Afro Samurai by Takashi Okazaki (amazon)
Afro Samurai trades plot and character development in favor of relentless samurai action in a world that resembles feudal Japan except for the existence of machine guns, cell phones, and DJ laying down smooth beats. When he was a young boy, Afro Samurai’s father possessed the fabled Number One headband. His father was unable to fight off a challenger for the headband and he was slain in front of his son. Many years later, the Afro Samurai is all grown up. He possesses the slightly less fabled Number Two headband and is on a quest for revenge.
As Afro Samurai journeys to find the man who killed his father, his ownership of the Number Two headband makes him a natural target for any assassin who wants to make a buck. Fortunately Afro Samurai’s powers allow him to deal with any attacker. The art in Afro Samurai features heavy use of gray tones. The only color in the manga is sprays of blood as Afro Samurai carves up his enemies. The contrast between black and white and the red highlights serves to heighten the violence. At times the art seemed a little too grayed-out, and there were a couple action sequences I had a hard time following.
I don’t tend to read a ton of action manga, and when I do I try to find something with a unique hook. I either want to read something that is crazily inventive (Bleach), gorgeously violent (Blade of the Immortal) or classic (Vagabond), Afro Samurai doesn’t fit into any of those categories for me, but I tend to be pickier about action manga while I’m willing to read plenty of middle of the road shoujo manga. I thought the setting of feudal Japan mashed up with modern technology was interesting, but this aspect of the story wasn’t fleshed out. While this wasn’t a stand out title for me, I imagine fans of the anime will also enjoy this manga. Public libraries that collect manga for mature readers (16+) should consider this manga, because I think the media tie-in will create a bit of a demand for the title and manga featuring black characters that aren’t caricatures are very hard to find.
Review copy provided by the publisher.