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Global culture infects the generations (with hip-hop)

Later today I’ll get to watch some raw anime — episode one of Afro Samurai. And this time the Japanese can fansub it. A perverse notion if ever I’ve heard one, but quite clearly Western culture is directly infiltrating (a nicer way of putting it would be influencing) Japan’s anime industry, inevitably resulting in an odd fusion of cultural trends — the very name “Afro Samurai” is an obvious reference to this colourful clash of styles between traditional East and contemporary West.

Our natural reaction is fear, "please don’t change our anime" — but then the archetypal genre formulas are becoming tiresome. Once you’ve been around for a few years and seen Evangelion, Naruto and Azumanga Daioh, you’ve basically seen it all. Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, but the fact is that the majority of anime is just recycling the same old ideas over and over again.

This cross-pollination of traditions and culture then, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing after all. The very idea of an afro’ed samurai is absurd to the point of insulting in a traditional sense, but it’s still refreshing and original none the less. It sounds fun, which is a lot more than I can say for Kanon. No, a remake of Kanon. Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Samurai Champloo all take their cues North America, fuse the complex characterisation, stylish animation and moving drama of Japanese anime with North America’s pop culture to great and lasting effect.

It goes the other way too, but with not quite the same outstanding results. Cartoon Network is brimming with new productions that borrow the cliche visual style of anime but alas fail to capture the blatant essence of it; simply cartoons that don’t condescend, that don’t feature faultless personalities and aren’t boring moralistic treacle. I doubt it will stay this way for long — the spread of fansubs, the expansion of anime into households, it can only be a good thing. Kids in their ever increasing numbers will grow up with anime, be inspired by it (like we all are now) and become the next self-made Makoto Shinkai. Audience and range of influence is no longer limited by physical plain or birth origin, everything is right here on the internet. A global culture is fast approaching.

Comments

Os says:

Surprisingly enough, Afro Samurai left me curious enough to want to watch another episode, but it is far from anything that I can label as "brilliant".

Besides the fact that the dub has Samuel L. Jackson -which I’m sure is the show’s main draw-, I’m hoping that this can be another IGPX, for that show was a big success in my eyes.

kuromitsu says:

The problem is that, judging from the first episode, Afro Samurai hasn’t got the fraction of style, elegance and complexity of shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun or Samurai Champloo. It’s basically a very crude "anime as seen by the US/MTV" – mindless violence, a bad-ass main character, scantily-clad women, dark mood, oohh so hardcore and edgy and mature(?). The anime segment of Kill Bill comes to mind, but at least that was kind of creative, along with, say, Animatrix. But apart from the incredibly slick animation, Afro Samurai didn’t show me anything interesting, it was just one cliché after another. I found it painfully mediocre, and I’d say the same if it wasn’t "Japanese-inspired."

As for Samurai Jack and other "anime-inspired" cartoons, they may not be perfect fusions (Samurai Jack especially annoys me because I just don’t know if it wants to be serious or not – if it does then it fails, if it doesn’t then it’s not funny), but at least they don’t boast about being zomg anime or try to be more than they are- a simple cartoons influenced by a currently very popular style. (By the way, I really enjoyed Teen Titans, I thought it was a very good mix of Western and Japanese style.)

Afro Samurai, on the other hand, flaunts its American origins ("Samuel L. Jackson as the badass samurai!"), it flaunts being an anime ("it’s made by Studio Gonzo!! take that, purists!"), and yet it doesn’t have an ounce of creativity and it doesn’t have anything original or interesting to offer than Samuel L. Jackson (whatever, I’m not his fan) and an African-American samurai which would be more interesting if Samurai Champloo hadn’t done the whole "crossing boundaries" thing before. Even the chara design and animation style are neither particularly original nor particularly fresh (think Kemonozume, Noein, Gankutsuou, etc. that featured out-of-the-norm design and animation and used them with much more style and elegance).

And by the way, the jaw-droppingly slick and beautiful animation of Afro Samurai only made me wish that Gonzo donated some of the budget to Red Garden which suffers greatly from its low budget and deserves a better animation, especially as it features pre-recorded voice which requires more than the "just enough" level of animation the series has. :/ (Gonzo productions may seem all shiny CG and fanservice, but the studio does some really great anime from part of the money they earn with the brainless fluff… too bad that those mostly go unnoticed.)

Oops… sorry for the rant.

Questmark says:

I thought the show was simple and fun. Mindless too, all in all, which is a shame, but sometimes that’s not all bad. It was beautifully animated, and whether or not the show’s a real success artistically, I think it can only help produce, in time, some real gems. How can more brain power and different creative processes and cultural backgrounds be anything but a good thing for anime? Sure, we’re going to get more "americanized" crap, if American culture continues to influence Japanese production companies, but we already get an amazing amount of "Japanified" anime crap being produces- I don’t see the need to pre-emptively fault anime shows that aren’t fantastic just because they’re American.

In the long run, I think Afro Samurai bodes really well– in particular, the inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson for the voice acting. Whether or not you’re a real fan of him, you’ve got to see the importance of having such a big name for "just" a show, rather than the typical Disney dub of Ghibli films. There’s a lot of voice talent out there right now that isn’t being used for English language dubs, bringing in names can only make the pool larger, as it begins to legitimatize the job for other actors.

In the end, I’m a-ok with Afro Samurai, even if it is mindless. It just seems too important, as a general representative of new trends in anime production and English language dubbing, to toss aside. I’ll be curious to see how the show plays out, and whether its a bit of a hit or not.

tj han says:

I curse GONZO for scrapping Mardock Scramble for this. Anyway, have to agree with you on the MTV-style shallowness. But then again, since we don’t get much mtv style shallowness with hot action in anime, I’ll still watch Sam.

kuromitsu says:

Maybe the problem is that I don’t belong to the target demographics of Afro Samurai – I don’t find “MTV style shallowness” entertaining in general, and when I do have a craving for some mindless violence I usually satisfy it with manga (more precisely Tenjou tenge which is brainless and pointless, but very pretty, and Dogs which is just incredibly stylish) rather than anime or even movies. That’s why I said I wouldn’t like Afro Samurai even if it was purely Japanese or purely American, I just wouldn’t find it entertaining anyway. Still, I can’t help regarding it as a waste of resources (especially knowing that Gonzo made it) and it’s kind of sad that the first “zomg American Anime!!” is no more than this. They could’ve at least tried to be creative or something. I hope that whatever the next project is, it’ll be more than “Ninja Scroll Extreme with Samuel L. Jackson.”

My other problem with Afro Samurai is the same as with most “global manga” – it’s trying so hard to be “anime” that it forgets that in the end, anime are cartoons, too. One of the reasons I enjoy Teen Titans (aside from the fact that I find it genuinely funny, whatever this says about my sense of humor) is that it is, in essence, just what its anime counterparts are: “simply cartoons that don’t condescend, that don’t feature faultless personalities and aren’t boring moralistic treacle.” It doesn’t have an attitude, doesn’t have a point to prove (unlike Afro “I’m an American anime!” Samurai), and aside of the visuals, it doesn’t feature “anime elements” (which don’t really exist anyway, only clichés). It’s not trying to be “anime,” it’s content to be an enjoyable “cartoon.”

Meanwhile Afro Samurai, like so many OEL manga artists, falls into the trap of trying to approach the audience by being derivative so much that it forgets to be creative and going its own way (at least so far). And while I don’t condemn any anime just because it’s American, I don’t see why I should appreciate an anime just because it’s an American effort. (Kind of like how everyone is expected to love and appreciate the English dub of VHD:Bloodlust just because “it was intended to be in English!” That may be so, but the writing still sucks and the Japanese dub is much better.) That doesn’t make it any better for me, but then, I’m not American so maybe I just have less “built-in” sympathy.

Questmark says:

Fair enough.

Odd about the Vampire Hunter D BL dub, as that ‘s one of my prime examples of a dub that I like, etc etc and I normally don’t like dubs at all.

I agree– one shouldn’t like it just because it’s been "Americanified". Of course. And the show’s obviously derivative. For sure. All of your points are valid. My standards are obviously just different than yours. Sometimes, I watch anime and movies just to hang out and have fun, rather than to be challenged. The ep I watched was absurd, true, but it delivered the "popcorn movie" goods.

But if it doesn’t for you, that’s cool. You do other things to get that fix.

Martin says:

I haven’t seen Afro Samurai yet, nor would I go out of my way to watch it with so many other things lately grabbing my attention since I’m not a big ‘martial arts anime’ fan. Still, the ‘fusion of influences’ aspect interests me – no doubt some purists will be disappointed with the way it is planned and marketed but the flow of ideas between Japan and the West has been two-way traffic for decades.

Hayao Miyazaki used a number of European locations when planning his films for instance, and the likes of Bubblegum Crisis and pretty much anything adapted from Masumune Shirow would be one heck of a lot different had Ridley Scott not read a Philip K Dick novel and made Blade Runner. Whether or not Afro Samurai is your ‘thing’ or not, its merely one example of an ongoing trend of Japan and the West influencing one another in turns.

kuromitsu says:

>Questmark
Yeah, I guess it depends on personal taste. I like to watch anime/etc to have fun, too, but I guess my idea of "fun" is just different.

Anyway, re: VHD:Bloodlust – I actually rather like the English voice acting, the voice actors did a very good job with what they had to work with. My problem is with the writing. For one, I think it’s horribly cheesy and needlessly overwrought. Then there’s the excessiveness of the dialogue – American anime dubs have a tendency to feature twice as much dialogue as the original, and in case of VHD:BL it totally kills the mood for me (I mean, it’s basically a western!), not to mention that there are at least two scenes that I remember where the voice actors have to talk audibly faster to be able to say all their lines in time. Plus, the movie sometimes just doesn’t make sense in English. I watched it quite a few times, but I only realized what the deal was with the squirrel joke when I first watched it in Japanese. (Not to mention the differences in story and characterization – really, the English and Japanese versions are sometimes like two different movies.)

bateszi says:

I still haven’t seen Afro Samurai yet but the first episode is sitting on my computer. I must admit I’m attracted by its violent unpretentiousness and fluid action animation… You can’t beat animation (especially anime) that actually moves. Fairly superficial reasons then… but sometimes its nice to just relax and switch off the brain in front of good eye candy! :)

>> VHD:Bloodlust – "My problem is with the writing. For one, I think it’s horribly cheesy and needlessly overwrought."

Very true. It actually reminded me of the way movies used to be in the black and white era, when everything was so melodramatic and contorted, almost operatic. The whole "Vampires launching into space" with emotional narration thing at the end is a great example of cheese taken (or should I say spread? :) ) too far. Ninja Scroll is Kawajiri’s best work because it isn’t needlessly corny, just pure action and natural emotional resonance.

wirerat says:

What a tough crowd. This is obviously the purist area….but you all have a point. After two episdodes i am ready to call it quits. I was hoping it would be something along the lines of "Samuri 7" but at least there was an interesting storyline to draw you in.

neobanzia says:

Afro Samurai was some trite, even I will admit it, and I was looking forward to this show ever since it was a bunch of sketches on the original artist’s website.

I think the most quality fusion of hip hop and eastern stylings was and will continue to be Samurai Champloo.

I enjoyed the animation of Afro Samurai , it was top-notch. But everything else , from the haphazard "story" and poor voice acting , made me cringe. And am I the only one who thought Samuel L. Jackson didn’t say much..like..ever?

Oh I’ve never wanted to see a cartoon sidekick die more than that idiot that follows our protagonist around.

Hannibal the Great says:

well where do i begin.. i think all you are just jealous or unhappy that the main character is a BLACK man,only black people like to see main black charcacters… and for the person that said perverse notion if he has ever heard of one i can tell you one " egyptians being tan carcausian" and if you knew anything about history which you dont because it’s all "WHITEWASHED" you would know that there was AFRICAN in all of asia,europe.the americas centuries before the europeans and they were not slaves as you might think but scholars,teachers so on and so forth even boddhiedarhma was a black man yes the one that thought the shaolin monks martial arts because it originated in africa..believe me if you want all the inof is on the net look it up

Anime is dead…

Try to define anime. You can’t, because your definition is redundant.
……

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