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A few years prior to this day, I had yet to take a single glimpse on
Samurai Jack. For some time, I heard people raving about its
outstanding animation techniques, never seen before fighting sequences
and humor. Curiosity and anxiety surrounded my mind, wondering if it
really reached or even surpassed the standards set by Dexter's
Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls. Incidentally, Genndy Tartakovsky,
the creator of this new show, has worked on the previous two before and
based on my knowledge, his vision upon the animation industry is pretty
unlike anything any other animators have seen before.
Not long after its first run, I managed to witness an episode of Samurai Jack on Cartoon Network in my aunt's house. In fact, in my first viewpoint, the show really seemed a bit simplistic, focused more on battles and at some points, a sense of humor to keep the audience's interest. Yes, it bears similarity to other Genndy's older works. However, I'm just talking to one of the episodes shown on the channel. Initially, the similarity ended when I began to watch the rest of the episodes.
The plot itself is quite simple: Samurai Jack (his original Japanese name remains a mystery) lives in ancient Japan where his homeland is being ravaged by a mightily powerful but weird-looking, sometimes insipid demon named Aku. Jack used his mystical sword to fight him and eventually he defeats him after a few bouts. But before Jack manages to destroy the demon once and for all, Aku casts a spell that sends Jack into the future, a time when Aku reigns supreme. Now, it is up to Jack to find a way to go back into the past by wandering around the futuristic cities, barren wastelands and ancient ruins inhabited by aliens and other bizarre creatures you haven't seen before and most importantly, meeting allies and friends (like the crazed muscular Scotsman) to give our struggling hero spiritual hope and motivation to reach his destiny (the maturity of Jack can be seen throughout the seasons, as he seems to be more confident and has the right to call himself 'The Legendary Samurai'. Something like that). The character designs and the environments are extremely odd in Genndy's favor but perhaps these are the reasons why Samurai Jack is such an appealing show to watch at. Firstly, unlike the typical Saturday cartoons we usually see, it is almost an ambiguous cartoon with really abstract elements (specially when you watch a peculiar episode for the first time ever). You have absolutely no idea what is going on there: the creatures, the aliens, the bizarre skyscrapers, the contraptions. They are all refreshingly cubic and bizarre and yet have a reason for their existence. Despite its subtle and uneven premise, Samurai Jack is simply a straightforward action show with easily identifiable objects (toon experts will know that for sure) and characters (its basic concept is mostly derived from the Star Wars universe, in which Genndy also directs under the name Clone Wars). At one case, some of the elements of Samurai Jack are derived from Akira Kurosawa's movies, anime (both state-of-the-art or cliché) and on another point, famous American icons and world cultures. Some even serve as a precursor to Craig McCracken's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends with bits and pieces from Dexter's Lab and PPG. Sure, most of the episodes don't capture the scope of full-length movies but the slowness of its nature allows the audience to accept the fact that it almost feels like a movie, in a shorter form at least. If you ask whether the show's appropriate for kids, well, Samurai Jack is a surprisingly violent cartoon (that's beyond the boundary of Dex and PPG) but that otherwise proves that Genndy's skills to handle a particular context has matured.
What really fascinate me are Genndy's abilities to master the essential film-making techniques such as pace, flow, mise-en-scene and mood, smooth animation and most importantly, character appeal such as Samurai Jack himself. Some sequences are even squeezed in to a particular ratio aspect to provide a cinematic point of view as well as to increase the tension of a situation. Creative editing techniques also helps to build anticipation, fasten the pace of the action sequences (mostly beautifully choreographed despite the fact that they are just frames of drawings!) and create decisive matters as Jack faces frequent pandemonium. The artwork of the show is equally impressive albeit a bit kiddy oriented. That essentially leads to one of Genndy's strongest trademarks and principles: simplistic designs tend to have greater impact compared to realistic models (of 2D and 3D) by conveying constant exaggeration, ridiculous laws of physic and common sense and doses of good slapstick humor while maintaining its 'logical sense' without losing direction. The show's crystal clear colors and tones also manage to reflect the overall mood of a particular environment, whether you can feel the serenity of ancient Japan or the unknown danger of the dark and barren wasteland.
If it weren't for Genndy, cartoons cannot evolve into newer forms. If Gene Deitch gave birth to 'limited animation' via Gerald McBoing Boing, we all could say that, in my opinion, Genndy Tartakovsky gave birth to 'cinematic limited cartoons' or simply, 'Cinematic Toons'. I know these terms don't sound right to some people but through Samurai Jack, he has created something that proves to be revolutionary since the era of the Renaissance (Batman, DuckTales and Tiny Toons). Since then, Genndy Tartakovsky is now regarded as one of my most favorite 'heroes' of our time!
Samurai Jack has something sorely lacking in American animated entertainment
- greatness. Not since the Batman series, or perhaps ever, has a American
cartoon flaunted such daring visual bravado, intelligent cinematic
storytelling, intense action, and a revolutionary spirit so confidently -
it's a warmly welcomed shake-up to the monotonous humdrum continuum of TV
animation in this country. Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter's
Laboratory) has captured lightning in a bottle with his latest brainchild,
and in doing so has demolished the mold for cartoons both present and
future. Indeed, calling this show itself a cartoon seems somehow
disrespectful and stereotypical. Here, the freedom allowed by the medium
brings the story of Jack and his vendetta against a millenial nemesis named
Aku in the far future feverishly to life. Every background, set piece,
character, and detail are all strikingly imagined, almost shocking in their
originality. The minimalist nature of the animation itself gives the
program a unique and powerful vitality, and the abstract and sometimes
surreal stylization is unlike anything ever seen in cartoons. Tartakovsky
avoids the clunky and often lifeless quagmire of more detailed and lifelike
approaches to action animation and instead opts for he intensity and impact
of a comic book in motion, and the results are both awesome and
More than anything else, Samurai Jack truly feels like a work of art, like something that is crafted rather than produced. It's a testament to the fact that animation in the U.S. can be cutting edge, revolutionary, and mature. Truth be told, I haven't been excited about a new television program in quite a while. Time will tell, but Samurai Jack seems destined for masterpiece status - not only here in America, but quite possibly worldwide.
It seems that Genndy Tartakovsky was only getting warmed up with "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Powerpuff Girls". With those shows he proved he was a comic genius; with "Samurai Jack" he demonstrates that he is a genius, period. Every single aspect of the movie premiere is top-notch. Phil LaMarr is wonderful as Jack. James Venable's score beautifully captures the tone and has just the right mix of traditional Oriental and electronic sounds. I liked the fact that there did not seem to be any unnecessary dialogue (in fact several scenes--most notably the beginning--have almost no dialogue at all). The animation and backgrounds are very stylish and striking, and the filmmakers even allow the art to escape the confines of the square 1.33:1 TV ratio with some split-screen and widescreen shots used to great effect. It is my hope that the series continues to be as good as the premiere is. This will be on you "must-watch" list.
I thought that America had no imagination left in the realm of animation.
Yes, there's Disney and Don Bluth and Bakshi... But that was 'then'... I
had no hope left... Then a teeny-tiny channel called "the Cartoon
appeared... Hmm... Dexter... Powerpuff Girls... Hmm... Then came a
Samurai warrior... HOLY @#$%&*! Where did this come from? WOW! In the
history of American animated TV series I have never seen such great
craftmanship... The backgrounds are exquisite. Painted, airbrushed,
computer-generated -I DON'T CARE!!! They are beautful. Not only in it's
execution but it's scheer originality and beauty. The lack of symmetry
use of light and odd colors add to its uniqueness and effect. It adds so
much to the wonder of the bizarre Aku-ruled Earth. ACTION! SO MUCH
ACTION!!!! Wonderful, swift, exciting and technically magnificent. The
fight scenes are choreographed wonderfully and just plain EXCITING!!!
never said that about any animated show! Jack's eyes and movements flow
sweetly and say so much. Very few cartoons come across so well (Ren &
Stimpy is an exception) with such grace and simplicity without losing it's
integrity. But the artwork isn't the end of it: GREAT WRITING!!! What's
that? Writing? Wha? Yes. The terrific stories and engaging characters
are just as electric and fresh as the artwork that represents it. Every
time I watch an episode there is always something I don't expect. So much
creativity pours from either the animator's pens or the writer's pens.
ANIMATED SHOW OF ALL TIME. Yes, even better than BATTLE OF THE PLANETS...
well maybe... ;)
One of the things that sets Jack apart from other animated action
series is its use of subtlety. Though full of scenes of intense action,
there are also long stretches with no dialogue, using imagery to tell
the story. The art direction is excellent. Some viewers find the
characters have a strange graphic style but it works well in the
context of the strange world where Jack finds himself.
I especially like the use of different sizes of wide-screen to aid in the story-telling. A full-frame scene will shift to different ratios of widescreen to emphasize images such as a great distance between two characters or to focus on one's eyes. The series also includes subtle humour (note again, subtlety), such as Jack dressing up as a teenager to infiltrate a rave party or accidentally being transformed into a chicken!
Phil LaMarr is excellent as usual as Jack and Mako is the perfect voice for Aku. Those who dismiss it as an anime rip-off should consider the difference between "rip-off" and "inspired by".
Samurai Jack is the definition of an action cartoon series.
It shows a magnificent samurai, dubbed the name Jack, on a journey to return to the past after he is sent to a dark and unwelcome future run by his archnemesis, the dark shape-shifting wizard Aku.
Along the way, he helps restore order to the forsaken wasteland run by evil controllers in often incredibly action-packed, or otherwise hilarious, ways (in one episode, Jack is turned into a rooster and is forced to take part in cock fighting--which is actually legal during that time).
Genndy Tartakouvsky is an animation genius, coming out with ideas such as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and the micro-series Star Wars: Clone Wars, which has a second season coming up. The artwork for Samurai Jack is beautiful and the battle scenes are well-thought and brilliantly drawn. The adventures that Jack goes through can be sometimes funny, but still are always action packed. The ideas for Jack's adventures are brilliant as well.
Overall: solid storyline, brilliant characters, well-thought adventures, beautiful artwork, and even more brilliant action.
Rating: 10 out of 10. This series rocks period.
Samurai Jack is the quintessence of cartoon storytelling today. there
is no two-ways about it.
let me break it down for you: Long ago in a distant land, Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil, but a samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped fourth to oppose him. before the final blow was struck, Aku opened a portal in time, flinging the samurai into the future, where Aku's evil is law. now the samurai seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku.
the first story involves the samurai landing in the future, he is given a name by some enthusiastic street-urchins (Jack), and finds himself in a rough bar filled with belligerent aliens and talking dogs. these dogs are in desperate peril, and seek jack's help in a very obvious reference to Akira Kurosowa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai.
as the series continues, Jack's quest becomes less a focal point of the story, and more a vehicle for various short stories. great storytelling needs but three things: a setting, a protagonist, and a goal. Jack uses this idea to exploit a formula of diversity. anything the animator/writers throw on the wall, generally sticks. the ambiguity of the show allows for a free-form format that has made shows like Cowboy Bebop and Justice League Unlimited fellow masterpieces of the serial animation format. stories range from horror, science fiction and fantasy, to comedy, Wu shu, drama, noir, giant robo and epic action.
Jack is a child of a lot of inspiration, things like Star Wars and Akira Kurosowa are obvious influences, but the works of Marvel and DC comics, as well as the work of graphic novelist Frank Miller are all very apparent references. (infact Miller's acclaimed graphic novel Ronin is very similar in plot to Samurai Jack, and there is an entire episode based upon the premise of 300, another Miller book which has also become a Hollywood film.)
Jack is, by all means, an action show. in a given show there is maybe 10-15 minutes of action in a 24 minute episode, however in later seasons, the formula of Jack as an action show recedes heavily, and the show becomes more of a sampler-plate of creativeness. the stories are as charming and moving as they are diverse and epic.
Samurai Jack is a brilliant show, it's influences are long-spread and it will undoubtedly be remembered as a staple of artistic television.
Rich in visual design, and with an dark, gritty atmosphere, SAMURAI JACK is a landmark cartoon in the making. It tells the story of a Japanese warrior with the unlikely name of Jack who undergoes some serious training to take on a ruthless wizard named Aku (which means "evil" in Japanese). Filled with hard-edged action (but with no grapic violence, since SAMURAI JACK is a product of the Cartoon Network) and a nifty storyboard that switches from feudal Japan to a BLADE RUNNER-like future, SAMURAI JACK is an animated revevaltion waiting to happen.
When I was first introduced to this show, I wasn't expecting to love it. I don't just love it, I adore it! I feared it wouldn't be my thing, but there are many reasons why Samurai Jack is worth seeing. The animation consistently is absolutely outstanding, the whole show is amazing to watch, whether it is the backgrounds, character features, special effects or the colours. The music is wonderful also, a perfect mix of oriental and electronic sounds really add to the authenticity. The story lines are superb and interesting springing from a great idea, and the writing is top notch, funny and intelligent. Likewise with the voice acting, with Phil LaMarr especially impressive in the title role. Overall, just a superb show, easily one of the better shows on Cartoon Network. 10/10 Bethany Cox
I love this show so much. Someone might complain that there isn't much of a plot for this show, but it's meant for people to watch one episode at a time. There's no need to watch the entire series. The art is AMAZING!!!!! (!) Genndy Tartakovsky changes the ratio of the screen for dramatic effects, how they tell the story is amazing. There is no over all plot that carries throughout the series, all the plot you'll ever need is in the episode itself. Even if you don't like the story, the art in itself is beautiful. Full of style and grace.
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