‘Afro Samurai: Volume 1’ is the basis for the hit anime Spike TV series ‘Afro Samurai’ which features the voice of Samuel L. Jackson and was nominated for two Emmy Awards. The story was originally serialised in the avant-garde manga magazine ‘Nou Nou Hau’ and later issued in this pretty pocketbook version.
It’s set in a feudalistic future Japan where the warrior who wears the Number 1 headband rules the world, has god-like powers and may be challenged only by he who wears the Number 2 headband. In the opening pages, Afro Samurai is a little kid and watches as his father, Number 1, is challenged by the Number 2, a gunslinger named Justice. Number 1 loses, dies and Afro Samurai swears revenge. As they are all ruthless killers, I wonder why Justice didn’t just behead the kid there and then and save himself any future hassle but that would have made a very short book.
After Afro’s dad loses his head, we cut to a scene years later with Afro on a quest to kill Number 1 who, well aware of it, has posted an enormous reward to anyone that brings in our hero’s hairy head. A large band of warriors attack Afro and lose, obviously, because there’s only twenty of them. Fools! Then he goes onto a village and another gang thinks they’re hard enough and has a go. After that, an individual bravo called Shichigoro tries and then one Gorokube takes up the cudgels or guns, rather, which is smart. Gorokube is a rough brute who eats his dinner off a naked lady rather than a plate. Fitting her in the dishwasher afterwards must be a chore. She is a dish, though.
Afro Samurai doesn’t speak or show any indications of character apart from being tough. He’s just as ruthless as his attackers with no regard at all for civilians who get in the way. The story follows a predictable path with the opposition getting tougher and tougher. The art is stylish and competent, in grey tones with more than a hint of red, but in the fight scenes, it’s hard to see what’s going on.
I have no problem with stories of pure action in movies like ‘Enter The Dragon’ and ‘Last Man Standing’ or ‘The Warriors’, all of which I can cheerfully watch over and over. Switch your brain off and enjoy the corny dialogue, fisticuffs and gunplay. However, it doesn’t work as well in a graphic novel, especially where the art is grey. I can see why producers of anime TV latched onto this because it probably looks terrific in that medium and in the video game. In comicbook format, not so much.
This little pocketbook is very rare now and costs an arm and a leg online, so after buying it you might look as if you challenged Afro. Frankly, I don’t know why it’s so dear because it’s not brilliant. If potential buyers are fans of the TV show, I fear they would find the book disappointing. It’s okay. It’s not bad. It’s one of those rare cases where the film is better than the book. Oddly, there’s a Spanish version of this available for a reasonable price.
(pub: TOR/Seven Seas, 2008. 171 page small enlarged graphic novel. Price: $10.99 (US), $11.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2123-7)
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