The much touted Afro Samurai series, a popular animation series on Spike TV, made its debut as manga for American audiences this month. Published by Tor Books’ Seven Seas imprint, Afro Samurai will be published as a two-volume manga series by creator Takashi Okazaki. The first volume of the Afro Samurai manga has an initial print run of more than 20,000 copies. Seven Seas senior editor Adam Arnold says that the first volume “has shipped so strongly that we expect to reprint soon.” Volume two will debut in the first quarter of 2009 around the same time as the release of the second installment of the Afro Samurai animation and the video game.
“There’s a fan-boy excitement about it,” said Leo Chu, head of animation at Spike TV, discussing Afro Samurai. “There’s this raw human emotion to it. This kind of storytelling is universal.”
The story is set in the feudal Japan of an alternate, futuristic universe, where only the samurai ranked as number two is permitted to kill samurai number one. (Achieving number one status grants the samurai godlike power.) Afro, who is named for his impressive “Afro” hair-style, has gained number two status in order to avenge his father, who was killed by the current number one samurai.
The character was originally introduced to the U.S. market as an animation series spearheaded by star actor Samuel L. Jackson who coproduced the project. The animated series, which aired on Spike TV, was developed by the Japanese studio Gonzo for the American market. It was eventually screened in Japan as well as other countries in a world tour. The anime series features the voices of Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu, along with an original soundtrack by the RZA, founding father of the rap group Wu Tang Clan.
According to Arnold, the manga was “created in tandem” with the animation, and the story lines of the two are similar, but with a different ending. Afro Samurai was originally published by Okazaki in an amateur comic that was serialized in the doujinshi (self-published) magazine, Nou Nou Hau. Okazaki, who grew up listening to the Wu Tang Clan, shaped one of his characters around Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the Quentin Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown. Okazaki calls Afro Samurai “the embodiment of everything I like. It’s like being fed with all the food I like—being overfed, but in a good way.”
The second installment of the Afro Samurai animation will be a feature-length movie, Afro Samurai: Resurrection, which will air on Spike TV in January 2009. Namco-Bandai will debut its Afro Samurai video game around the same time.