From the very beginning I was not much of a fan of Afro Samurai. Sure, I thought the character designs were cool, the storyline was certainly interesting, and the animation was right on point. But that does not change the fact that when all was said and done, I didn't really like the series, and the reason for that was very plain and very simple: the character of Ninja Ninja, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, got on my nerves so bad that I couldn't enjoy Afro Samurai. That said, I thought I would give this sequel a chance, hoping that maybe Ninja Ninja would not annoy me so bad that I would have to take repeated breaks from watching Afro Samurai: Resurrection.
Picking up years after the original five-episode series has concluded, Afro Samurai (also voice by Samuel L. Jackson) is living a quiet life free of violence. After having killed countless others in a quest to avenge his father, Afro seems content to lead a serene existence. But now his past has finally come back to haunt him, and he must atone for his sins. It seems that Sio (Lucy Liu), the sister of Afro's former friend and now nemesis Jinno, wants some payback for the misery and death our hero has wrought. With the Number One Headband in her possession (please don't ask me to explain), Sio lures Afro out of retirement by threatening to resurrect his long-dead father, who she plans to torture and kill so that Afro will be made to feel some of the pain he's inflicted on others. Of course, this is enough to get Afro out look for the Number Two Headband so he can challenge Sio (please don't ask me to explain). Along the way, Afro must face several challenges, including the cybernetic incarnations of his slain enemies, who now serve the vengeance-minded Sio. With Ninja Ninja at his side--and as annoying as ever--Afro wanders the land, slicing and dicing those who get in his way, until he finally faces off against Sio and her chosen warrior, who happens to be Afro's resurrected father (or at least a close facsimile thereof).
There are several key problems with Afro Samurai: Resurrection. First is the fact that it seems to be little more than a sequel for the sake of being a sequel. In other words, it never feels like there's any reason for this story to exist other than to give us some more of Afro in action. And while there is some great action, the story and the character never seem to grow as anything more than an afterthought; as if at the last minute someone realized that there should be a reason for continuing the story.
Fans of the original series are likely to get their fix when it comes to the action and bloodshed; but others are just as likely to be disappointed by feeling that this sequel is driven less by the need to tell more of Afro's story, and simply to make more money off the character. Meanwhile, newcomers to the legend of Afro Samurai are likely to be lost all together (which poses another key problem in and of itself).
The biggest problem with Afro Samurai: Resurrection, at least for me, is the same problem that plagued the original series. And that problem, of course is the character of Ninja Ninja. I don't like Ninja Ninja. I really don't like Ninja Ninja. In fact, I hate Ninja Ninja. The character's onscreen banter carries the series into a surreal realm of an animated show that is equal parts samurai action and minstrel show shuck-n-jive. Ninja Ninja always bordered on being racially offensive, and nothing has changed this time around, including the nagging feeling of, "Oh yeah, I really hate this character."
Afro Samurai: Resurrection has its entertaining moments, most notably the action sequences, which are adequately impressive (although the final battle felt very anticlimactic). The unrated director's cut features more graphic violence, profanity and nudity than there was in the version broadcast on Spike TV, which for some will be a bonus. But despite blood-splattered violence and the anime nudity and sex, the film still drags more times than it should, and the villain feels more like a sequel-born cliché than a viable character. And of course there is Ninja Ninja, which provides a valid reason for not watching Afro Samurai at all. But some fans will be able to overlook the fundamental problems, and simply see the film for its better moments.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is very good, with a crisp sharp image and a transfer that does not appear to have and flaws or defects. If nothing else, the animation looks good, and the image quality of the disc is reflective of the animation itself.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection is presented in English in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound quality is very good, and the audio mix is solid, accentuating the musical score by the RZA. In fact, the only problem with the sound is that you can hear the annoying dialog of Ninja Ninja.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection comes loaded with a second disc of bonus material. Devoted fans will enjoy the extras, but casual viewers will quickly lose interest in any of the seven featurettes. "Afro in Depth" (7 min.) features creator Takashi Okazaki ruminating on Afro Samurai, while "Enter the RZA" (6 min.) show how the Wu-Tang member went about composing music for the film. "Afro Samurai: East Meets West" is a two-part documentary (total 44 min.) that goes behind the scenes of the creation of the movie. "Afro Samurai: The Game" (11 min.) looks at the creation of the Afro Samurai video game, and is the most interesting of the featurettes. There is also a video commentary for the film's first twenty-nine minutes.
If you're a serious fan of Afro Samurai, you'll want to add this to your collection. But if your affection for the character and the original series is marginal at best, or if you're simply uninitiated, then you'll want to simply rent Afro Samurai: Resurrection.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]