Funimation’s Blu-ray release of Afro Samurai reached #16 on the Nielsen VideoScan chart of bestselling Blu-ray discs for the week ending August 31st as reported in Home Media Retailing magazine.  Disney’s Blu-ray re-release of the Tim Burton-produced Nightmare Before Christmas topped the list followed by the Blu-ray edition of Heroes Season 2.  Afro Samurai was the only Blu-ray anime title in the top 25.


FUNimation has quickly become the anime industry leader in Blu-ray, having begun to re-release the Dragonball Z movies in the new high def format along with the Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles anime feature and Afro Samurai.  The stylish anime feature Vexille and the ninja live action feature Shinobi will also be out in Blu-ray in the near future. 


Not only does Blu-ray offer superb visual quality and sound, the format is much more difficult to copy and provides a level of overall quality that is not yet available (with rare exceptions) to download.  The downside of the Blu-ray format is its price, which, until it comes down, will probably limit purchases to a customer’s very favorite titles.  FUNimation’s MSRP for Afro Samurai in Blu-ray is $29.98, which is just $5 more than the Director’s Cut edition traditional DVD, while FUNimation’s Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles Blu-ray has exactly the same MSRP as the 2-disc Collector’s Edition.  Both of these examples indicate that FUNimation is attempting to keep the prices of its Blu-ray releases down—a strategy that the Hollywood studios are expected to employ in what is likely to be a major push to advance the high definition format during the upcoming holiday season.


FUNimation’s Blu-ray edition of Afro Samurai demonstrates the visual advantages of the format.  In comparison with the regular DVD edition of Afro Samurai the Blu-ray version provides much more detail and clarity in the darkly atmospheric cel animation style created by Gonzo for Afro Samurai—a visual style that is the animation equivalent of film noir with its healthy helpings of darkness illuminated by dramatic lighting.  The Blu-ray edition provides more detail with no loss in lighting effects or atmosphere.


The Blu-ray edition also includes three very effective extras.  The first, “The Making of Afro Samurai,” chronicles the cross-cultural influences behind the work, paying particular attention to the role of producer/voice actor Samuel L. Jackson, who talks about his love for samurai movies and his admiration for the warrior code of Bushido.  Also profiled in this segment is Takashi Okazaki, the creator of the Afro Samurai manga (published here by Tor).  Gonzo’s anime is very closely related to Okazaki’s manga in both narrative and visual style.  Interestingly the “kindred spirits” bond between Jackson and Okazaki really comes through in footage of their interaction during Jackson’s trip to Japan and video conferences in which they discussed the project.


The second extra feature spotlights the work of RZA, rapper and leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, who created the soundtrack for Afro Samurai.  RZA explains the way in which his soundtrack reflects the cultural and generational conflicts in Afro Samurai.  Equally fascinating is the final extra, a set of character profiles narrated by producer Eric Calderon, who examines the essential nature and background of all the major character in the Afro Samurai saga.