In the distant past, a Japanese samurai (Phil LaMarr) embarks on a mission to defeat the evil shape-shifting wizard Aku (Mako and Greg Baldwin). Before he can complete his task, though, he is catapulted thousands of years into the future. He finds himself in a world where Aku now enjoys complete power over every living thing. Dubbing himself "Jack", he sets out on a new quest - to right the wrongs that have been done by his enemy, and to find a way back to his own time so he can destroy the evil for good.Written by
Alan Back <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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!
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