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Podcast Episode 111: The Voice Behind ‘Samurai Jack’

Jack’s back and so is voice actor Phil LaMarr

A hint of the cinematic quality to be found in

Credit: Adult Swim

Above: A hint of the cinematic quality to be found in "Samurai Jack," which returns for a fifth and final season on March 11 on Adult Swim.

Episode 111: The Voice Behind Samurai Jack

After a 13-year hiatus Genndy Tartakovsky's 'Samurai Jack' finally returns and so to does voice actor Phil LaMarr. I speak with LaMarr about what makes 'Samurai Jack' the best cartoon on TV; and I share my geeky fandom for the show with Mike Salva, an animator living in Nashville..

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The wait is finally over. After 13 years "Samurai Jack" is back for his fifth and final season and I speak with Phil LaMarr, the voice actor who has brought Jack to life since his debut in 2001.

"Samurai Jack" debuted on Cartoon Network in 2001 with a three-episode pilot movie. Audiences met their hero as a young boy whose father teaches him about a shape-shifting demon named Aku. Fate throws Jack and Aku together and the Master of Darkness flings the samurai into the future and out of his way so he can execute his evil plans. So Jack spent four seasons trying to get back to the past to rid the world of Aku before the demon had a chance to spread his evil.

Genndy Tartakovsky (the man behind "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars") created "Samurai Jack" as a artful, action-packed cartoon for kids. But the show challenged conventions from the very start. It opted for stylish, angular 2D animation and wasn't afraid to let almost an entire episode go without dialogue. It combined scenes of breathtaking action that evoked Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone as well as moments of stillness and calm. Superficially it looked like a kids cartoon but it employed sophisticated artistry and clever storytelling.

LaMarr auditioned for the role of Jack and was told the character was a kind of Asian Clint Eastwood. That should have been a hint that the character he would be playing might not have a lot to say. But LaMarr said that he doesn't pick his roles by the number of words his characters speak. LaMarr endows Jack with heroic stature and a stoic sense of purpose that gives him his strength.

For the podcast, I speak with LaMarr about returning to the role after more than a decade and about what makes "Samurai Jack" a unique work of art. I also speak with a fan of the show, Mike Salva, who is an animator in Nashville and has been eagerly awaiting the show's return on March 11 on Adult Swim. Salva has a new microseries coming called "Working for Copper Jim."

Check out my review of the new season.

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