Sword and sorcery
|Created by||Genndy Tartakovsky|
|Written by||Genndy Tartakovsky
|Directed by||Genndy Tartakovsky
|Voices of||Phil LaMarr
|Theme music composer||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" in his singular quest to find a method of traveling back in time and defeating the tyrannical demonic wizard Aku. The series is known for its cinematic style and pacing, and many battle scenes are homages to samurai films.
Tartakovsky drew from a number of influences when creating the series, ranging from the 1970s series Kung Fu to the works of directors Akira Kurosawa and David Lean. The series premiered on August 10, 2001, with a TV movie called The Premiere Movie. As the series went on, ratings began to decline, and Cartoon Network decided not to renew it for another season. The series ended on September 25, 2004, totaling four seasons and 52 episodes.
Samurai Jack has since garnered high critical acclaim. It won 4 Primetime Emmy Awards, 6 Annie Awards, and 1 OIAF Award, as well as eight additional nominations. All four seasons have 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. The series is currently being continued in the form of Samurai Jack comics.
Samurai Jack tells the story of a young prince named Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr) from Feudal Japan, whose father's empire is destroyed by the shape shifting demon Aku (Mako Iwamatsu). As a child, the prince escapes destruction and travels the Earth training his mind and his body for years until he reaches adulthood, becoming a legendary samurai. After taking his father's magic katana, Jack challenges Aku to a duel and defeats him. However, before Jack 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.
Jack 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 vs. evil. Typically, each time Jack believes he has reached the end of his quest, something causes him to miss his chance.
In one attempt, Jack locates a stable portal to the past, but the guardian of the portal (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 future Earth 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. The distribution of technology is also very uneven with some areas having advanced megacities while others resemble ancient to industrial conditions such as ancient Greece, middle ages Europe or the Middle East, Victorian era England, 1920's Chicago and more. Aliens, bounty hunters, as well as robots are plentiful and always ready for a fight. The leader of this society is Aku.
While the setting is distinctly retro-futuristic and technological, instances of mythology and supernatural events do occur. Mythologies, like Valhalla, as well as 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 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, as well as 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, as well as 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, as well as 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 society—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, extended shots of Dodgers walking and providing the narration "Walking...Walking...Walking...", 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, as well as 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", as well as 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, as well as 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 a 2006 interview, Tartakovsky confirmed that "Jack will come back" and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film." In 2007, Fred Seibert of Frederator Studios called Jim Samples, then-general manager of Cartoon Network, and was granted the rights to a Samurai Jack movie, as long as Tartakovsky had creative control. 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. Pictures. 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. As of November 2014, there has been no new updates on the production of the film, but since October 2013, the continuation of Samurai Jack had been reprised as Samurai Jack comics
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- Issue 1: Samurai Jack - Released: October, 2013
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