The Genius of Samurai Jack

Few animated shows have captivated me as much as Samurai Jack has. The delightful combination I’ve had these last few weeks of watching the old Cartoon Network series as the new fifth season unfurls on Adult Swim has brought me both to tears of wonder, and mouth-agape moments of awe.

Samurai Jack is about… Well, let me quote the main Villain of the series, Aku, “Long ago in a distant land, I AKU, the Shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an UNSPEAKABLE EVIL! But, a foooolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the evil that is AKU!” (cue theme music)

jack portal gag

Yes, I did do that from memory. As you will be able to as well by the time you get to the third season.

Also Aku is one of the greatest, most threatening and purely evil villains in cartoon history, while at the same time being one of the most hysterical. I love Aku, and so will you.

samurai aku laugh

As anyone who’s ever watched a couple episodes of Samurai Jack will tell you, it’s about showing, not telling. There is usually very little dialogue in each episode, especially from Jack, so the creator Genndy Tartakovsky shows as much information as he can through facial animation, body language, and cinematography at a slow, realistic pace that is incredibly immersive. The humor works in the same way, and I found myself laughing pretty hard at a lot of the subtle humor the show has. Genndy does a great job mixing action with comedy.

jack insult

Yes, despite being a 2-D and at the time, hand drawn cartoon, Samurai Jack is very cinematic. It reminds me of a Tarantino movie sometimes. The camera will pan over a shot to describe the situation Jack is in, the aspect ration will change to highlight an object, face, or action, and split shots are also used for comedy and to highlight action. The fact that the background art and environment designs are always gorgeous helps this more cinematic feel.

jack environment

And, the action! I’ve never been more thrilled to watch the protagonist fight than in Samurai Jack. I mean, you expect him to, but the way that Tartakovsky choreographs and animates the fight scenes is so interesting, engaging, and unique. Jack often has to or is able to fight in different ways to accommodate his varied enemies while still only using his basic tools, his clothes (which is often little or none by the end of some episodes) his brain, and his sword.

jack and ninja fighting

Which also brings me to the setting. Not only did the futuristic setting allow for robots to be used as the main fodder against Jack’s sword, allowing for the younger audience when it first aired, but also to literally create whatever they want. It’s a couple thousand years into the future, so theoretically anything is possible. Jack meets new species, new cultures, and even some old ones that have lasted through time. This setting allowed for great creative freedom, and the definable used it to their advantage. Most of the episodes look pretty different from each other in terms of setting and creatures/characters because Jack is constantly traveling this beautiful yet hostile world.

I don’t want to talk about the new season too much, just know that it’s a lot darker and more mature than the original series and so far it’s just fantastic.

Although it’s not necessary for enjoyment of the newest season on Adult Swim, I would recommend watching through the original series first if you haven’t gotten into Samurai Jack yet. That’ll leave you some time for the new episodes to build up. The last season is only ten episodes and the fifth will air this Saturday, so we’re halfway through.

If you even slightly enjoy animation, action, or even just cool stories, the Samurai Jack universe will keep you wanting more. I’m sure I will once the series ends.

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