Photo Courtesy: Nintendo South Africa
Today we take yet another trip, not so far back this time. Back in the early 2000s, when Samurai Jack hit the TV scenes with a storm. I was by then a fan of action-adventure animated series, but Samurai Jack just took it to another level. The production of this TV series was unique at the time. It stood out from the rest of the Animated series that we were used to at the time.
I remember watching Samurai Jack the whole weekend with my friends. We would alternate between playing PS3 video games and catching up with an episode of Samurai Jack. Surprisingly, am still crazy about this show over 20 years down the line. I was watching it on YouTube recently, and it still gives me the chills.
Apparently, since fans could not live without it, Samurai Jack returned after its cancellation in 2004. For a long time, rumors evolved around how Jack, who had the magic sold would come back to undo the future “Aku”, a malicious sorcerer. The show had an instant impact during its first four seasons of the early 2000s because it stood out from the rest of the shows on TV at the time.
During this time (the early 2000s), most of the shows on TV were filled with battle scenes and amusing characters, but none like Jack did to catch a zeitgeist. Samurai Jack has been one of the best-animated TV shows from its premier in 2001, to its re-run in 2004 until its conclusion in 2017.
But why were people crazy about Samurai Jack for all those years?
Simple, it had unique artistry, design and unique storyline. Every episode in the series would exhibit a high level of skills, harmony, balance, Hierarchy, Proportion, contrast and Emphasis. I was one of the mad fans of the show because of the captivating storylines. The combination of swordplay and martial arts made very episode to stand out. It really was a rare kind of animation from the usual Scooby-Doo that we were used to at the time.
Background History of Samurai Jack
Samurai Jack is an American TV series for the Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. It is an action-adventure animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky. Following the completion of his work on his first original Cartoon Network Series: Dexter’s Lab which premiered in 1996, Tartakovsky conceived Samurai Jack.
He got the inspiration for Samurai Jack from his obsession with samurai culture. He had a love for KungFu TV dramas. In this show, the lead character called Jack is portrayed as an unnamed Japanese samurai who wears a magical katana that can almost cut through everything and he is required to use it to defeat Aku, the biggest evil.
At first, Aku sent samurai to a dystopian future governed by the tyrannical form-changing demon. With just his gi, geta and the blade, Jack was taken to the future, looking for the way back to his time, and defeating Aku was his mission before Aku takes over the world. Jack’s quest for a way back to his own time transcends Aku’s influence, but Jack’s efforts are largely in vain because of his return home.
Samurai Jack was originally premiered on 10th August 2001 and continued to air until the conclusion of the main story for four seasons consisting of 13 episodes each. It resumed on March 11th 2017 on Adult Swim’s Toonami Program Block and finished with its final, episode of the series final, on May 20, 2017. It was relived twelve years, for the darker, mature fifth season which provides the conclusion of Jack’s story. Episodes, sometimes in cooperation with others, were directed by Tartakovsky.
Samurai Jack scooped great awards including an Outstanding Animated Program, and also won eight Primetime Emmy Awards, and six Annie Awards, and an OIAF Award.
Samurai Jack Storyline
On his return, the prince-turned-samurai met and nearly defeated Aku. But before he had the chance to make an end of his journey, Aku constructed a time portal that would allow him to face the samurai in the distant future.
In bleak retro-futuristic earth ruled by Aku, the Samurai prince arrives. He is called “Jack” as a type of slang that he adopts as his name. His name is never mentioned in the proceeding episodes. In usual cases, Jack has only his own gi, geta and the sword, but sometimes he would be seen in body armour.
In most of the episodes, Jack is depicted as overcoming numerous obstacles in his quest for tours of his own time and overcoming Aku, and his search is sometimes prolonged to a time when he almost gets home.
Samurai Jack Plot
A variety of people, like robots and foreigners, speaking animals, monsters, magic beings, deities, and even Scotsman with a delighted sword, live in the retro-futuristic world. Some areas would have advanced techs like cars flying, while some would resemble the ancient times or industrial era.
Moreover, Aku brought aliens to Earth from other planets, while destroying the alien planets. Criminals and fugitives of all sorts and forms on Aku’s Earth are also a common scenario in the episodes. Mythological and supernatural creatures regularly occur and coexist with the people with their advanced technology.
Nevertheless, the planet has hardly become urbanized, and in uninhabited regions of the world, such as forest, jungles and mountains, in several episodes have occurred and have been remaining largely untouched, even as Aku began his conquest and reins.
List of Samurai Jack’s Seasons & Episodes.
The entire series was made up of five seasons and 62 episodes:
- Season 1 has 13 episodes (August 2001 – Dec 2001) – Cartoon Network.
- Season 2 has 13 episodes (March 2002 – Oct 2002) – Cartoon Network.
- Season 3 has 13 episodes (Oct 2002 – Aug 2003) – Cartoon Network.
- Season 4 has 13 episodes (June 2003 – Sept 2004) – Cartoon Network.
- Season 5 has 13 episodes (March 2017 – May 2017) – Adult Swim
Cartoon network managing editor Miko Lazoo pitched Tartakovsky by reminding him of David Carradine at Kung Fu. Cartoon network also played a huge role in its development at the early stages before it was picked by Adult swim for development of season 5.
Another thing that made Samurai Jack stand out was the passion of Tatakovsky for Samurai culture. It was a genuine display of his inner love for the culture. And thus, it came out clearly since he had himself done thorough research on this since his childhood. He also confessed to having dreams where he could wander in the post-apocalyptic world with a samurai sword and would travel the world fighting mutants.
Samurai Jack was designed to depict the 70s cinematography, and at the same time depict Hollywood films like Ben-Hur and Spartacus. The Thematic and visual effects were lifted from Fran Miller’s comic book series called Ronin which include the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future to fight the demons with changing shapes.
Episodes like “Jack and the Spartans” were inspired by Miller’s popular novel called “300” which narrated the Battle of Thermopylae. The Lone wolf club and Akira Kurosawa were also some of the inspiration that led to the development of the Samurai Jack character and storyline.
The Cancellation and revival of Samurai Jack TV Movie.
Sony pictures Ent. Was involved in producing a 2012 version of the Samurai jack movie. The movie was co-produced with J. J. Abram’s Bad Robot productions. In an interview with IGN, Genndy Tartakovsky said that Samurai Jack’s film was in pre-production.
The first episode of Samurai Jack’s fifth season was broadcast in Adult Swim on March 11th, 2011, about twelve years from the conclusion of the fourth season. The 5th and final seasons produced at Cartoon Network Studios and William Street feature more developed elements and the coherent plot to conclude Jack’s journey. The story’s development takes place fifty years after Jack was thrown into the future.
Despaired by the years of fighting Aku and by the destruction by Aku of the other time portals, Jack, not aged as part of a time-travelling, is plagued by a tangled image of himself, his family and an enigmatic, lethal horse-riding warrior. In the first four-season, Make, who voiced Aku died ten years Prior to the revival of the series.
Samurai Jack TV Series Characters
Jack “Samurai Jack”
He was also referred to as The Samurai. Jack’s nickname is derived from a Japanese warrior. His birth name is not known. Phil LaMarr voiced Jack in the series. Since he was young, Jack learned a number of skills to conquer Aku. But Aku’s dark magic threw Jack many years into the future, where the ruled the entire world without opposition. Jack made his duty to return to his time and to avoid dystopia of Aku.
During his journeys, Jack became an infamous freedom fighter who defended and assisted various cultures and innocent persons terrorized by Aku and other hostile enemies. He was the most wanted man in the world because his numerous revolts against Aku and being the only one willing to destroy him (because of his divinely made sword). Jack eventually returned to the past after more than 50 years, beating Aku, and building a better future.
In an age which resembled greatly the Japanese Edo Period, but which was more closely related to Nara and Heian culture, Jack was born a prince in his father’s house. His story started when Jack’s father was born just after Aku had been locked away. About 8 years later, when Jack was 8 years old, the seal was broken and Aku was released with the aid of a solar eclipse.
Jack’s mother hid and sent Jack to the world, as his parents intended, should Aku ever escape his jail. His mother took jack from his homeland to a Japanese ship whose captain took him. During the ride, he learnt astronomy and how to navigate the stars. Jack is brought to Arabia by the ship and taught by a sheikh to ride horses. He is transported from there to Africa where he stays with bushmen tribe where he learnt fighting from his fellow workers.
When he got the skills, he went to Egypt to learn from the best scholars. Jack then goes to Greece where he studies the art of wrestling. He learns how to use a bow and arrow, then he meets Robin Hood (who helped him to sharpen his senses). He then visited a longboat Viking, where he served as a crew member. He learnt axe-throwing in Russia and later went to Mongolia where he was given a horse-drawn fighting education. His final training brought him to the temple of Shaolin, where he learned their martial arts and discipline.
Demongo was one of the greatest minions of Aku also called the Soul collector. He was an essence collector. He was the one who was sent after Jack when Aku failed on several occasions to kill him.
He is even more cowardly than his master, Aku. But they are both equally evil. He doesn’t fight his fights, but he summons for him the essence of strong warriors. Demong is obsessed with gathering the necessities of mighty warriors and animals to increase his own strength. He had some great talent, however as he most likely had to overthrow at least one strong warrior in order to start his set.
Samurai Jack sees him as yet another possible addition to his set. He will conceal his ambitions to succeed or even overthrow Aku, as he implies that Jack is too great to destroy his master but not for him. His voice is very strong and every time he says “master” he says it just like “mastaa” and almost a whisper at the end.
Imakandi first appeared in episode 22 called “Jack and the Hunters”. The Imakandi are a race of bipedal aliens, who are apparently living on a planet far from the earth in a savanna-like climate. They have an unfailing ability to chase different types of prey and to actively pursue major challenges to test their hunting abilities. They prove that they have a strict honor code, and they don’t kill a proud person who has been willing to search for them. They don’t seem to care about property or material wealth and cannot be bought.
When Aku came to give them the chance to hunt Samurai Jack, for instance, the Imakandi neglected his unlimited wealth offer and agrees only because Aku believes that Jack offers them the highest bid ever encountered.
The Elementals were spirits of three women who watch over a special crystal called the Jewel of Neptune that would grant anyone who possessed it the ability to regulate the Earth’s water. They appeared in Episode 12 called Jack and the Gangsters.
Tengu was a Japanese jet repairman who made Samurai jack a new pair of geta sandals after they ruined the original one. He only appears in Episode 26: Jack’s Sandals (Clyde Kusatsu voiced Tengu).
The Hindu god, Vishnu, was an incarnation of Rama. In episode 37: The Birth of Evil, Part 1, is where he first appeared. Him along with Odin and Ra, are the founders who forged an Emperor’s magic of Katana and then of Aku’s defeat.
Ra is a mighty god in Egyptian mythology who made his debut in episode 31: Jack in Egypt. He is one of the creators, along with Odin and Rama, who forged Magic Katana to destroy Aku.
The tiny adversary in Samurai Jack is the Shinobi, who is also referred to as The Ninja or Warrior of the Night. He is a mute, shadow-stricken robotic ninja and one of the many footsoldiers that Aku sent to destroy Jack.
The animation style and form of Samurai Jack was unique and never seen before at the time it premiered. This made Samurai Jack the most popular animated TV series at the time of its launch back in the early 2000s.
What is your recollection of Samurai Jack? Did you get a chance to watch it back in the 2000s?