Genndy Tartakovsky is a genius. While having a standout story is often the way creators make their projects unique, having something that immediately catches the eye is arguably more important. Samurai Jack is just that. It’s uncommon art style and aesthetics make the show different in a positive way. Of course, having an awesome story to back it up helps too. Luckily, Samurai Jack has that in spades.
I’ve mentioned before how important a show’s opening can be. Aside from a catchy tune, if there’s a creative way to deliver the status quo, this can go a long way to help viewers drop in and out randomly. Though the first three episodes masterfully tells the story of a nameless warrior, each episode begins with Mako Iwamatsu (often credited as Mako) delivering a fantastic exposition, explaining the premise. I usually look down on expositions, they’re often clumsy or lazy. With Mako (voicing series protagonist Aku) starting of with his captivating line “Long ago in a distant land… unleashed an unspeakable evil.” How can you not love that?
Here’s the synopsis, this nameless warrior (Phil Lamarr) was sent away by his parents to travel the world, mastering all manner of fighting styles. His intent was to return home, where Aku had decimated the land, and defeat the demon. Before he could deliver the coup de grâce, Aku threw him into the future where he ruled. The alien looking denizens took to calling him Jack, using it as a colloquialism. The warrior became known as Samurai Jack.
From there the show became a series of one off episodes with common themes, but each representing a unique idea in either philosophy or animation. Jack wanders the lands, looking for a way back to his own time. In his travels, he encounters all manner of friends and foes. Jack is typically seen wearing his kimono (robe), geta (shoes) and kasa (hat). Quickly, they’re torn to shreds as he battles whatever foe crosses his path.
One episode of the series, in my opinion the best, perfectly sums up the masterful craftsmanship. “Samurai vs Ninja,” the first episode of season 4. Aku sends a shinobi to to defeat the samurai. Clad in black from head to toe, the ninja uses the shadows to make himself invisible. Jack, a skilled combatant, converts his kimono to cover his body, wearing a garb similar to the ninja, but white. This allows Jack to vanish in the presence of light. The showdown took place in a spire, with support beams abound as the sunset. The light cast gave equal parts shadow and light. Depending on their location, only one was visible. The battle at dusk gave Jack less and less light to vanish. Absolutely brilliant and visually stunning.
Sadly, after 4 season and 52 episodes, the show was cancelled, with Jack never making it home to defeat Aku. After nearly 10 years, (season 4 aired in 2004), Samurai Jack has made a return in comic form. The book is essentially season 5, intending on finishing the story. The first issue released in October 2013, so accessibility at this point is easy.
Samurai Jack is an amazing show that existed on the strength of it’s own pedigree. This show is definitely worth watching for the story, if not the original animation style and techniques.
What was your favorite episode? How awesome was that ninja fight? Comment below!