February 20, 2010

Tor/Seven Review: Afro Samurai Vol 1 & 2

Publisher:  Tor/Seven Seas
Writer:  Takashi Okazaki
Artist:  Takashi Okazaki
Cover:  Takashi Okazaki

“Afro Samurai Vol 1”:  A young boy simply named Afro witnessed his father’s brutal fight to the death by the hands of a man named Justice for possession of the Number One headband.  The only person who can challenge for that headband is the Number Two, which at the time was Justice.  After stripping the Number One headband from Afro’s father’s decapitated head, he claimed that he now had the power of a god, kicked the head to the child, and walked away laughing.  From here on out Afro’s life is a blood-filled quest for revenge as he seeks to kill Justice for the murder of his father; but with Afro being the Number Two he has a target on him that everyone in the land is aiming for, and he must keep the title in order to challenge the Number One. Set against the backdrop of a fuedal Japan mixed with a bit of modern technology and weapons, Afro is in for a very blood soaked adventure.

The first volume of Afro Samurai focuses on the Empty Seven’s attempts to gain possession of the Number Two headband from Afro. They are a cult led by Brother One, and they have been tracking Afro and setting traps for him along the way. As the book opens, Afro is surrounded by a very large group of professional assassins, and in three minutes he’s cut a bloody swath through all of them, while in the distance we see the entire fight was watched by Brother Two.  While he reports back to his superior, we are introduced to a character only known as Ninja Ninja, who always seems to appear out of nowhere either right after or right before a fight to chat it up with Afro and provide a bit of comic relief in the story. As Afro is guided by the unseen hand of the Empty Seven through a series of bloody events, he ends up at Tecchisen Citadel where he is ambushed by hundreds of assassins and the Empty Seven. However there is a bit of dissension in the ranks, as Bros 1 and 2 fight amongst themselves when Bro. 2 realizes that Bro. 1 thinks that the Number One headband will grant him eternal life.  Angry that his brothers died for such a crazy idea, he attacks Bro. 1 only to have an extended robotic arm thrust through his stomach killing him; then Bro. 1 turns his attention to a bloody and battered Afro.  During their fight it’s revealed that the Empty Seven were working with Justice, and that Bro. 1 planned on betraying him after gaining possession of the Number Two headband.  This fight is being watched in the distance by another samurai wearing a giant teddy bear head, but he seems to know Afro and after Brother 1 is defeated, this stranger approaches Afro and easily defeats the already beat up warrior.  He tosses him aside, letting him know that they will fight again and it’s at that time that he will die.

Volume Two goes in a slightly different direction than the first as we are treated to Afro’s origin while he is being taken care of in a small village after his defeat by the teddy bear samurai. He was taken in by a Master Samurai and lived with him and several other small children for many years after the death of his father. There he was trained and found the closest thing to a family he’s known.  As the years pass he is still determined to leave and seek revenge, even at the request that he stay, but he promises to return and be with the woman that he has fallen for and his brothers. Though still heavy on the action it’s balanced out a little more by increased dialogue, which actually helps flesh out the story better than in the first volume.  Whereas it was more of a hack and slash beat ’em up for the first five chapters, now we actually get more substance to go with it.  As his origin is revealed, we also find out the identity of the teddy bear samurai that has been stalking him, and a bit more about Ninja Ninja; though that part is still a little confusing even after a few reads.  Afro has a long road ahead of him as there are those who seek to protect the Number 1, and he is even forced to fight a cyborg copy of his father, aptly named the Afrodroid, created by a little mad scientist, complete with an army of  sword wielding androids at his disposal. All of this right before his final battle with the man who killed his father.

Afro vs Samurai Androids

My first introduction to Afro Samurai was the anime which starred Samuel L. Jackson as Afro/Ninja Ninja and Ron Pearlman as Justice.  I will say that I like Takashi’s manga a lot more because it answers many questions the anime didn’t, especially when it comes to Afro’s origin, which makes the story a little less absurd and easier to understand.  Takashi crafted a very fractured character in Afro, and he exists in that grey area of life where he will do something that some would view as evil to accomplish what in his mind is the greater good.  Though there are parts that are easier to understand in the manga, I will say that the whole mystery of the headbands eludes me.  The god like “power” they are said to posses which has everyone in the world coveting them is never fully explained, but I’ll take the safe route and assume it’s more of a type of symbolism.  I even thought Ninja Ninja represented some type of inner “voice” of Afro’s, which is why only Afro saw him and he never stuck around for a fight, but like I said earlier his story became a little weird towards the end as we were introduced to his polar opposite who was there to protect the Number 1.  Takashi’s art was great when you could see it.  The manga is black and white, but some of the action is so dark and moving so fast you don’t really get to enjoy it.  The blurring effects mixed with the excess darks just makes for messy scenes at times, and if not for the red used for the blood you probably wouldn’t know what was going on.  I would have also preferred to read it in the traditional manga right to left, but according to Takashi Afro Samurai was meant to be published as an American comic book in the beginning.

If your only experience with the Afro Samurai series was the anime then I’d suggest picking up the manga for a better story with a lot more substance.  There are still parts that are highly questionable and not entirely explained, but they also force the reader to think about the path that Afro has chosen and his myopic viewpoint; but remember after it’s said and done…”it’s just revenge.”

Infinite Speech



  1. The anime was pretty freakin’ awful. An over-hyped piece of mediocrity. Is the manga that different?

  2. billy

    I watched a few of the episodes of this show and thought it was OK. If the Manga is a lot better it sounds interesting.

  3. Drew

    I personally love the anime, I find the manga didn’t flow as well as the anime, maybe its just cause I’m used to the action animation.

  4. I saw the anime first and had a LOT of questions concerning the story, namely Afro’s origin and the “power” of these headbands. The manga does a great job of explaining Afro’s origin better than the anime series but still falls short about the bands.

    The anime watches a little like the first vol of the manga which is fight after fight after fight with little explanation. But the difference is with the manga time was taken in the 2nd vol to explain things so the first volume didn’t seem so absurd.

    Also compared to the manga the anime series and the movie are completely out of order. As certain events in the series happened either before, during, or after certain parts of the movie and vice versa.

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