Why It’s a Big Deal That Samurai Jack is Coming Back
Geeks the world over were sent into a collective frenzy recently over the announcement that Samurai Jack would be returning for another season in 2016, with Genndy Tartakovsky at the helm. If that sentence didn’t send you reeling on a wave of sheer exhilaration, then sit down, because we need to talk. This is news of overwhelming awesomeness, and I wouldn’t be able to sit still if I didn’t get a chance to gush over it, so buckle up, because here we go.
The original run of the series debuted on Cartoon Network back in 2001, and for me and many others of my generation, it was one the defining shows from our childhood. But while shows like Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon kind of got stale and started to seem a bit silly as we got more mature, Samurai Jack not only holds up, but is arguably even more impressive when watched as an adult. As stated above, Samurai Jack was the brainchild of Genndy Tartakovsky, a prolific animator whose other works include Dexter’s Laboratory and the phenomenal Star Wars: Clone Wars, which was so good that it makes it OK that Attack of the Clones is thing that existed. Jack itself follows a nameless samurai who fights against the despotic demon Aku. After being flung into the future, he assumes the name “Jack” as he searches for a way to return home.
Certainly, the show has a pretty simple concept at its core, but such a basic description does not do the show justice. Jack’s odyssey through Aku’s dystopian future takes him to a variety of exotic locales, fighting a wide range of colorful opponents. And what fights they are! Each of the shows many battle scenes is masterfully choreographed, providing a cinematic experience with every episode. And because Jack typically faces off against robots and monsters, the fights have visceral action that normally wouldn’t make it past the censor on a cartoon as Jack bisects and decapitates opponents on a regular basis.
But even though the show has some truly outstanding fighting and action scenes, there is far more to it than just this. One of the things that makes Samurai Jack so memorable is the variety it displays as it blends genres. One episode might feature a fight on the back of a moving train straight out of a Western, while the next could have battle in space on the back of a rocket. The show is full to bursting with references to old samurai movies, and drew inspiration from 300 by having Jack battle alongside Spartan warriors 4 years before the movie version made it cool. The variety also extends to the show’s plot structure, as any given episode might center around a duel with an elite opponent, a showdown with an entire army, or an elaborate chase scene. The show isn’t all action all the time though, as there are also a number of humorous beats thrown in (the episode where Aku tells children fairy tales being great example) while others feature a more emotional, homespun tale, such as the one where Jack comes across the ruins of his old kingdom. All told, the show show a remarkable depth and range, exhibiting something for just about everyone.
And hell, I haven’t even mentioned the visuals or the presentation yet. Simply put, Samurai Jack is hand-drawn animation at its finest. The character designs are all simple, yet iconic, and every frame flows fluidly from one to the next. Perhaps the most striking thing about the show is the cinematic quality it possesses, a result of both fine pencil work a strong vision. Every episode looks good, and some episodes in particular are artistic statements. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the episode Samurai vs Ninja, in which Jack duels against a ninja assassin who strikes from the shadows. Jack counters this by blending in with the light, resulting in masterful sequence in which the two combatants slip in and out of focus moving between their two elements. Words don’t do it justice, so let’s just take a look.
So suffice to say, Samurai Jack was an outstanding TV show, and that’s already a pretty good reason to be excited that it’s going to make a comeback. But it goes beyond even that. For you see, as great as Samurai Jack was, and as much as it is a wonderful memory for a lot of us, it’s also part of a tragic tale of a show that died before its time. When the show ended in its fourth season, Jack had still not defeated Aku, and Jack’s quest never ended. And while that would suck for just about any show, but Jack specifically was a show that needed an ending. Samurai Jack was not a series of disjointed adventures, but rather a narrative driven by a singular goal, a goal that was never achieved. And as great as the show was, that omission cheapened it as a whole, robbing it of the closure it deserved. Imagine how awful it would have been if Avatar: The Last Airbender had ended before Aang had defeated the Fire Lord. That’s the reality that Samurai Jack has to live with.
But now there’s a chance to fix it. This new season is more than a revival of a great show; it’s the chance to correct a tragic omission. When we compiled our shortlist of the best animated shows ever made, Samurai Jack was right near the top, but I couldn’t make it my pick because it was missing its epic conclusion. Maybe soon, we’ll have to revisit that question if this new season delivers on its potential. Could it be that now show could live up to over a decade of build up, especially with people like me hyping it up? Perhaps. But no matter what happens, we can all be sure that Tartakovsky and company have great things in store for us, and it will be something to see. The only time Samurai Jack ever disappointed me was when it was taken away from us, and I could not be more excited to welcome an old friend.
See you in 2016!