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Afro Samurai: Resurrection

FUNimation // Unrated // February 3, 2009
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Samurai: Resurrection
kicks off with some hideously deformed schlub and his sister -- he's wearing an oversized teddy bear mask and she's practically popping out of her kimono -- busting into Afro Samurai's pad on their motorcycle. Not all that keen on settling for just swiping a mystical headband, Sio (Lucy Liu) snatches the jawbone of Afro's dearly departed pop. The point of this over-the-top scheme for revenge is to have a furry Jan-in-a-pan scientist clone Rokutaro and then torture him for weeks on end. Sio dares Afro Samurai to chase after her before that Xerox pops out of the oven, so...he does. That's about as far as Resurrection bothers to go with its story. Afro slowly strolls around with his grating, Airplane-era-jive-talkin' sidekick Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) for what seems like twenty minutes at a time, a few scrappers hellbent on vengeance leap onto the frame, Afro carves 'em in half, and then it's back to walking. Lather, rinse, repeat.

How can an anime series with Samuel L. Jackson -- packing a big afro and an even bigger sword -- slicing off badniks' faces that explode in a geyser of blood be this boring? Afro Samurai is an ambitiously stylish series, but it's so caught up in its overcaffeinated visuals and blows so much of its budget on a few spectacular but short brawls that it never really figures out what to do whenever someone's not being disemboweled on-screen. The semipretentious reams of dialogue about the nature of revenge, Ninja Ninja's excruciating "off the chizain!" jive-speak, and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of all gets very stale very quickly. There's barely anything resembling a plot, so once you get past the novelty value of a black samurai with a cartoonishly oversized afro, the only hook that's left is the violence. (Well, that and some sarcastic-fingerquotes "edgy" T&A, but whatever...)

The battles really can be spectacular: Afro Samurai chops off pretty much every body part you could rattle off at some point in here, every nick and slash spews out a couple hundred barrel drums of the red stuff, and I have to give extra credit to any series that'll whack its hero in the face with a whirring motorcycle tire. Still, there's maybe 25 minutes of meat in this 100 minute season to gnaw on, and the rest is padded out with unwatchable filler. There's not much more to the plot than "hey, Afro Samurai! You sure did slaughter a whole hell of a lot of people", with no meaningful progression of note up until the arbitrary, batshit-crazy climax. Oh, and I think I can figure out who the series is anchored around without having to have one character or another say, "Ah, Afro Samurai!" every twelve seconds either. I can read the big, bold letters on the box: he's a samurai with an afro. I get it. There's so much "Afro Samurai! Afro Samurai!" repetition that FUNimation might as well have packed instructions for a drinking game in with the liner notes. Whatever. I'm not writing anymore. Skip It.

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The intensely stylized Afro Samurai: Resurrection looks reasonably impressive in high-def. The linework is on the soft side but is much more richly defined than anything DVD could hope to belt out, and although the palette skews towards the gray and overcast, its more richly saturated hues leap off the screen. I couldn't spot any hiccups in the compression, although some mild banding does creep in every once in a while. This disc is nothing startling but certainly ranks as good enough.

Afro Samurai: Resurrection is served up on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, and the 1.78:1 video has been encoded with AVC.

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The flipside of the packaging incorrectly rattles off a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, but Afro Samurai: Resurrection only sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (640Kbps). As overcaffeinated as the sound design is -- the surround channels never let up, from post-apocalyptic hustle-and-bustle to whizzing chains and laserblasts -- it doesn't rank much higher than DVD quality, really. The distinctness and clarity I'm used to hearing on Blu-ray is lacking, and for a series littered with hip-hop and hyperkinetic brawls, the low-end is surprisingly anemic. I'd expect a series like this to rattle the room, but Afro Samurai's low-frequency belches don't pack much of a wallop. It's okay, sure, but this low-res soundtrack falls short of the format's usual standards.

There are no dubs, alternate soundtracks, subtitles, or closed captions on this disc. Despite so much of the production being tackled overseas, Afro Samurai: Resurrection is aimed squarely at North America, and this English track is its original language.

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All of the extras piled onto Afro Samurai: Resurrection are presented in high definition.

  • Afro Samurai Game (12 min.; HD): First to bat is a detailed look at -- and shameless plug for! -- an Afro Samurai video game.

  • Enter the RZA (6 min.; HD): The RZA runs through how he hammered out the score for Afro Samurai in his home studio, showing off a pile of electronic gear and a legal pad full of lyrics.

  • Afro in Depth (6 min.; HD): Creator Takashi Okazaki chats about Afro Samurai's ascent from doodles back in his college days to a multimillion dollar anime series. A few of the topics he breezes through include the symbolism of the headbands, how much historical Japanese wardrobe and hip-hop fashion have in common, where Resurrection takes his character, and just how many other stories he has in mind for this post-apocalyptic backdrop.

  • Afro Samurai: East Meets West (44 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc's making-of doc is divided into two segments. The first focuses primarily on the talent in Japan, and they run through more of the technical details: the collaborative writing process, storyboarding, character design, background art, colors, and the challenges that go along with tackling a project of this daunting scale. The longer of the two segments catches up with the crew on these shores, and they tend to speak more in generalities, from taking cues from '70s exploitation flicks to lining up a cast. The voice actors are superenthused about Afro Samurai as they run through each of the main characters in detail. Quite a number of storyboards and assorted conceptual art are highlighted in these two segments as well.

  • Part A Video Commentary (29 min.; HD): A slew of artists, writers, producers, and animators pile in front of a camera for Afro Samurai's video commentary, and it plays over the first segment of the season. The screen is divided into three panels: one small section for Afro Samurai itself, another for the gaggle of Eastern talent, and an enormous box subtitling their conversation. Some of their notes expand on comments already heard elsewhere on the disc, and a few other scattered highlights include chatter about the opening battle, their responses about Afro Samurai playing so dizzyingly far over the top, and building on the foundation set in the first season. This is kind of a cursory discussion, and it really didn't strike me as being all that insightful.
A stack of trailers rounds out the extras. Afro Samurai: Resurrection comes packaged in a traditional Blu-ray case, and a detailed set of liner notes -- illustrated with conceptual art and model sheets -- is tucked inside.

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The Final Word
Think twenty minutes of Kill Bill's Crazy 8s hack-'n-slash strung together by an hour-plus of jivetalk and walking. Afro Samurai: Resurrection is an empty technical exercise, twiddling its thumbs through reams of meandering dialogue and cardboard cutout characters as it disinterestedly waits for the next battalion of ninjas to be carved apart. Not recommended.
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