Finally! ‘Samurai Jack’ Returns
After a 13-year hiatus Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated hero is back
Friday, March 10, 2017
Credit: Adult Swim
When “Samurai Jack” went off the air in 2004, it left fans hanging in regards to the fate of their time traveling hero. But Jack is back this Saturday, March 11, to launch a long-awaited season five on Adult Swim.
"Seven Samurai" (1954)
"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (1966)
"Samurai Jack" (2001-2004)
"Star Wars: Clone Wars" (2003)
When “Samurai Jack” went off the air in 2004, it left fans hanging in regards to the fate of their time-traveling hero. But Jack is back this Saturday, March 11, to launch a long-awaited season five on Adult Swim.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Samurai Jack” premiered in 2001 on Cartoon Network. The series followed Jack, a samurai flung into the future by an evil demon and on a quest to travel back in time to defeat his nemesis, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, Aku.
The show had a bold visual style that reveled in both intoxicating action and meditative moments of stillness. There could be whole episodes with barely a word spoken and it was riveting. It had a deceptive simplicity because the animation was very two-dimensional and angular. But there was so much craft and care put into the composition of every frame and so much creative innovation. Tartakovsky kept the frame in constant dynamic play, so the animation might fill the whole frame then shift to a letterboxed frame for a Sergio Leone-style landscape or split in three like comic book panels to emphasize the details of some action. You never knew what he was going to do and every episode seemed to deliver brand new characters for a standalone adventure.
I got introduced to the show at Comic-Con and picked up a cool poster for my young son. We both liked Asian action films so we gave it a try, and we were hooked instantly. It was a kid’s cartoon that challenged every convention to deliver a show that was cinematic and could appeal to anyone.
The show lasted for four seasons and went off the air in September 2004. A sad day for fans. Tartakovsky had previously done “Dexter’s Laboratory” and worked on “The Powerpuff Girls.” And while on the tail end of doing “Samurai Jack,” he created the brilliant “Star Wars: Clone Wars” as short interstitials (now called a microseries) between programming on Cartoon Network. It was the best thing in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy and still is. More than any of the movies, it showed how kick ass Jedi could be. Each episode, done in a manga/Japanese anime style, was less than five minutes long, but it would be packed with wall-to-wall action and clever storytelling.
When Cartoon Network came out with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” in 2008, it added “The” to the title and switched from the 2D, artful style of Tartakovsky’s microseries and opted instead for a state of the art, 3-D, computer-generated look that has become popular. Although I have friends who rave about the writing on that show, I cannot watch it without longing for Tartokovsky’s take on Star Wars.
Tartokovsky has moved on to feature films with “Hotel Transylvania,” but he always seemed to long for returning to “Samurai Jack” to finish the story he started. That is why fans have been so eager and hopeful about Jack’s return.
Phil LaMarr has come back to again voice Jack. The story picks up 50 years later but Jack has not aged nor has he achieved his quest to get back to the past to destroy Aku.
“My job, I thought, was to connect this new circumstance to that old hero, to make sure that Jack still was Jack,” LaMarr said.
The new series serves up 10 episodes telling one story so it is a more complex narrative structure than before. It is also darker, which is why when it returns on March 11, it will be on Adult Swim rather than Cartoon Network, and fans will finally find out if Jack will get back to the past or not.
Check out the trailer for Season Five.
Here are Tartokovsky’s recommendations for episodes to watch before the new series begins. I suggest if you have never seen “Samurai Jack” that you seek out at least the three-episode pilot movie.
You can also listen to Cinema Junkie Podcast Episode 111 with Phil LaMarr .
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