You see, Kirby got it. He understood that sometimes brash ideas needed to be presented with brash exaggeration, a sort of visual melodrama that made everything seem more intense and more alive, and the unbelievable believable. Caught in grip of all this conceptual and visual energy, there was nothing the hapless reader could do but take it all in, occasionally muttering expressions of awe.
Similarly, Afro Samurai director Fuminori Kizaki gets it. During the show's battles, swords, guns, rocket launchers, faces and limbs are shown in a forced perspective that puts the viewer right up against them. Blood sprays farther. Screaming mouths, angry or agonized, gape wider. And at all times, the impossibly long ties on the title character's headband flutter and float as dramatically as the impossibly flowing coif he's named after.
There's one more parallel to the work of Jack Kirby here. Like Kirby's work, Afro Samurai is rarely subtle, but while you can experience its thrills viscerally, there's an awful lot to admire in the show's construction as well. Most obvious is the colour scheme, which is nearly, but not quite, monochrome, which paradoxically makes the images pop with a nice crispness. The design can also be quite eye-catching, as in the scene late in the first episode involving a bizarre cult that features people wearing large numbers printed on their headgear and clothing, among other things. The sequence felt like a print design come to life; it made me wonder how much Takashi Okazaki, the illustrator and designer who created the original Afro Samurai manga, had to do with the development of that scene.
The bow that wraps all of this up is the music, composed by the rapper/producer/composer The RZA. With a vibe that combines old kung fu movies, soul music, and hip-hop belligerence, I expect this moody, evocative soundtrack will find its way into many CD players and iPods once it hits store shelves. I know it'll be in mine.
The last time I saw this kind of careful weaving of music, design and animation it was in a little series called Cowboy Bebop. It remains to be seen if Afro Samurai can get past its seeming ultraviolence-of-the-week structure and create something woven together as tightly as Bebop, but it's encouraging to note that all of the pieces are present right at the beginning. If you can take the gore, that's a good enough reason to keep watching.