The 9th anniversary of Samurai Jack‘s premiere is today, August 11th, and we’re celebrating one of the best animated shows ever in one huge-mega-super awesome post!
Come walk down memory lane with me as we remember the ingenuity and excitement of Jack’s quest to return to the past and destroy Aku. We’ve got a quick recap of the show, favorite video moments, and kicking off our celebration wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to Mako. And if you haven’t watched the show, now is a perfect time to get acquainted!
What is Samurai Jack?
Samurai Jack is a television series that aired on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2004. The story begins when a young samurai avenges his homeland by confronting the shape-shifting demon Aku. The samurai nearly defeats Aku, but before he can deliver the final blow, Aku uses his magic to send the samurai to the far future. The samurai wakes up in a world not only centuries after his own, but also dominated by Aku. Dubbed “Jack,” the samurai begins his quest to find a time portal to the past and destroy Aku once and for all.
Samurai Jack is one of those truly unique shows that is unlike any series that came before or after it. Jack is a selfless, heroic and sometimes too trusting warrior displaced in time, wandering an ugly, technological world where betrayal and mistrust run rampant. The power of director Genndy Tartakovsky’s storytelling ranged from the sadness of Jack finding his dilapidated home, to the extraordinary silliness of Jack turning into a chicken. Sometimes the show would go on for five minutes without any dialogue, the no-line animation and backgrounds are stunning, and Phil LaMarr and Mako give phenomenal performances as Samurai Jack and Aku respectively.
Samurai Jack has been nominated six times for Emmy Awards, and won four for episodes XLIX (Four Seasons of Jack), XXXVII-XXXVIII (The Birth of Aku), XXXII (Jack and the Time Portal), and XXV (Jack and the Spartans).
Favorite Jack Moments
Here are some great moments from Samurai Jack that I found on YouTube, to give you a taste of this incredible show. Notice the no-line art, the use of silence, and the excellent performances by Phil LaMarr and Mako.
From Jack vs The Ninja, episode XLI. Jack must battle a ninja in an incredible duel of warriors of dark and light, in one of the greatest artistic scenes of the show.
One of my all-time favorite episodes is Jack and the Monks, when Jack finds the temple of the Shaolin monks. Take a look at this behind-the-scenes clip afterward, to see how the animators drew from martial arts masters to make sure that the fighting sequences are authentic.
A neat montage of Jack‘s funnier moments! Since Jack was filled with enough serious themes and samurai-slicing, the writers wisely included several lighter episodes, from amusing to all-out ridiculous. The first clip is one of my absolute favorites, when Aku orders a pizza :)
Regrettably I couldn’t find every great moment from Jack — and there’d be too many to fit on here! Other phenomenal episodes include Jack and the Minions of Set, Jack and the Imakandi, Jack and the 3 Blind Archers, Jack and the Spartans (a pre-300 look at the same myth), Jack vs the Clenches, and so many others. All four seasons are available on Amazon, Netflix, and wherever else movies are sold. Go get them all!
Mako: A Tribute
Samurai Jack‘s anniversary could not be complete without remembering Mako, an extraordinary actor and the voice of Aku. Mako Iwamatsu was born in Kobe, Japan in 1933. He followed his parents to America as a young man, and served in the military during the 1950’s, after World War II. Mako passed away four years ago to esophageal cancer. Needless to say he is greatly missed by the entire community and all fans of his work.
Mako was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Sand Pebbles, a 1966 film, and also made appearances in Pearl Harbor, M*A*S*H, The Green Hornet, and the starring role in Cages. He is also well-known for his voicework; along with Aku, you may also remember his role as Uncle Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Samurai Jack: A new level of animation
One of my favorite things about Samurai Jack is the stunning backgrounds and artistry–no wonder Jack won multiple Emmys, honoring Outstanding Achievement in Animation for four different episodes. The detail, effort and love that went into Jack is apparent, and it pains me to see some of the truly awful shows on Cartoon Network nowadays that are simply sloppy.
Another thing that made Jack so unique was its silence. Sometimes the show would go for five minutes without speaking; the art was so beautiful it did the talking for itself.
Here are some of my favorite backgrounds, thanks to PUMML:
Ever since the last episode aired, fans have been waiting for the conclusion to Samurai Jack. Alas, director Tartakovsky was mixed up in different projects, Mako passed away, and a live-action show has never come to fruition.
However, our wait may soon be over! There is news that a “trio of toon veterans,” Frederator Films, have taken on the project of a Samurai Jack 2011 film, and that Genndy will both write and direct. Let me just say, the fact that it is animated is a HUGE relief. Hopefully this time next year we’ll be celebrating the next installment in Samurai Jack! Here’s hoping!