Afro Samurai - A Hero’s Journey
Author: Joshua Lindsay (jal3040)
Last updated: 13 Nov 2010
A hero is an individual who wields exceptional strength, courage, and self-sacrifice in the face of danger. Every hero fights to protect others or to uphold his own personal values. He undergoes several struggles with himself and with others in the process. The path to success the hero undergoes is often referred to as the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey delineates a common sequence of events that involves a hero, beginning as a lowly commoner, training and developing into a supernatural being, and conquering his ultimate nemesis. An example of a narrative that employs this story pattern is Takashi Okazaki’s anime series Afro Samurai. The main character Afro fights from childhood to adulthood, avenging his father’s assassination. However, Afro, himself, represents a different kind of hero.
Contrary to the archetypal hero who fights to serve justice, Afro fights to avenge his father's death. His ultimate goal mirrors that of an archetypal villain, but is justified by its cause; thus, he becomes a hero who garners amnesty, acquittance, understanding, and admiration. This type of hero is known as an anti-hero. Afro embodies an anti-hero because he fights for his personal values, but is empowered by anger and vengeance. His goal is to find and kill the man who assassinated his father; those who stand in his path share the same fate. Revenge is a heinous act and deteriorates heroic character, but Afro's primary reason for pursuing it is understandable and it grants him sympathy and acquittance. He betrays friendships, kills his master and best friend, and lives his life one battle after another. All of these perceived wrongdoings are understandable sacrifices for his ambition.
Afro Samurai is set in a futuristic Japanese environment that still preserves feudal architecture and ideals. During the feudal era, there were several fundamental principles by which warriors of the military class must abide as detailed in the Japanese code of Bushido. Some virtues of the ethical code of conduct are loyalty, honor, courage, respect, and honesty. These virtues were never transcribed, but each of them was upheld through intense social pressure. It would be both dishonorable and disgraceful to break the code.
The first stage of the Hero's Journey is his call to adventure. This is where the hero realizes his motivation and begins his journey. Afro's call to action occurs upon the series beginning when his father is assassinated before him. He then realizes that he must annihilate the new Number One, called Justice, to avenge his father's death; however, Young Afro must train in order to become Number Two prior to facing Number One. This marks only the beginning of his troubles for he begins intense training and fighting as he develops his way of the warrior. His hatred for Number One and seeking of revenge motivates him through his progression.
The refusal of the call is prevalent when Afro realizes what he is getting himself into after he defeats his master. He creates an imaginary being, named Ninja Ninja, who is an embodiment of all emotions Afro is unable to express: fear, happiness, contempt, sadness, regret, doubt, and reluctance. He not only as a comic-relief sidekick, but also represents a part of Afro's conscience that wishes he not pursue vengeance and tries to convince him to avoid enemy encounters and quit his journey. Afro always silences him and treats him with cold indifference.
The next stage of the hero's journey is the crossing of the first threshold." At this stage, the hero must make the difficult decision whether or not to make the leap into a dangerous and unpredictable world. Afro trains until his late adolescence, picking fights along the way in search of Number Two. Just before he completes his training and is officially anointed into the warrior class as a samurai, he receives some unsettling news: the master of he and his peers is Number Two. He then must decide whether to forget his long-sought revenge to live peacefully with his new family at the dojo or betray all of his friends and kill the master to receive the Number Two status. If he chooses the former, he will disregard his ultimate goal of revenge and live feeling as if his life had been a waste; on the other hand, if he chooses the latter, he becomes a common enemy of those who took him in and made him one of their own as well as entering a world of absolute solitude and combat, for he must accept all challenges as Number Two. Afro lets his desire for revenge consume him and he assassinates his master. This shows that Afro has accepted his fate as a feudal hero and does not go back on his word. He leaves the realm comfort and enters an entirely unprecedented realm of relentless danger.
Afro undergoes various trials as he must engage in combat with Number One's underlings and the Empty Seven. In the midst of these trials, he meets a young woman who was once a member of his dojo family. She nurses him back to health, but Afro tries to leave as soon as he is regained his strength. She seduces him to extract his memories of his training for the benefit of the enemy. Her character plays a vital role in the hero's journey for she feeds into Afro's temptation to search for comfort, and more importantly, a friend. This is significant to the development of a hero because it portrays his resistance to temptation and desire to pursue his ultimate goal. The temptress attempts to stray the hero from his quest or have him abandon it altogether. Fortunately for Afro, she is killed for her reluctance in doing her leader's bidding, thus allowing him to press onward.
The first stage beginning a hero's completion of his journey is the refusal of return. Here the hero fully accepts his way. After Afro overcomes an old friend corrupted by revenge, Jinno, he then accepts his fate as his next opponent is Justice, Number One. Because he no longer has any doubt, he disbands his imaginary being Ninja Ninja. Negligence of all that burdened him shows how much he has grown as a hero.
The final stage of the hero's journey is freedom. This is when the hero has conquered his adversaries and has achieved his ultimate goal. Afro achieved revenge on Justice and becomes the new Number One - he becomes a deity. Although Afro has achieved his goal of enacting revenge, killing his nemesis, and becoming Number One, he still is not free.
Afro's fervent revenge led him into a never-ending fight for his life, as his sensei had warned before being assassinated by Afro's blade. He must always be alert and prepared for battle since Number Two may challenge him at any point. Knowing that, he cannot harbor any friendship because it could be exploited and bring him to his demise. He must not trust anyone. Avenging his father came with an everlasting sacrifice, for he lives the rest of his life duel after duel.
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- Bushido - Code of Conduct and Morals (http://samuraigwynne.blogspot.com/2006/06/code-of-feudal-warrior-part-1-bushido.html)
- Hero's Journey Steps (http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html)
- Steps Explained (http://home.rmi.net/~seifert/id22.html)