Afro Samurai 01

Writer / Artist
Afro Samurai 01
Alternative editions:
Afro Samurai 01 graphic novel review
Alternative editions:
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Titan Comics - 978-1-78773-900-0
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Seven Seas - 978-0-7653-2123-7
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2008
  • English language release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781787739000
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Action Thriller, Manga

Takashi Okazaki’s Afro Samurai is the very definition of a cult hit, with a similar trajectory to Tank Girl. The nutty action spectacular was first serialised in a self-published anthology that grew in profile, before being picked up for anime five years after Okazaki finished the story, with Samuel L. Jackson voicing the lead character for the English version and its sequel. At that point Okazaki redrew sections for American publication by Seven Seas, but if you’re at all interested the more recent Titan Comics editions are the better choice for presenting the pages in a larger format.

Even if he wasn’t upfront about it in his foreword, it’s apparent from the opening battle to the death that Okazaki wears his influences on his sleeve. The terse dialogue and the cinematic layouts are a masterclass in homage as the owner of No. 2 headband murders his former friend for ownership of No. 1 headband while the infant Afro Samurai looks on. His mission of vengeance thus established, Afro Samurai is next seen as an adult in flowing baggy trousers with fabulous hair raised high by the No. 2 headband.

Drawn in black and white with red used for the freely flowing blood, there’s an energetic sweep to the slaughter as we’re told about the legend that’s grown about how only one person can challenge the behind the scenes ruler of the world called No. 1. Afro Samurai himself is a man of few words, all of them dropped with maximum consideration of dramatic effect. “You’ve got the face of a guy who’s been made a target at every turn”, he’s told, “like you’ve spent every day slipping through the fingers of death”.

There’s plenty of wistful chat about honour and compulsion as one threat after another is sent Afro Samurai’s way, all built up to be sliced down in balletic swordplay, while the Empty Seven are mentioned throughout as the most formidable menaces. At times Okazaki drifts a little too far into sordid boys’ fantasy, with one character’s villainous credentials established by his eating his breakfast off a naked woman tied across a table, but for the most part this is punch the air thrills as Afro Samurai survives impossible odds.

Okazaki’s art has its rough spots, and clarity is never a priority, but the joyful energy sustains the action, and at the end there’s an actual surprise amid a bonkers revelation. Will Afro Samurai survive to complete his mission of revenge? The answer to that awaits in Afro Samurai 02.