Afro Samurai is an amazingly stylized animated miniseries that came out in 2005. It’s graphically violent, it has adolescent understanding of human sexuality, it’s anacronistic, it’s vulgar, and handles issues such as racial stereotypes with less deftness and delicacy than most 70’s blaxploitation films. But check this out: Samuel L. Jackson voices the Protagonist as well as the sidekick (Ninja Ninja) and Ron Perlman voices the antagonist “Justice”. The RZA did the soundtrack. There is a great deal of talent and craft involved in putting this show together, yet I don’t know that I can recommend the show without some serious reservations. Beyond all of the reasons that you might not like it (and, yes, I understand that it reads similarly to a list of reasons that your inner adolescent male transgressive would enjoy it) there is so much stylized violence, dialog, set pieces, and generalized everything that the show sometimes forgets to be fun. It’s so cool that it forgets to smile… which makes me sometimes forget to smile. The show is called “Afro Samurai”, for Pete’s sake. It should be having fun! Without the fun, it’s just being somewhat transgressive.
There is a video game that came out after the miniseries. Every criticism of the television show also applies to the video game except this one: the game manages to be fun.
Here’s the basic story. There are two headbands… the Number One headband gives you the powers of a god and lets you rule the world. The Number Two headband allows the wearer to challenge the Number One headband wearer. Anyone may challenge Number Two. As they say: “If the Number One is closest to heaven, the Number Two is surely closest to hell.”
The game travels many of the same paths as the show, the story of how Justice challenged and defeated Afro’s father to take the Number One headband, the story of Afro’s training, the story of how he won the Number Two headband, the lives wrecked in his wake as he searched for revenge, the various bad guys he fought and killed along the way, and the final confrontation with the God Justice. The flashbacks. The monologues (oh, the monologues!). And, of course, the beats.
It’s a platforming action-adventure game chock full of button mashing punctuated by cutscenes (or, some might say, cutscenes punctuated by button mashing). Some of the later bosses are tough to the point of being frustrating but the combat is so gorgeous that I, at least, didn’t mind (the satisfaction that came from eventually beating them takes away the bitterness of dying the 10th time).
Be warned: The camera will kill you during some of the platforming sections. If you can get over the camera issues (as well as the sheer amount of insensitivity/tastelessness), you’ll find yourself having a heckuva time… and you’ll be tapping the beats to yourself for weeks.
So that’s my recommendation for you this week.