Sword and sorcery
|Created by||Genndy Tartakovsky|
|Written by||Genndy Tartakovsky
|Directed by||Genndy Tartakovsky
|Voices of||Phil LaMarr
|Theme music composer||will.i.am & George Pajon, Jr.|
|Opening theme||"Samurai Jack"|
|Ending theme||"Samurai Jack"|
|Composer(s)||James L. Venable
Paul Dinletir (additional music)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||52 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Genndy Tartakovsky|
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Cartoon Network Studios|
|Original channel||Cartoon Network|
|Picture format||NTSC (480i)|
|Original run||August 10, 2001– September 25, 2004|
Samurai Jack is an American animated television series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network. The series follows time-displaced samurai warrior "Jack" (voiced by Phil LaMarr) in his singular quest to find a method of traveling back in time and defeating the tyrannical demonic wizard Aku (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu). Episode plots range from dark and epic to lighthearted and comic, but often contain little dialogue. Stories instead rely on the series' highly detailed, outline-free, masking-based animation, as well as its cinematic style and pacing. Many battle scenes in the series are reminiscent of samurai films, and since Jack's robot enemies bleed out oil or electricity and his monster and alien foes bleed out slime or goo, the action of these films can be exhibited while avoiding censorship for blood and violence.
Samurai Jack premiered on August 10, 2001, on Cartoon Network and has since garnered high critical acclaim. It won four Primetime Emmy Awards, six Annie Awards, an OIAF Award, and received eight additional nominations. Cultural influences on the series range from the 1970s TV series Kung Fu to the works of directors Akira Kurosawa and David Lean. The series ran for four seasons, totaling 52 episodes, and the series ended on September 25, 2004. All four seasons have since been released on DVD by Warner Home Video. Reruns had frequently been aired on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang, until the series moved to Adult Swim's Toonami block for reruns on February 1, 2014.
Samurai Jack tells the story of a young prince (Jack) from Feudal Japan whose father's empire is destroyed by the shape shifting demon Aku. As a child, the prince escapes destruction and travels the world training his mind and his body for years until he reaches adulthood, becoming a legendary samurai. After taking his father's magic katana, he challenges Aku to a duel and defeats the demon. However, before the prince can deal the killing blow, Aku creates a time portal and sends his opponent into the distant future, anticipating that he would be able to amass sufficient power to deal with the samurai later. He arrives in a dystopian, retro-futuristic Earth ruled by Aku and filled with his robot minions and a large number of alien immigrant races of various appearances. The first people he encounters in the future call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name (his true given name is never mentioned in the series).
Standard episodes follow Jack's search for a way to travel back to his own time, where he hopes to stop Aku before these events come to pass. The cartoon depicts Jack's quest to find a time portal, while constantly facing obstacles set by Aku in a classic battle of Good versus Evil. Typically each time Jack believes he has reached the end of his quest, something causes him to dramatically miss his chance. In one attempt Jack locates a stable portal to the past, but the guardian of the portal (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) defeats him after a long but noticeably mismatched battle. The guardian is about to crush Jack when the portal starts to flicker and glow, seemingly giving the guardian a message; the guardian has a giant pterodactyl take the unconscious Jack away. After Jack leaves, the guardian states that it is not yet time for him to return to the past, and an image of what is implied to be an older Jack is seen in the portal; indicating that Jack is predestined to succeed, but it will take years for him to do so.
Samurai Jack takes place in a world where science and technology have developed far beyond what is available in the present day, and in some ways resembles magic on its own. However, despite scientific advances, the future is decidedly dystopian—for example, in one episode the mafia profits greatly from the sale of simple water. Aliens, bounty hunters, and robots are plentiful, and always ready for a fight. The leader of this world is Aku.
While the setting is distinctly retro-futuristic and technological, instances of mythology and supernatural events do occur. Mythologies, like Valhalla, and even supernatural forces, such as demonic enemies, make regular appearances, yet do not seem to stand out amongst the technologically advanced inhabitants. Aku himself is supernatural, as is Jack's sword.
Stories take place in a variety of locations. Ranging from beautiful wilderness to futuristic or even dystopian cities, there is often a stark contrast made between the industrial world and the natural world.
Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is the son of the Feudal Japanese Emperor who ruled the area where Aku originally appeared on Earth, and is banished to the future by Aku during their first battle, where he is left in every episode to search for a way home. He was born on the day that his father defeated Aku and he seems to be the only mortal (aside from his father) to be a match to Aku.
As a boy, after his father was captured by Aku, Jack traveled around the world to prepare both physically and mentally for his confrontation with Aku. He studied under various scholars, such as Egyptian thinkers, and mastered each art of combat from the cultures he met, training with Zulu warriors, Viking sailors, Robin Hood, Mongolian warriors, Shaolin monks, Greek Olympic contestants, Russian Cossacks, and others.
Later, after being sent into the future, he is taught the ability to jump hundreds of feet into the air by a species of blue gorilla and a jungle man, thus allowing him to reach vast areas he previously could not reach while also giving the impression that he can fly. Jack's magic katana was forged by the gods Odin, Ra, and Vishnu through three mortal avatars. The sword was forged from the righteous energy within Jack's father; it is able to cut through all but the most magically-protected targets and strongest materials. On the other hand, it is unable to harm beings that are pure of heart, as seen in episode 4 of season 3, where Aku steals the sword and attempts to kill Jack with it, but fails even to cut him.
Jack strongly exhibits the characteristics of a stoic hero. He is unfailingly polite and humble despite the completely alien nature of the futuristic world and never scoffs at or disparages the customs of the people he encounters (as unpleasant as they seem to him at times). Despite his almost hopeless situation, he does not bewail his destiny, instead exhibiting a strong amor fati. Jack consistently shows an uncommon moral strength of character by helping the poor and defenseless along the way, in one instance even helping talking dogs that worked for Aku, in another, releasing the souls of a family in a haunted mansion. Occasionally, he faces great physical pain, or has to forget his own goals in order to help someone in need.
His real name has never been revealed (however, his way of replying his name when asked may be a homage to Violence Jack due to sharing a similar response as well as the name). In the second episode however, he began using the name Jack when three teenage aliens, after witnessing Jack survive a huge fall by jumping onto cars, referred to him as Jack while praising him when he landed — in this case, more of a generic term, i.e. "dude" or "guy." Later, when asked to identify himself, he replied "They call me Jack." He is also 25 years old (born "25 B.A.").
Aku (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu in the television series and Greg Baldwin in Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall) is Jack's nemesis. He is similar to Akuma, the evil demon with burning eyes from Japanese mythology. He is an extremely powerful demon wizard whose primary ability is shape-shifting, though he does possess other powers. He requires no food, water, or air and is capable of interstellar travel. He also has the ability to spy on Jack and others from a large sphere he can summon at will in his tower. A significant aspect of the series is that Aku is immortal, and Jack's samurai sword is the only weapon capable of harming and finally defeating him; even the slightest physical contact with the sword's blade causes Aku severe pain, and wounds inflicted by it burn his body and cut away his power. Because of this threat, Aku does not like to fight Jack himself, and only does so when Jack is incapacitated or without the sword. Aku much prefers to let his minions and bounty hunters do it for him. Aku is also vulnerable to varying degrees of other forms of magical or divine attacks such as the powers and artifacts of gods.
Aku constantly antagonizes Jack, often attacking him while he is weak, and other times defending himself from Jack's own gambits. The two seem doomed never to defeat each other, for though Jack has bested Aku on numerous occasions, Aku merely transforms into a small creature and escapes, usually calling out a taunt over his shoulder as he flees, a fact that he himself is aware of and even makes a reference to in one episode.
The episode "The Birth of Evil" reveals Aku's origin. Long ago in the vastness of space, a great formless evil appeared. Before the darkness could do harm to the universe, it was set upon by the kings of three religions: Odin, the Norse god and one-eyed king of Asgard, Ra, the sun god and king of the gods of Egypt, and the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Rama, the supreme being in Hindu mythology. So fierce was their attack on the shadow, that it was completely destroyed, save for a small fragment that was flung aside in the heat of battle. For ages, the fragment drifted through the cosmos and eventually fell to Earth, and caused the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs when it landed. The land around its impact site eventually formed into the islands of Japan, where the evil fragment slowly grew like a forest and spread like poison over the course of eons, creating an ever-expanding mass of black spikes and toxic tar that devoured and poisoned any who entered. Eventually, the forest grew so large that the Emperor of the land decided to kill the evil at its source. Armed with a magic oil given to him by Buddhist monks, the Lord and his cavalry rode into the heart of the forest, but the Lord himself was the only one to survive. Once at the black lake at the forest's center, the Samurai Lord doused an arrow into the oil he was given, lit it with a green flame, and shot it into the lake. Instead of destroying the evil, however, the magic arrow gave it both a will and consciousness, and the demon wizard Aku was born. Aku went on a rampage of destruction, burning and killing. He proved to be unstoppable, so with the help of the three gods, Jack's father forged a sword capable of harming him. With it, he was able to defeat Aku and turned the demon back into a black tree. This imprisonment was only temporary, as years later, a solar eclipse releases Aku upon the world once more.
While he is usually presented as a serious and threatening foe, Aku is also a source of comedy due to his outrageous design and sometimes wise-guy behavior, supported by Mako's over-the-top voice acting. Aku's shifts in personality between serious and chaotic suggest that his mind changes form just as his body does. In addition, Aku has a tendency to refer to himself in the third person.
When Jack arrives in the future, he finds that Aku has conquered the world and rules the populace with an iron fist. Jack finds that there are still warriors in this age, and occasionally meets both those fighting for and those siding against the side of good. The Samurai Jack universe is populated by a diverse cast of characters who often appear for single episodes with only two notable exceptions.
The Scotsman (voiced by John DiMaggio) is the name for a Scottish man who initially shares a rivalry with Jack, but later becomes one of the samurai's most trusted allies. He is one of only two characters to appear in four episodes - "Jack and the Scotsman", "Jack and the Scotsman II", and "The Scotsman saves Jack" (which consists of two consecutive episodes). In "Jack and the Scotsman", he first meets Jack and then makes fun of Jack by calling him various names and insults such as 'a sissy in a nightgown'. He even derides Jack's sword, calling it a butter knife, though Jack has impressed him by the end of the episode. In "Jack and the Scotsman II", the Scotsman enlists Jack to help him rescue his dainty, beautiful wife from a demon. The rescue is successful, but only because the Scotsman's wife turns out to be larger and more terrifying than the Scotsman himself, and stronger than Jack and the Scotsman combined. By time of the episode "The Scotsman Saves Jack", he has come to use the name 'Samurai Jack,' instead of 'friend' or 'stranger'. The Scotsman saves Jack when Jack loses his memory to the Sirens, as the Scotsman's preference for the bagpipes makes him the only one immune to them; he compares their singing to 'someone stepping on a lot o' cats'.
The Scotsman's notable features include his legs; one of them is normal, if disproportionately small, and the other is a fully functional machine gun, which he wields in combat along with explosives contained in his kilt. He also carries a shield on his back, and uses a 6-foot-long (1.8 m) Scottish Claymore sword inscribed with Celtic runes making it unbreakable even against Jack's blade. He also has superhuman strength and endurance, evidenced when he could pick up and throw an entire tank with relative ease, headbutt a robot until it exploded, and get bitten by a pair of alligators without so much as flinching. This seems to be a genetic trait, as the other members of his family are just as powerful, possessed of the same disproportionately small legs, and, by admission of the Scotsman himself, are even rowdier than he is. The Scotsman is heavily featured in the two-part episode "The Scotsman Saves Jack". He counters the Siren's song with his bagpipe playing, thus giving Jack back his memory and saving The Scotsman from being crushed.
The Scotsman serves as a convenient foil for Jack, as they are nearly perfectly matched in fighting and survival skills, but very different in personality, manners, and sense of honor. While Jack is humble and polite, The Scotsman tends to be rude and brags about his skills. Yet he happily calls Jack "The greatest warrior on the planet aside from me." Whereas Jack has mastered martial arts skills, The Scotsman seems to rely almost entirely on his freakish strength, brawling using his Claymore, machine-gun leg and various grenades in his kilt. The Scotsman is the only character, apart from Aku, to also appear in the Samurai Jack comics.
The Emperor (portrayed by Sab Shimono as an old man, and Keone Young as a young man) is the Emperor of the land, Jack's father, and the original wielder of Jack's sword. Like his son, the Emperor is brave, humble, and polite. Despite having a striking resemblance to his son, the Emperor has a bigger nose.
Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky as a follow-up to his successful series Dexter's Laboratory. He intended to develop a series "that is cinematic in scope and that incorporates action, humor and intricate artistry". Prior to Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky had complaints with action cartoons, which is why he decided to create his own series in the genre. He based his new project on the samurai character, one of his favorites, as well as the works of Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa and Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago director David Lean. Cartoon Network executive Mike Lazzo recalled Tartakovsky pitching him the series: "He said, 'Hey, remember David Carradine in Kung Fu? Wasn't that cool?' and I was like, 'Yeah, that's really cool.' That was literally the pitch."
The network announced the series' launch at a press conference on February 21, 2001. Weeks leading up to the series were accompanied by a sweepstakes giveaway sponsored by AOL in which the grand prize was a trip for four to Japan. The promotion also included sneak peeks of Samurai Jack, behind-the-scenes model sheets, and exclusive Cartoon Orbit cToons. Samurai Jack officially debuted on Cartoon Network on August 10, 2001, with the three-part special "The Beginning". The premiere received high praise, including four award nominations, and was released as a standalone VHS and DVD on March 19, 2002. Cartoon Network ordered 52 episodes of Samurai Jack, which were aired as 4 seasons of 13 episodes each, as a primetime member of the Cartoon Cartoon Fridays programming block. The final episode aired on September 25, 2004.
Samurai Jack frequently features appearances from deities of varying pantheons and creatures of legend. Tartakovsky was influenced by many different sources. The series overall was designed to look like a Japanese epic, with individual episodes taking on their own styles. Action in Samurai Jack borrows liberally from old martial arts and samurai films, and action films of the 1970s and Japanese anime. Like 1963's Toei Animation studio release entitled The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (originally Wanpaku Ōji no Orochi Taiji), it uses multiple angle and split screen shots to display action from multiple angles. The plot is frequently stopped to allow for the building of tension before combat or for the sake of humor; it is also not uncommon for episodes to be almost entirely free of dialogue. Regardless of the setting, the simple, minimalistic art style employed resembles ukiyo-e paintings.
Tartakovsky has also acknowledged taking some of his thematic inspiration from Frank Miller's comic book series Ronin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future in order to battle a shape-shifting Demon. Similarly, the episode "Jack and the Spartans" was specifically inspired by Miller's graphic novel 300 that retold the Battle of Thermopylae.
In the episode "Jack Remembers the Past", Tartakovsky included a cameo of a samurai with a young child in a baby carriage. This character has a strong resemblance to Ogami Itto of Lone Wolf and Cub.
In addition to occasionally borrowing from ancient sources as well as current ones, Samurai Jack has referenced Tartakovsky's previous work as well. When Jack first meets the canine archaeologists, one of the dogs is "Big Dog" from 2 Stupid Dogs, a show on which Tartakovsky worked in 1993.
In the episode "The Birth of Evil", Odin, Ra and Vishnu are shown to join forces to battle the dark power that would one day spawn Aku. In another episode, Jack shows he is familiar with the chronology of the Greek pantheon, such as the Olympian Zeus and the Titan Cronus.
The premise of the entire series—a solitary man from the Orient wandering in a foreign world—is adapted directly from the early 1970s television drama Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine as the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine. While their individual adventures do not correspond to each other, the ongoing dynamic of solitary wanderer learning, sometimes through pain and sometimes bemusedly, his new surroundings, while simultaneously teaching his own sense of ethics to those he meets, is consistent. At the conclusion of season 2 of Kung Fu, Kwai Chang meets a burly, somewhat crazy Scotsman who is transporting his wife in a gigantic casket. In this case, it turns out that the wife is a stone statue.
The series also shows strong influences from the work of Hayao Miyazaki. In the episode "Jack and the creature" Jack meets a companion that appears to be inspired by Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. Also In the episode "Jack and the Labyrinth" Jack encounters a character that bears the resemblance of Jigen, with the personality of Lupin from the manga series Lupin III, which Miyazaki made a film adaptation of called, The Castle of Cagliostro.
Awards and nominations
The distinctive style of Samurai Jack is what drew Lucasfilm to recruit Tartakovsky for the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. Much of the signature cinematic style of Samurai Jack is present in Clone Wars, such as lightning-fast combat, extended sequences without dialogue, explosions, epic vistas, etc.
Samurai Jack also remains a popular subject with Cartoon Network animators and continues to show up in programs being broadcast today. The following are examples:
- The Duck Dodgers episode "Samurai Quack" was dedicated to spoofing the various stylistic elements and plot devices of Samurai Jack, such as only ever killing robots and the progressive ripping of clothes leading up to the final battle of the episode. Tartakovsky himself also made a cameo in that episode. A parody of Aku is played by Dodgers's Happy Cat alarm clock voiced by Mako Iwamatsu.
- In Dexter's Laboratory (another cartoon created by Tartakovsky), boy-genius Dexter frequently says "Samurai Jaction" rather than "action", e.g., "Aww, no more Samurai Jaction for you!". Also in post-2001 episodes, a Samurai Jack action figure is sometimes visible on the shelf in Dexter's bedroom and is watching a TV show resembling Samurai Jack.
Home video releases
Like other previous Cartoon Network shows, Samurai Jack DVDs were released by Warner Home Video between 2003 and 2007. The DVDs include episode numbers in Roman numerals as they appear at the end of each episode but remain untitled. Season 1 was released on Netflix streaming service in 2013.
|Region 1||Region 4|
|The Premiere Movie||4||March 19, 2002||October 10, 2007||Available on DVD and VHS, this release contains the first 3 episodes of season 1 ("The Beginning" (I–III)) as well as the episode "Jack and the Scotsman" (XI) in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.|
|Season 1||13||May 4, 2004||November 7, 2007||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 1. It also includes a "making-of" documentary, an original animation test, original artwork, and commentary on one episode.|
|Season 2||13||May 24, 2005||March 4, 2009||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 2. It also includes commentary on "Jack and the Spartans" (XXV), "Creator Scrapbook", and an original episode pitch.|
|Season 3||13||May 23, 2006||September 9, 2009||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 3. It also includes commentary on "The Birth of Evil" (XXXVII/XXXVIII), "Lost Artwork", and a featurette called "Martial Arts of the Samurai".|
|Season 4||13||August 28, 2007||October 3, 2012||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 4. It also includes "Genndy's Roundtable", "Genndy's New Project", deleted scenes, and Samurai Jack promos.|
The Samurai Jack world has been seen in the video games Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku for the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2004.
Several elements of the Samurai Jack concept was reused in several video games: The MMORPG Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall features Jack, the Scotsman and Demongo are non-playable characters and Aku is a Nano. The online game Project Exonaut features Jack only as a playable character for the Banzai Squadron. The brawler game Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 features Jack and the Scotsman as playable characters while Aku is an assist character, a boss and a playable character.
Samurai Jack is voiced by Phil LaMarr once more for most games and by Keith Ferguson for Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion. In Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall, the Scotsman is voiced by John DiMaggio and Demongo is voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Due to Mako Iwamatsu's passing in 2006, Aku gets voiced by Greg Baldwin in Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall and Fred Tatasciore in Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion.
In February 2013, IDW Publishing announced a partnership with Cartoon Network to produce comics based on its properties. Samurai Jack was one of the titles announced to be published. It was further announced at WonderCon 2013 that the first issue of Samurai Jack will debut in October 2013. The first comic in the series was released October 23, 2013.
There had been plans for Samurai Jack: The 3D Movie in 2002, but this project was cancelled after the lackluster performance of The Powerpuff Girls Movie. In an interview, Tartakovsky confirmed that "Jack will come back" and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film." In 2007, the then newly formed production company Frederator Films announced in Variety that one of their first projects will be a feature film adaptation of Samurai Jack, written and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. As of September 2009, the film was said to be in the writing stage of pre-production, co-produced by Cartoon Network Movies and J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions alongside Fred Seibert of Frederator Films and distributed by Warner Bros.. The movie is still being planned.
In September 2012, Genndy Tartakovsky announced in an interview with IGN that a Samurai Jack movie is in pre-production. He said: "I've been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There's something about it that's connected with people. And I want it, it's number 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the President (of Digital Production at Sony Pictures Entertainment), is like 'Hey, let's talk about Jack. Let's see what we can do.' And I go, 'You're going to do a 2D feature animated movie?' and he's like, 'Yeah. Maybe. Let's do some research and let's see.' So it's not dead for sure by any means, and it's still on the top of my list, and I'm trying as hard as I can." It is going to be the conclusion for the series. The film, which is budgeted at $20 million, will combine traditional 2D animation with stereoscopic 3D. Tartakovsky said the loss of Mako Iwamatsu (Aku's voice actor) would also need to be addressed.
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- Official website (archive)
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