"Lemonade. Ice Cold."Afro Samurai
Or 'Afuro Samurai', in Nipponese.
I can't stand anime in general. It seems to me that the bulk of the genre consists entirely of harem romance stories, improbably boobed Asian women and bloody irritating theme music - none of which, with the exception of improbably boobed Asian women, interest me much. So far, I have followed only two animes with any degree of loyalty. They are Ranma 1/2 (back when it was showing on AXN) and Samurai Champloo, which I got from my ex-roommate, Inn Shan (along with Romeo X Juliet which I have found to be quite unwatchable). Samurai Champloo was quite an agreeable viewing pleasure for me, mainly because of its anachronism stew nature and multi-genre pop-culture references (ranging from baseball and graffiti to zombies and capoiera). The series even opened with a title card which says; "This work of fiction is not an accurate historical portrayal... LIKE WE GIVE A F@%#! Now shut up and enjoy the show!". Anything that marries samurai and hiphop cultures is always worth my time.
Afro Samurai is something very much like that, only amped up to the nth level with a heaping dose of Samuel L. "Motherfuckin" Jackson injected right into its arteries. Jules Winfield of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Mace Windu from the Star Wars prequel trilo (he accepted the part on the condition that his character would carry a distinctive purple to set him apart from the rest of the Jedi council of forgettables and that he would not be killed off "like some punk"). Also, he's the inspiration behind the Ultimate Nick Fury, leader of the Avengers of the Marvel comic universe (you'd remember his cameo playing that character after the credits in the Iron Man flick last year).
That's right, the last name in utter Bad-Assery voices the titular Afro Samurai. If that does not get you pumpin', here's more; Ron Perlman voices Afro Samurai's nemesis. Ron Perlman, as you may or may not already know, played Hellboy in the Hellboy movies. Oh, and did I mention Kelly Hu's somewhere in there too? Also, Samuel L. Jackson also voices NinjaNinja, a wacky ninja (what else) who follows Afro around saying things the typically silent and sullen Afro wouldn't say.
The basic premise of the series is this; There are two headbands - one has number 1 written on it and the other has number 2. The guy wearing the number 1 headband is the strongest, most badass warrior in the entire world and he can only be challenged by the guy wearing the number 2 headband, which is the Afro Samurai. The catch is, anyone can challenge the number 2 guy for the number 2 headband. Hilarity insues, that is, if you consider bloody, gratuituous violence and freaky dismemberments to be hilarious. The amount of gory fights in this anime is ridiculous (I'm lovin' it!) and the anti-hero, Afro, is quite frankly sociopathic and villainous. The show was adapted by the Japanese animation studio, Gonzo, from a doujinshi (i.e. Japanese term for "self-published works") manga series created by Takashi Okazaki - not one of those crappy American-made anime knockoffs we kept seeing these days. Season two of the anime is going to be released pretty soon and from what I heard, Lucy Liu is voicing the new season's antagonist. Mark Hamill got on board as well. You know, the guy who is the voice of the Joker in the Batman cartoons and played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars flicks? Man, I'm such a fanboy.
Of course, they never explained what a black guy is doing in feudal Japan(?) being a samurai. Now that I've mentioned it, the list of things they never explained is, in fact, bloody long. What are ridiculously life-like combat androids, cellphones with cutesy ring-tones, memory cards, cybernetic binoculars and friggin' bazookas doing in this show? Why do they serve lemonade in bars? Where did that monk get those hip circumaural headphones from? And why hasn't Afro Samurai died from lung cancer from all those unfiltered hand-rolled cigarettes he kept puffing on throughout the series? Nothing makes sense. You just got to love a show that don't give a fat fuck.
And did I mention that the soundtrack in this anime kicks ass? The RZA (from the Wu-Tang Clan) produced it. Check out the song in the Afro Samurai: Resurrection (sequel) trailer on YouTube. Pretty good shit, in all.
The other thing which kept me occupied this entire week is The Settlers of Catan,
It's created by Klaus Teuber, a famous German designer of board games.
Unfortunately, I don't actually own a set - and I doubt that I find get it in any toy store in Malaysia. Even if it's available, I don't think I can get three other persons to be interested in it enough to play with me for hours on end.
I did the next logical thing and downloaded an 8-megabyte PC version of the board game (with pre-packaged A.I. opponents), after teaching myself how to play it through a 5-minute interactive guide on a Settlers of Catan fansite. That's the beauty of it. It's very easy to pick up because of its simple mechanics, but its dynamics are surprisingly complicated. The first night I tried it I was hooked good. I played till the next morning, skipping sleep entirely.
I personally categorise board games according to a luck versus skills spectrum. At one end of that scale is Snakes and Ladders, which relies completely on the players' luck. Chess sits on the other end, where luck does not factor in at all - only raw skills matter. Both does not appeal to me. I find games like Snakes and Ladders to be quite repetitive and pointless. Chess, if I may critique, depends quite heavily on a player's memorisation of the different ways a game can go. Theoretically, if a person is able to memorise every possible variation, he'd be unbeatable.
The Settlers of Catan lies somewhere in between the two. It uses a couple of dice, true, but the spirit of the game is planning, risk assessment, diplomacy and management. The board is assembled randomly from its little resource hexes every time a new game starts (including the numbers assigned to each hex), so it's a different playing field each time. Players will be placing their pieces at the start according to what they feel is the best spots after assessing the board. To get ahead, it's almost imperative for the players to be able to negotiate and barter with each other. If you sit quietly in your corner just rolling your dice, everyone else will be making trades which benefit them while leaving you behind. Then there's the robber piece which any player can move after rolling a seven - to block the resource flow from any one hex and to steal a card from the hand of a player who owns a town on city adjacent to it. There are more than one way by which you can win the game, so the ability to keep a low profile, to deceive and mislead, and to hide your true intentions as long as possible is pretty darn useful too. The dice, I feel, actually enhances the experience. It adds a flavour of uncertainty to the game without dictating its proceedings completely.
Anyway, Settlers of Catan is just the core game. There are actually expansions to the base game like Seafarers of Catan, Cities and Knights, and Traders and Barbarians, along with a whole medley of spinoffs (like a card game) and historical scenario packs (Alexander the Great's empire expansion, the building of the Great Wall of China etc). Here's an impressive list in Wikipedia. And someone even wrote a damn novel about it.
Microsoft also released a sweet looking adaptation for the Xbox Live Arcade with tweak-able house rules and A.I. so good that even Klaus Teuber himself find hard to beat,
I am wishing really hard that Microsoft would release a version for us PC gamers with all the expansions and variations of the game included soon. I'll even get the original version, if only to be able to play online with other players.
I am also wondering if I should buy a set, or any of its expansions (I'll probably have to get someone living in the UK, US or Germany to get it for me). I mean, is there anyone else who is interested in playing this? I can't see any of my I-got-to-study-very-very-hard-got-not-time-for-kiddie-games medical school colleagues sitting through even one game with me.
Sigh and sigh.
Has way too many hobbies,
k0k s3n w4i