patron #5 (ep. 1), Shuzo (ep. 4)
- James Arnold Taylor - Yashichi (ep. 2)
- Dave Wittenberg - Assassin (ep. 1), Patron #3 (ep. 1), Punk (ep. 1), Matasaburo (ep. 4)
- Samuel L. Jackson - Executive producer
- Jamie Simone - Casting and voice director
The Afro Samurai manga series has received generally positive reviews from critics. Scott Green, writer of the Anime AICN segment of Ain't It Cool News said that the manga "is a work of design" and that it "utilizes the medium to which it is applied as a platform rather than as an ends unto itself." Scott notes that Okazaki does not have a "head for manga as a storytelling form" and that the "manga labors to show off Okazaki's design." Anime News Network reviewer, Carlo Santos stated about the anime that "like most typical action-adventures, the story starts out slow and only picks up toward the middle and end when the blades really start flying" and that "Afro Samurai is hardly a complex story" and that it only has "a handful of characters and a straightforward beat-the-next-guy plotline". Carlo Santos also noted that "the original Afro Samurai manga is pretty lousy" and that Takashi Okazaki often gets lost in "incomprehensible scribbles" and "style over substance." Volume 2 of Afro Samurai also charted 147 on ComiPress' "Top 250 Manga Volumes" of February 2009. The Blu-ray release of the anime series charted #16 on VideoScan's Blu-ray charts. In January 2009, IGN ranked Afro Samurai 90th on a list of the top 100 animated series, saying that the over-the-top violence and quirky story and characters made the show enjoyable.
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