In a future Japan where advanced technology exists within a decayed feudalistic society reminiscent of the chaotic Sengoku Period, two mystical headbands said to have come from the gods are worn by the world’s two premier swordsmen. The wearer of the No.1 headband is the greatest swordsman on earth; the wearer of the No.2 headband is the only person with the right to challenge the No.1. However, anyone can challenge the No.2 swordsman, meaning their life is one of constant battle. One day, a young black boy known only as “Afro” witnesses his father, the No.1, die at the hands of Justice, the No.2. Justice takes the No.1 headband and gives the No.2 to Afro, telling him to return when he feels like “challenging a god”. The No.2 headband is quickly stolen, however, and disappears. Years later, Afro is an accomplished swordsman who kills the head of his dojo when he discovers his teacher is the reigning No.2. He then sets off in pursuit of Justice in order to win the No.1 headband and avenge his father – all the while assailed by his vengeful former fellow students and various cliques of assassins who themselves covet the No.1 headband.
Based on an original manga by Takashi Okazaki, and produced by iconic anime studio Gonzo in 2007, “Afro Samurai” is replete with 70s soul cool and 80s hip hop machismo. Its affinities with Shinichiro Watanabe’s 2004 masterpiece “Samurai Champloo” are often overstated, not least because “Afro Samurai” is far darker, far more relentless and akin to a Greek tragedy; and in this respect, it serves as both homage to and critique of the “blaxploitation” genre. Afro himself is a singularly unattractive figure, remorseless in his pursuit of revenge and prepared to discard friendships and even love for the sake of fulfilling his single-minded mission – knowing all the while that he is perpetuating a cycle of violence that will one day claim his own life. Starring Samuel L Jackson and Kelly Hu, “Afro Samurai” spawned a 2009 feature length sequel, “Afro Samurai: Resurrection” (in which Hu was replaced by Lucy Liu), both rendered in a vivid animation style – with an accompanying soundtrack by rapper RZA – that make them compellingly modern re-tellings of ancient folk tragedies.
© Text Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.