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TV's 'Afro Samurai' Fuses Martial Arts, Hip-Hop

A new instance of cultural cross-pollination between Japan and America debuts Thursday night: Afro Samurai. The animated series, based on the graphic novels of Takashi Okazaki, features Samuel L. Jackson voicing the title role and a score by the Wu-Tang Clan's the RZA.

Young Americans watch Japanese animation, and Japanese teens wear hip-hop fashions. But previous attempts to create Japanese-American co-productions have failed to satisfy audiences on both sides of the Pacific. Afro-Samurai represents a new attempt at fusion.

The title character is a black man who was raised in a martial-arts dojo after his father was murdered by an assassin. He seeks revenge, and the recovery of his father's hachimaki headband, which identifies the wearer as the world's greatest warrior. The (very violent) action takes place in an alternate reality that juxtaposes samurai duels with cell phones and cigarette lighters.

In the Japanese tradition of taciturn samurai heroes, this one rarely speaks, leaving star Jackson to voice a second character: Ninja Ninja, a sidekick whose motor-mouth monologues reflect Afro's inner thoughts.

Five episodes of Afro-Samurai have been produced with an impressive budget of $1 million per episode. If the series proves successful, it will be continued. Viewers will get a chance to judge when it airs Thursday night on Spike TV.

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Charles Solomon