The violent five-part adventure Afro Samurai marks both the increasing confluence of American and Japanese pop culture and the shift in Japanese depictions of African-Americans. The popularity of hip-hop in Japan has led to more positive images of blacks, including Takashi Okazaki's original manga. The "Director's Cut" contains an additional 15 minutes of footage, and is even gorier than the broadcast version on Spike TV. As a boy, Afro Samurai saw his father beheaded by the maniacal Justice. The murderer sought an ancient headband that marks the wearer as the #1 warrior in the world. As an adult, Afro seeks only revenge, cutting down anyone who blocks his path to Justice. Afro Samurai depicts a oddly anachronistic world that infuses cell phones, cigarette lighters, and cyber technology into traditional Japanese culture. The elongated character designs recall Peter Chung's Aeon Flux, and much of the series is rendered in moody grays, accented by gobbets of scarlet blood. Afro is such a taciturn figure, most of the dialogue goes to his motor-mouth comrade Ninja Ninja. This big budget production features an eclectic score by Wu-Tang Clan co-founder RZA and an A-list vocal cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman. But for all its elaborate production values and over-the-top fights, Afro Samurai suffers from a weakness at its core: Afro is so monosyllabic and cold-blooded, he's not very interesting. His inevitable duel-to-the-death with Justice lacks the emotional punch of Spike's face-off against Vicious in Cowboy Bebop or Kenshin's one-on-one with Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin. This extremely violent series is not for the faint of stomach. (Rated TV MA, suitable for ages 17 and older: graphic violence, profanity, sexual activity, grotesque imagery, nudity, risqué humor, alcohol and tobacco use) --Charles Solomon
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