Afro Samurai (アフロサムライ) was a 1999/2000 manga, later adapted as an animé.
It was an intriguing attempt by mangaka Takashi Okazaki to combine Japanese action story tropes with African-American music tropes. Mostly roninA samurai without a master stories and hip-hop narratives.
This unlikely experiment was well-received and successful in both formats. It has its own distinct flavor, aesthetic, world-building and atmosphere.
These notes are primarily based on the TV series.
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- Real Name: Afro.
- Other Aliases: The Number 2.
- Known Relatives: Rokutaro (father, deceased).
- Group Affiliation: The Sword Master’s Dojo.
- Base of Operations: Mobile.
- Height: 5’11” (1.80m). Weight: 155 lbs. (70 Kg.).
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Black.
Powers & Abilities
Afro is a complete combat monster when it comes to melee. He’s capable of:
- Engaging and dispatching multiple bandits without getting touched.
- Cleaving bullets and crossbow bolts fired at him.
- Deflecting a laser beam aimed straight at his face by, curiously enough, a robotic version of himself.
He’s also tough enough to take a wicked punishment. Afro can have multiple bones broken mid fight and just kind of soldier on.
In combat he’s very much a winner takes all sort of guy, and has no problem fighting dirty. Then again why wouldn’t he? He frequently engages opponents that are super human and/or wielding firearms.
The trailer (1:40 duration), upscaled to 4K by an helpful fan.
This story seems to take place in a future, post-apocalyptic Japan. What brought the apocalypse about remains unclear.
Most of the buildings and remaining structures are in ruins. The key clue that the story takes place in Japan is the rampant amount of traditional architecture. Plus much of the clothing and decorations, among other things.
Population wise we don’t really see any major cities. There are a few settlements that look to have a population of several thousand.
We once see a major festival that has a sizable crowd. Quite possibly in the tens of thousands. But it’s difficult to tell whether this is the population of a nearby city or if travelers came from the surrounding area to attend the festival.
The general population seems to be predominantly Asian. Still, there is a sizable representation of different ethnicities. This is notable as modern-day Japan only has a non-Japanese population of 2.8%. And a vast majority of them are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc..
Non-Asian people living in modern Japan only make up about .3% of the total population. However, the number of foreign residents in Japan is rapidly rising to compensate for a declining population and the world’s lowest birthrate. As the world’s third largest economy, the country needs a larger labor force.
It is therefore possible that this story takes place in the distant future where the country became far less homogenous. Or perhaps, Japan being an island nation somehow shielded it from whatever havoc the apocalypse brought. Which would have made it a destination for refugees.
The world seems to operate at around a Wild-West-era technology. That said melee weapons are commonly the go to for both defense and offense. Muskets are also seen early on as well.
Modern firearms and even up to military grade equipment such as RPGs are also present, but they’re uncommon. Likewise motorized vehicles such as cars and motorcycles are present – just very rare.
Oh, and during the festival the DJ had some very nice modern DJ decks and a pretty kicking sound system. The crowd didn’t seem too shocked by this during their revelry.
Even rarer still there is some clearly sci-fi stuff such as:
- Combat robots capable of jet pack flight and that can shoot lasers.
- Hover chairs that manage to levitate off the ground with no visible propulsion system.
- Supercomputers capable of building said inventions.
- Human cloning.
Tech and timeline
It seems likely that a lot of the abovementioned could be considered lost technology. The world seems incapable of mass producing said items. And the number of people around with the skill set to use and maintain such equipment seems pretty small.
Therefore, a rough timeline for this world might mean that the apocalypse happened a century or less in the future – to account for the advanced technology. And that Afro’s adventures take place several decades after that. Given how few people know how to utilize technology from the pre-apocalypse world.
On a final note, the main villain Justice is a Wild West gun-slinging mutant who looks like he’s disease ridden. However, his official bio states that he was somehow submerged in toxic waste and thus gained certain abilities such as his third arm.
This doesn’t really settle anything. But it does suggest that perhaps the apocalypse was triggered by some sort of biological or nuclear weapon.
The Number One and the Number Two
Also central to the plot are the Number One and Two Headbands.
The owner of the Number One Headband is said to be the best fighter in the land. He gets to live in a castle on Mt Shumai, looking down on the rest of the world.
The only way to challenge the Number One is by:
- Getting the Number Two Headband.
- Going to Mt. Shumai.
- Challenging them.
There are also rumors about the headbands granting the wearer special powers. And that possessing all of them can allow one to ascend to godhood – and other wild tales. But none of this is ever demonstrated.
There are said to be other headbands besides the first two. While we do see them, it’s unclear what exact part they play in the grand scheme of things.
One theory is that Justice did manage to collect the other headbands as his grounds are littered with the corpses of others. And that he only needed Afro’s Number Two to complete the set. But this is purely speculation.
So how does one obtain the Number Two in order to challenge the Number One? Well, it’s pretty much finders’ keepers. There are no rules and anyone can attempt to claim the headband by any means necessary.
When Afro was a young boy he witnessed a duel on Mt Shimai. It pitted his father, Rokutaro, the current owner of the Number Two against Justice, the owner of the Number One.
The fight ended with Justice decapitating Afro’s father right in front of him. He then gave a grandiose villain monolog. Justice taunted Afro saying that this would scar him for life. And that if he ever wanted his revenge, he needed to grow strong enough to claim the Number Two and then journey back to the mountain to “challenge a god.”
Afro fled with his father’s head along with the headband and his sword. He was later attacked by some bandits who took the headband from him and left him for dead.
Luckily for him he was saved by the Sword Master and his number one disciple Jinno.
He studied the blade
The Sword Master took pity on the recently orphaned boy, then took him under his wing. Afro joined his dojo and trained alongside Jinno and Otsuru.
Afro was still deeply disturbed and enraged by his father’s death at Justice’s hands. He trained day and night to become the deadliest swordsman possible to avenge his father.
Many years later, while outside the dojo training, some thugs happened upon Afro. They demanded to know the location of the Number Two Headband. Afro was initially confused by this and was easily able to slay the ruffians. But once it was all said and done the confrontation only left him with more questions.
He asked his master about the issue. And try as he might the Sword Master could not dissuade him from this line of questioning. Seeing no other recourse his master bade him to meet under the bodhi tree at midnight. He added that Afro would need to be prepared to pay a steep price in order to learn the truth.
Afro met his master under the tree. The teacher revealed that he had taken the headband shortly after rescuing Afro. He had then hidden it in hopes of finally ending the vicious cycle of bloodshed. He informed Afro that in order to claim the headband he would need to kill him in a duel.
Afro accepted. But before they could duel for the headband the dojo was attacked by a horde of bandits trying to claim the headband. In the chaos most of the students and the bandits were slain.
In the end only Afro and the Sword Master were left standing. Jinno and Otsuru survived, but were too badly injured to continue fighting. Thus, Afro and his master finally had their duel.
Afro slew his former sensei and claimed the headband – as his former classmates looked on in horror. He then disappeared into the night.
Ninja Ninja then suddenly appeared. He joined Afro as both his comedy sidekick and traveling companion.
Journey of vengeance
Thus Afro began his journey to return to Mt. Shimai and avenge his father. Along the way he fought his way through:
- The Empty 7, Justice’s personal gatekeepers/hit squad.
- The Afro Droid.
- The Machine Ninja.
- His former training partner Jinno, who had been badly injured – and resurrected as the cybernetic warrior Kuma.
The duel with Jinno was particularly emotional. In the end, Afro chose not to kill his former brother in arms out of guilt and shame. But Kuma threw himself off a cliff because he couldn’t avenge his master’s dojo.
Afro then proceeded to Mt. Shimai. After a long battle with Justice he cut down the mutant gun slinger. Afro then claimed the Number One Headband.
The very last scene showed what was left of Justice smiling. He somehow had survived being cut to pieces, likely through his mutant abilities.
In the follow up movie to the miniseries we see that Afro has decided to leave all the bloodshed behind.
It seems likely that he merely wanted revenge for his father’s death. He was content to wander the earth alone as a vagabond after that.
While walking down a deserted road he was ambushed by Jinno/Kuma and his adopted sister Sio.
Sio was also a member of the Sword Master’s dojo. She seemingly had survived the massacre off-screen. It was also hinted that she may have had a childhood crush on Afro. But after he killed their master she was consumed by the bitter unwavering need for vengeance.
The pair beat Afro badly before taking the headband and taunting him with his father’s jawbone. Afro again began his quest to track down the Number Two Headband.
(How Kuma and Sio could claim Afro’s Number One headband without having the Number Two headband is unaddressed.)
Afro tracked down Shichigoro, the headband’s owner. Much like Afro’s sensei, he believed that if he hid the headband then the bloodshed would cease. In a scene much like the opening of the first episode Afro killed Shichigoro in a duel – in front of his son.
Afro then fought his way to Kuma and Sio, killing their henchmen to get to them.
When he finally reached them, they unveil their secret weapon. They had cloned his father Rokutaro. Afro got pretty badly beaten as he was unwilling to fight his father. But he eventually had a vision of Rokutaro, who told him to fight. With that renewed purpose, Afro cut down the clone.
After killing the clone of his father and the remnants of his adopted family, Afro returned to the mountain castle.
On the road there he met Kotaro, the son of Shichigoro. He gifted the boy with the Number Two Headband and told him to grow strong.
The final scene showed that Justice was still alive and well. Obviously these two scenes strongly hinted at the possibility for future sequels, but so far nothing new has been released.
Afro is a tall, slender, athletically built African man. He sports a wild, animé-style, physics-defying “afro-puff” hair style.
He usually has a stern expression.
Afro wears a travel-worn, simple gi in basic earthy colors. He also, course carries a large katana and always proudly displays the Number 2 Headband.
Afro is voiced by none other than Samuel L. Jackson.
Afro doesn’t exhibit much of a personality. He is absolutely driven to avenge his father and take back the Number 1 Headband.
He walks a very lonely road indeed. Just as his master taught him, the road to revenge is lonesome and full of sorrow.
Afro rarely has much of anything to say. He is usually content to use the minimum amount of words to communicate.
Afro has hardly any distractions from the path of the warrior he’s on. He seems to enjoy lemonade, I guess. He just barely reacted to Otsuru blatantly throwing herself at him.
About the only thing that he ever does that contradicts his path of the true warrior (aside from sex with Otsuru after days of her propositioning him) is smoke hand rolled cigarettes. These likely are blunts.
Ninja Ninja is Afro’s motormouth sidekick. He deserves his own section!
Ninja Ninja is one of those comedy relief characters who just LOVES the sound of his own voice. He is constantly yammering away about something. Ringside commentary when Afro is fighting, random unsolicited advice about anything under the sun, or crude remarks about women.
He is always straight, blunt, to the point and often vulgar when “telling it like it is.”
Ninja Ninja doesn’t seem to interact with the real world. No one acknowledges his presence other than Afro occasionally ordering him to shut up.
The only time we see him interact with the real world is at the end of the series when he gets cut in half by Justice during their duel. Yet he later shows up in the sequel with no explanation as to how or why he’s unharmed.
A common theory is thus that he’s some sort of mental construct that Afro has made for himself to cope with some of his past trauma. This *might* also allude to a Buddhist belief that the those with strong enough discipline can erect a sort of guardian to protect their mind.
(Ninja Ninja’s voice is Samuel L. Jackson’s, like Afro’s.)
Ninja Ninja getting killed during the fight with Justice may actually just be a symbolic way of showing that Afro is facing his fears and has come to terms with his past trauma. His sudden reappearance in the sequel might be an indication that when things get tough Afro may well need his familiar coping mechanism/construct to get through the rough times.
Comic book version
In the comics, Ninja Ninja is some sort of god and the sacred protector of the Number Two Headband. He also can interact with the real world and isn’t just some sort of apparition.
Why the anime chose to downplay his character and make his purpose and origin a bit more ambiguous is unclear.
“The only direction I move is forward.” (Kills his opponent)
“Watch your damn mouth !”
DC Heroes RPG
|Dex: 09||Str: 04||Bod: 06|
|Int: 06||Wil: 04||Min: 05|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 02||Spi: 05|
|Init: 023||HP: 075|
Jumping: 02, Reflection/Deflection: 07
Bonuses and Limitations:
Both are Skilled Powers.
Acrobatics*: 09, Martial Artist: 07, Weaponry (Melee): 11
None. Like he needs them. No seriously, anyone who befriends Afro is likely to wind up dying a gruesome death in short order.
Enemy (The Empty 7, powerful), CIA (killing Justice and becoming the Number 1), MPI (his imaginary friend Ninja Ninja), Minor Rage.
Anti-heroic Seeking Justice.
The Number One.
- Katana [BODY 08, EV 05 (08 w/Martial Artist)].
- (If using WORG notation — Katana [BODY 07, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 09), Descriptor: Slashing, Piercing]).
- Number One/Two Headband [BODY 02, Advantage: Mystique ; Drawback: Foe (rabble and assorted would be warriors looking to make money or a name for themselves) ; Invulnerability: 02. Limitations: Invulnerability is only useable to halt the effects of aging against the headband. After all the sacred headband is supposedly ancient and we wouldn’t expect any normal piece of cloth to last that long now would we ?].
Source of Character: Afro Samurai animés.
Writeup revised on the 28th of June, 2021.