2007 was an important year for Japanese animation. Not only did the first American director cross over to direct a big anime (Tekon Kinkreet), the Japanese were allowed to make an original, high profile series for American television. The result was Afro Samurai, a creepy mix of black culture, samurai and technology. Afro Samurai hit it big and a year later Afro Samurai - Resurrection was born, the feature length TV sequel.
The original OAV series was a pretty particular beast. The story is extremely simple but the setting is a strange mix of influences. At the base lies an A to B tale about a samurai trying to find the number 1 headband, which will put him in the top spot. There is some background info about his motives but none of that is too interesting.
More fun is the fact that our main hero is a black samurai with a huge afro, voiced by Hollywood's favorite black guy, Samuel L Jackson. Even cooler is the setting, where old-style samurai antics are mixed with science, technology, Japanese myth and plain and over-the-top weirdness and action.
Resurrection leaves the concept of the OAV pretty much intact. Afro loses his headband and is forced to get it back and that's about all there is to it. Again some background story is added to keep things rolling and to give everyone enough motivation to start killing each other, but apart from some die hard fans I don't think many people will be to interested in all of this.
Main attraction of the film is still the artwork. From the start it was Koike's input that gave Afro Samurai its distinct style and appeal. Koike, one of the best animators today, was launched by partner in crime Katsuhito Ishii (Trava Fist Planet and the intro of Party 7), but most will probably remember him from his Animatrix short.
His distorted, larger than life, shadow-infused style is instantly recognizable. And even though I couldn't confirm his involvement in this film, the result just breaths Koike. It seemed they spared no money either, keeping in mind this is a TV film the animation is actually splendid, especially during the action scenes.
Character designs are still pretty cool with some outrageous figures popping up. There seems to be a bit more focus and technology in Resurrection which only adds to the fun. And there is of course the ending which is marvelously animated and is actually a little bit similar in effect to the ending of Tekon Kinkreet. It's all pretty vague and surreal.
Sadly, Resurrection still suffers from the same shortcomings the OAV had. The voice acting is terrible. Afro himself is OK and Liu's acting skills are on par too, but Afro's sidekick (also voiced by Jackson) is a pain in the ear from start to finish. He adds little to nothing to the whole film but is ever present. A real shame they didn't cut him out. And while it was doable in short bursts of 30 minutes, it really starts to irritate in a full length feature.
The soundtrack (by RZA) is not all that good either. Somehow the music and images rarely seem to flow together well. A little too poppy and a missed opportunity because with a little more effort Resurrection could've really outdone the OAV. Enough solid hip-hop that would've fit this film a lot better.
Luckily, the rest is still as cool as ever. It is not a film that caters for a wide audience though. It's core appeal is very simple. It has samurai, gore, technology, machine guns and a weirdness surplus. It's all about cool and action and apart from that there is very little, nor does the film seem to care about that. In that sense, it seems to owe a lot to films like Dead Leaves.
So if you're up for some good solid fun and don't have too much trouble neglecting the grating dub and soundtrack, there is plenty of amusement to be had from this film.