As the anime comes to a close with Jinno and Afro about to face off, the screen starts to fade to black, and Afro and Ninja Ninja’s voice say in unison, “the never-ending battle continues……” Afro Samurai is a revenge-themed anime drew on the same name manga by Takashi Okazaki, which aired back in 2007. The original 10 chapters long seinen manga started running in Doujinshi Magazine from 1998 to 2002. It is utterly unique how it came to be, on who it is based on, and its place in history.
Afro Samurai became the first anime to feature a black protagonist. This show definitely has something special to offer with its realistic take on black figures inspired by Okazaki’s love and admiration of samurai films, hip-hop and soul music, and a throwback to the blaxploitation period.
When Afro Samurai’s anime adaptation came in 2007 it was a perfect throwback to the 90s ninja era of anime and hence, it became a cult classic. However, there are several motivations behind its instant popularity. A Japanese creator inspired by African American art used his inspiration to highlight his creators and work instead of just making black characters.
First and foremost Afro Samurai is a revenge story filled with fast-paced action. The story is set in a very anarchistic version of feudal Japan where gadgets like cell phones, terminators, and RPG men coexist alongside sword dojos and traditional villages. There exist two such artifacts (headbands) in the world of Afro Samurai which are believed to give swordsmen God-like power.
This hierarchy in the power is huge here. He who wears the No.1 headband is treated like a God, no one but the owner of the No.2 headband can challenge him. While the owner of the No.2 headband is doomed to be hunted and challenged by other swordsmen. Our main man is an Afro who is blinded by hate and revenge as his father, the owner of the No.1 headband, was brutally devoured by a mysterious man named Justice.
He has a single drive while growing up: hunting down Justice, killing him as revenge for his father’s brutal death, and take the No.1 headband to himself. He has achieved No.2 headband slicing numerous fighters, gangs, and whatnot, with an almost soulless demeanor. The part of Afro that got buried and destroyed through the destruction of everyone in his wake as a constant cold killer, he needed to burn this part of him with emotion, doubt, love, wants, desire, silliness, and everything else that has nothing to do with his blade.
Analysis (Spoilers ahead!)
The story locks onto the idea of the cycle of violence. Afro kept going down the dark road of violence even though he knew that the consequences will definitely haunt him back and how much damage his decision has done to those he cared about. It makes the viewers question: Is it worth losing one’s humanity for the sake of one goal? Afro starts to lose what once was important to him as he progresses closer to his goal which symbolizes the death of ‘Afro the Person’ leaving only ‘Afro the Samurai’. Being devoured by Afro’s sword each falling body kept taking away every shred of Afro’s humanity.
Along the course of his journey, he lost his friends, his peers, and his master’s dojo. He has suffered endless pain, has been thrown into danger over and over again, and except for his revenge he hasn’t achieved anything in his life rather he has lost everything he ever had. He succeeds in his goal and obtains the No.1 headband only to get challenged by his childhood friend Jinno yet again.
Afro Samurai is unlike any other ‘samurai revenge’ stories. When it went on air, it had a much deeper impact on its black audience. The ending battle never came to any close in the anime which is in resemblance to the never-ending battle the black community has been fighting for equality and freedom. The powerholders are treated as God while the others have to fight for their survival every day. It is a historical show that feels more relevant today than ever before.
Afro Samurai is an anime that is not great in its characters or story rather the individualistic style helps provide the anime a special spot among its peers. The art style gave representation to the black audience subtly. The story is merely a device to bring Afro from one fight to another. The writing never allows the viewers into being 100% committed to each and every character. But this lack is filled in by the superfluid fighting sequences. The world-building is quite mature with Studio Gonzo bringing the actual environment of feudal Japan on screen. The series was popular enough to get a video game adaptation where Afro meets a much positive ending.
As for the sequel, Afro Samurai: Resurrection (2009) will provide you an alternative with its less disappointing ending. The most well-known aspect of this anime is the dub. The cast for the English dub is full of many big names from the entertainment industry including Samuel L. Jackson, Yuri Lowenthal, Mark Hamill, Lucy Liu, Ron Perlman, and many more. As for the score, Afro Samurai features music from one of the most influential Black American music artists in recent history, RZA. After so many years, the anime industry still lacks in anime featuring a black protagonist and showcasing them plausibly.