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Afro_SamuraiAfro Samurai: The Director’s Cut (FUNimation DVD)

Between the Independent Film Channel airing Samurai 7 and Gunslinger Girl, Showtime Beyond running Peacemaker, and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block boasting Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eureka 7, and Blood+, among others, there’s more anime on American TV now than ever before. But while we aren’t expecting CBS to start airing Neon Genesis Evangelion or Ergo Proxy during those rare half-hours between CSI spin-offs, they did come one step closer recently when the cable network Spike TV — which doesn’t even air American cartoons — showed Afro Samurai. Granted, it’s an anime that boasts Samuel L Jackson as both star and executive producer, but it’s still a bold step forward for American/Anime relations.

For those who missed the five-episode series on Spike, your chance to rectify the situation has come in the form of these two DVD collections. Looking and sounding much better on DVD than it did on TV — the video was produced in 1080i for you high-def nuts — these collections not only have the entire run, but even let you decide if you want to watch each individual episode, or the entire story as one long movie.

There are, however, big differences between the two DVDs, regardless of how you watch them. The single-disc regular edition leaves something to be desired extras-wise: all it has are trailers for other animes. The double-disc Director’s Cut, however, is pretty packed, with an interview and some exclusive art by creator Takashi Okazaki, a featurette on the music, which was done by RZA of The Wu-Tang Clan, and interviews with Jackson and his castmates Kelly Hu and Ron Perlman.

More importantly, while the regular edition has the show as it was seen on TV, the Director’s Cut adds fifteen minutes, here and there, of unseen and uncensored footage. And we mean uncensored. It may not be confused with hentai, but there is cartoon nudity in the sex scene, and, as you’d expect with anything Sammy J does, there’s tons of often appropriate cursing as well.

So what is the subject matter? As stories go, Afro Samurai is fairly standard stuff (well, for a Japanese tale, anyway). As a child, Afro watches his dad get killed in a sword fight, and thus vows revenge (though why he didn’t want revenge on his dad for naming him Afro, we don’t know). But while this may have a familiar story, it’s no less compelling to watch. The art style is a notch above your typical big-eyed/cutesy anime, and mixes in stylistic touches from live action Asian cinema. There’s also plenty of action, with some engaging flashbacks that show how single-minded Afro was his whole life.

This is not to say Afro is perfect. While it’s not as techy as Ghost in the Shell, there are slight cyberpunk touches here and there — it seems to be set in an alternate timeline where technology advanced but samurais did not — but it actually could’ve used a little more of it, as these brief bits of byte are so few and far between that they sometimes feel out of place. Also, at only five episodes, it’s kind of short for a show, and could’ve probably used a couple more episodes to flesh things out, though it’s far less noticeable on the Director’s Cut.

Will Afro Samurai herald a new age of anime on American TV? Will CBS’s next CSI spin-off be animated and feature cops with big eyes and vaguely androgynous pretty-boy coroners? Hmmm…probably not. But it can’t hurt. And hey, we got a cool animated revenge tale out of it. – Paul Semel

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Mr. Semel has written about anime for such publications as Emmy, E! Online, Lemonade, and this website.

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