Afro Samurai (アフロサムライ, Afuro Samurai), also written ΛFΓO SΛMUΓΛI, is a Japanese seinen dōjinshi manga series written and illustrated by manga artist Takashi Okazaki. It was originally serialized irregularly in the avant-garde dōjinshi manga magazine Nou Nou Hau from September 1999 to May 2000. Inspired by Takashi Okazaki's love of soul and hip hop music and American media, Afro Samurai follows the life of Afro Samurai who witnessed his father (owner of the No. 1 headband) being killed by a gunslinger, Justice (owner of the No. 2 headband) while he was a child. As an adult, Afro sets off to avenge his father's death and kill Justice.
The Afro Samurai dōjinshi was adapted into a 5-episode anime TV mini-series by studio Gonzo in 2007. The same studio also went on to produce a made-for-TV movie sequel titled Afro Samurai: Resurrection in 2009, which gained two Emmy nominations, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation, which it won, and Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More).
After the release of the anime series, Takashi Okazaki remade the original Afro Samurai dōjinshi into a two-volume manga. To be only released in North America, Tor Books and Seven Seas Entertainment licensed the title and published it under their new Tor/Seven Seas imprint.
In addition to the success of the anime series, Afro Samurai has also been adapted into a video game and an upcoming live-action feature film. For the TV series and the film, two soundtracks by the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan have been released as well as a profile book in Japan.
In a futuristic yet feudal Japan, it is said that the one who wields the Number 1 headband is the fiercest fighter in the world and shall possess god-like powers. The only way to obtain the Number 1 headband is to challenge the current wearer of the headband and defeat him in combat. However, only the Number 2 can challenge the Number 1 while anyone can challenge the Number 2 which causes a constant struggle for the Number 2 headband.
Justice, the owner of the No. 2 headband, goes to fight the owner of the No. 1 headband Rokutaro (Afro's father). The two battle, ending with Justice beheading Afro's father and claiming his headband. His head rolls in front of his son Afro as he sobs and vows revenge where Justice tells Afro to seek him out when he's "ready to face a God."
Now an adult, "Afro Samurai" is the current No. 2 and a master swordsman. He travels Japan trying to make his way to the mountain-top keep where Justice awaits. As he makes his way to Justice, he recalls his journey from a frightened young boy to a master samurai. Along the way, many people challenge Afro for his headband, including the Empty Seven Clan who send various agents and assassins including a robotic Afro to kill him throughout his travels. He is also being hunted by his vengeful childhood friend Jinno (who was long thought to be dead). It is revealed that Afro's childhood samurai master called the Sword Master became the new No. 2 after Justice killed Afro's father. When Afro confronts his master, they are both attacked by assassins leading to the death of everyone except Afro, Jinno, Otsuru (Okiku) and their master. Jinno begs Afro not to kill their own master, claiming he is selfish and he is to blame for the death of their friends. Afro defeats the master and claims the number 2 headband. Filled with rage and hatred for Afro, Jinno throws himself off a nearby cliff. Afro as an adult finally confronts Justice. Afro learns that there are other headbands in existence, ranging to an unspecified higher number, and sees that the corpses of those who wore them are skewered throughout the room where Justice awaits. Afro defeats Justice and takes the No. 1 headband, and the other headbands disappear.
Afro decides to live in the mountains once again. Jinno, adorned with every headband in existence, returns and confronts Afro for the No. 1 band and his revenge. The final scene shows Justice still alive and smiling.
Main article: Afro Samurai (Manga)
Written and illustrated by Takashi Okazaki, Afro Samurai was originally published in the self-funded Nou Nou Hau dōjinshi magazine. First appearing in issue 0, the dōjinshi version was first published from September 1999 to October 2000. After the release of the anime version, Takashi Okazaki recreated the original dōjinshi. Although the recreation of the original manga was created in Japan, it was first published in the United States by Seven Seas Entertainment and Tor Books in two tankōbon volumes. As a special supplement, thumb-nail sized clips of the original dōjinshi were shown at the end of the first volume. The English release of the manga was Tor Books and Seven Seas' first publication under the newly formed Tor/Seven Seas imprint. The manga was also released in Italy through Panini Comics' manga publishing division Planet Manga, starting on April 9, 2009. The manga was released in one volume in Japan on December 18, 2009. The limited edition came with all the issues of the original dōjinshi included in a separate volume.
Main article: Afro Samurai (Anime)
One of Takashi Okazaki's friends decided to make action figures based on the character, which were released in small amounts. After the action figures were created, a producer from the Japanese studio, Gonzo, happened to find them and thought of an animated TV project based on the series. The anime took three years to develop, and in the three years the studio also created a trailer, which happened to fall into the hands of Samuel L. Jackson. It was announced that the project would be a five-episode "creative collaboration" between Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki, and Gonzo, with a music score by hip hop artist The RZA from the rap group Wu-Tang Clan. In 2006, it was announced that Funimation acquired the rights to the anime series which would premiere on Paramount Network later that year, and that Samuel L. Jackson would voice Afro. Afro Samurai debuted on Paramount Network, on January 4, 2007. The series' worldwide premier was on Paramount Network's website where they streamed the first episode online. The anime was later released on Japanese television Thursday, May 3, 2007, in English with Japanese subtitles. The Japanese air was released completely uncut. On Friday, May 11, 2007 Funimation released the first Afro Samurai DVDs at Anime Central, at their own booth, the regular Afro Samurai: TV Version and the uncut Afro Samurai: Director's Cut. Both DVDs were released to the public on May 22, 2007. On September 4, 2007, all five episodes of Afro Samurai were released on iTunes. To promote this, Funimation released eight custom designed iPods by Takashi Okazaki. In 2008, Funimation released the Afro Samurai anime series onto Xbox Live in high definition format and also debuted on Blu-ray Disc in that year. Also in 2008, Afro Samurai was shown at the German Film Festival in Germany.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection
Main article: Afro Samurai: Resurrection
In an Associated Press interview in 2007, Takashi Okazaki confirmed there would be a sequel to the anime series, and that it would also be shown on Paramount Network. In 2008, the sequel was announced to be a TV movie titled Afro Samurai: Resurrection, and that actors Lucy Liu and Mark Hamill would join the voice acting cast. Hip hop artist The RZA also came back to provide the soundtrack for the movie. Afro Samurai: Resurrection debuted on Paramount Network on the night of January 25, 2009. On July 16, 2009, Afro Samurai: Resurrection was nominated for an Emmy in the "Outstanding Animated Program (for programming one hour or more)" category in the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards and the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. At the Emmy awards, Afro Samurai: Resurrection lost to Destination Imagination, a TV movie based on Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. The art director of Afro Samurai: Resurrection, Shigemi Ikeda, won an Emmy for his work on Resurrection, which is the first ever awarded for work on a Japanese-animated production. Afro Samurai: Resurrection was the first Japanese anime to be nominated for and win an Emmy.
Late 2009 also saw the release of Afro Samurai: Complete Murder Sessions on Blu-Ray and DVD. A 4-disc collection of both Afro Samurai Director's Cut and Afro Samurai: Resurrection, together in one complete boxset.
Main article: Afro Samurai (video game)
In 2005, Gonzo had awarded Namco Bandai Games exclusive rights to publish two Afro Samurai video games, as announced that year. The debut trailer of the first game was released at the company's Editor's Day presentation. Afro Samurai was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 27, 2009.