Samurai Jack (TV Series 2001–2017)

TVSeries


Samurai Jack (TV Series 2001–2017)

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.
USA
IMDb   8.5 /10
Metacritic   93 %
TheMovieDb    8.5 /10
RottenTomatoes  93 %
FilmAffinity   6.8 /10
Creators
Creator Genndy Tartakovsky
Information
Release Date2001-08-10
Runtime25mins
GenreAnimation, Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Content RatingTV-14 (TV-14)
AwardsWon 8 Primetime Emmys. Another 12 wins & 12 nominations.
CompanyCartoon Network Studios, Williams Street
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish
Samurai Jack / ... 58 episodes, 2001-2017
Aku / ... 25 episodes, 2001-2017

Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack is an American animated television series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network. Tartakovsky conceived Samurai Jack after finishing his work on his first Cartoon Network original series, Dexter's Laboratory, which premiered in 1996. Samurai Jack was inspired by Kung Fu, the 1972 televised drama starring David Carradine, and Tartakovsky's fascination with samurai culture.

The titular character, "Jack", is an unnamed Japanese samurai prince who wields a mystic katana capable of cutting through virtually anything. He sets out to free his kingdom after it is taken over by an evil, shapeshifting demon known as Aku. In Jack's ensuing battle with Aku, just as Jack is about to deal the final strike, Aku sends the samurai forward in time to a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical demon. Jack quests to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku before he can take over the world. Jack's search for a way back to his own time period transcends Aku's control, but Jack's efforts are largely in vain due to the way back to his home ending up just out of his reach.

Premiering on August 10, 2001, Samurai Jack originally ran for four seasons comprising thirteen episodes each until September 25, 2004, without concluding the overarching story. The show was revived twelve years later for a darker, more mature fifth season that provides a conclusion to Jack's story; it premiered on Adult Swim's Toonami programming block on March 11, 2017, and concluded with its final episode, which serves as the series finale, on May 20, 2017. Episodes were directed by Tartakovsky, often in collaboration with others.

The series has garnered critical acclaim and won eight Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Animated Program, as well as six Annie Awards and an OIAF Award.


Premise

Samurai Jack tells the story of an unnamed young prince (voiced by Phil LaMarr) from a feudal Japan kingdom, whose father (voiced by Sab Shimono as an elder man and Keone Young as a young emperor) was given a magical katana from three gods — Ra, Rama, and Odin — that he could and had used to defeat and imprison the supernatural shapeshifting demon Aku (Mako, and later Greg Baldwin for Season 5). Eight years later, Aku escaped, took over the land, and held the Emperor hostage, but not before the prince was sent away by his mother to travel the world and train so he could return and use the magic sword to defeat Aku. On his return, the prince-turned-samurai faced and almost defeated Aku, but before he could land a finishing blow, Aku created a time portal that sent him into the distant future, anticipating that he would be able to deal with the samurai by that time.

The samurai prince arrives on Earth surrounded in dystopian retro-futurism ruled by Aku. The first people he encounters call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name. His given name is never mentioned. While Jack only has his kimono, geta, and sword to his avail in his adventures, there have been rare instances where he is able to wear a full set of armor. Most episodes depict Jack overcoming various obstacles in his quest to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku, and his quest is prolonged occasionally by moments where either he nearly succeeds in returning to his own time, or conversely, Aku nearly succeeds in defeating Jack, only to be undermined by the unexpected.

Setting

The retro-futuristic world is inhabited by a variety of denizens such as robots, extraterrestrials, talking animals, monsters, magical beings, deities, and even a Scotsman who wields an enchanted sword. Areas may have advanced the technology-like flying cars, while others resemble ancient times or industrial conditions. Moreover, Aku has brought aliens from other planets to inhabit Earth, while destroying the habitability of the alien planets. Criminals and fugitives of all kinds and/or forms are very common on his Earth. Mythological and supernatural creatures make regular appearances and coexist among the technologically-advanced inhabitants.

However, the planet has hardly been urbanized by a number of episodes that take the place in uninhabited areas of the world. Those include forests, jungles, and mountains, which have remained largely untouched even as Aku began his conquest and the reign over every sentient being. There are even a few communities that have not been affected by Aku's dominance, such as the Shaolin monks, who have managed to hide and maintain their numbers in a secret place beyond the reach of Aku's seemingly omniscient vision.


Episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
113August 10, 2001December 3, 2001Cartoon Network
213March 1, 2002October 11, 2002
313October 18, 2002August 26, 2003
413June 14, 2003September 25, 2004
510March 11, 2017May 20, 2017Adult Swim

Production

Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky as a follow-up to his successful series Dexter's Laboratory. Cartoon Network executive Mike Lazzo recalled Tartakovsky pitching him the series: "He said, 'Hey, remember David Carradine in Kung Fu? Wasn't that cool?' and I was like, 'Yeah, that's really cool.' That was literally the pitch." Cartoon Network billed it as a series "that is cinematic in scope and that incorporates action, humor, and intricate artistry."

The basic premise of Samurai Jack comes from Tartakovsky's childhood fascination with samurai culture and the bushido code,: 42:56 as well as a recurring dream where he wandered a post-apocalyptic Earth with a samurai sword and traveled the world fighting mutants with his crush. The show is meant to evoke 1970s cinematography, as well as classic Hollywood films such as Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia,: 46:44 and Spartacus. Thematic and visual inspirations come from Frank Miller's comic book series Rōnin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future in order to battle a shapeshifting demon. Similarly, the episode "Jack and the Spartans" was specifically inspired by Miller's graphic novel 300 that retold the Battle of Thermopylae. The Japanese manga Lone Wolf and Cub and films by Akira Kurosawa were also an inspiration.

The network announced the series' launch at a press conference on February 21, 2001. Weeks leading up to the series were accompanied by a sweepstakes giveaway sponsored by AOL in which the grand prize was a trip for four to Japan. AOL subscribers were also offered sneak peeks of Samurai Jack as well as a look at samurai traditions, future toys, behind-the-scenes model sheets, and exclusive Cartoon Orbit cToons. Samurai Jack debuted on Cartoon Network on August 10, 2001, with the three-part special "The Beginning". The premiere received high praise and four award nominations, and was released as a standalone VHS and DVD on March 19, 2002. As production of the fourth season was ending, with four seasons of 13 episodes each or 52 episodes of Samurai Jack in total, Tartakovsky, and the crew moved on to other projects. The show ended with the airing of the four final episodes as a marathon on September 25, 2004.

In Canada, Samurai Jack previously aired on YTV, and currently airs on the Canadian version of Adult Swim.

In United Kingdom, Samurai Jack previously aired on Cartoon Network, and currently airs on streaming service All 4.


Conclusion and revival

Original ending

The original series was left open-ended after the conclusion of the fourth season. Tartakovsky said, "coming close to the fourth season, we're like, 'are we gonna finish it?' And I didn't know... The network didn't know, they were going through a lot of transitions also. So I decided, you know, I don't want to rush and finish the whole story, and so we just left it like there is no conclusion and then just like another episode". Art director Scott Wills added, "We didn't have time to think about it, because we went right into Clone Wars. They even overlapped, I think. There was no time to even think about it."

Cancelled film

A film intended to conclude the story of Samurai Jack had been in development at different times by four different studios.: 2:50 As early as 2002, Cartoon Network was producing a Samurai Jack live action feature film, in association with New Line Cinema. Tartakovsky said in a 2006 interview that the live-action version of Samurai Jack was thankfully abandoned, and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film." Fred Seibert announced in 2007 that the newly formed Frederator Films was developing a Samurai Jack movie, which was planned to be in stereoscopic 2D with a budget of 20 million dollars. Seibert said in 2009 the film was being co-produced with J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions. Genndy Tartakovsky said in an interview with IGN the Samurai Jack movie is in pre-production: "I've been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There's something about it that's connected with people. And I want it, it's number 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the president, is like 'Hey, let's talk about Jack. Let's see what we can do.' And I go, 'You're going to do a 2D feature animated movie?' and he's like, 'Yeah. Maybe. Let's do some research and let's see.' So it's not dead for sure by any means, and it's still on the top of my list, and I'm trying as hard as I can." Tartakovsky said the loss of Mako Iwamatsu (Aku's voice actor) would also need to be addressed. The feature film project never materialized, and eventually, the series concluded with a fifth television season.

2017 revival

Samurai Jack returned to television over twelve years after its fourth season concluded, with the first episode of its fifth season airing on Adult Swim on March 11, 2017. Produced at Cartoon Network Studios and Williams Street with Tartakovsky as executive producer, the fifth and final season features more mature elements and a cohesive narrative that concludes Jack's journey. The story takes place fifty years after Jack was cast into the future. In despair from the years of fighting Aku and from Aku's destruction of the remaining time portals, Jack—who has not aged as a side effect of the time travel—is haunted by warped visions of himself, of his family, and of an enigmatic, deathly warrior on horseback. Phil LaMarr reprises his role as Jack; Greg Baldwin provides the voice of Aku. Mako, who voiced Aku in the show's first four seasons, died ten years before the revival was produced; however, an archive recording of his voice is used for Aku's past self in the series finale.


Reception

Critical reception

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2021)

Steven Linan of the Los Angeles Times said of the 90-minute premiere movie, "One can quibble with some of the dialogue, which sounds like something you'd hear in Karate Kid 2 ('Let the sword guide you to your fate, but let your mind set free the path to your destiny'). Nonetheless, there is one highly unconventional aspect of the series which sets it apart from others--its willingness to go for extensive stretches in which there is no dialogue." In 2004, British broadcaster Channel 4 ran a poll of the 100 greatest cartoons, in which Samurai Jack achieved the 42nd position. The show was ranked 11th by IGN for its "Top 25 Primetime Animated Series of All Time" list in 2006. IGN also ranked the show 43rd in its Top 100 Animated Series list in 2009. The series has also received an approval rating of 93% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The first season received an approval rating of 80% while the fourth and fifth seasons received an approval rating of 100%. The fifth season's critical consensus reads, "An increasing intensity and maturity are evident in Samurai Jack's beautifully animated, action-packed, and overall compelling fifth season."

Matt Zoller Seitz, a film critic for RogerEbert.com and television critic for Vulture, considers Samurai Jack, along with Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars, to be a masterwork and one of the greatest American animated shows on television, mainly for its visual style.

Samurai Jack would later be included in Seitz and Alan Sepinwall's 2016 book TV (The Book) as an honorable mention following the 100 greatest television series.

Accolades

YearAwardCategoryNominee(s)Result
2002Annie AwardOutstanding Character Design in an Animated Television ProductionLynne Naylor (for "Jack and the Warrior Woman")Nominated
Outstanding Music in an Animated Television ProductionJames L. Venable (for "The Beginning")Won
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television ProductionDan Krall (for "The Beginning")Won
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television ProductionScott Wills (for "The Beginning")Nominated
Outstanding Storyboarding in an Animated Television ProductionBryan Andrews
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
Won
OIAF AwardBest Television SeriesGenndy Tartakovsky
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
Won
Annecy Official SelectionSpecial Award for Television SeriesGenndy Tartakovsky
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
Won
Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More)Brian A. Miller, Yu Mun Jeong, Yeol Jung Chang, Paul Rudish, Genndy Tartakovsky, Bong Koh Jae
for "The Beginning, Parts 1–3"
Nominated
TCA AwardOutstanding Achievement in Children's ProgrammingSamurai JackNominated
2003Annie AwardOutstanding Achievement in an Animated Television ProductionCartoon Network StudiosNominated
Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Television ProductionAndy Suriano
for "Jack and the Haunted House"
Won
Outstanding Directing in an Animated Television ProductionGenndy Tartakovsky and Robert Alvarez
for "The Birth of Evil"
Nominated
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television ProductionScott Wills
for "The Birth of Evil"
Won
Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Individual Achievement in AnimationScott Wills
for "Jack and the Traveling Creatures"
Won
Outstanding Individual Achievement in AnimationDan Krall
for "Jack and the Spartans"
Won
2004Annie AwardOutstanding Directing in a Television ProductionGenndy Tartakovsky
for "Tale of X-49"
Nominated
Outstanding Production Design in a Television ProductionRichard Daskas
for "Seasons of Death"
Won
Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Don Shank, Robert Alvarez, Randy Myers, Yu Mun Jeong, Bong Koh Jae, James T. Walker
for "The Birth of Evil"
Won
2005Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Bryan Andrews, Mark Andrews, Hueng-soon Park, Kwang-bae Park, Randy Myers, James T. Walker
for "Seasons of Death"
Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement in AnimationBryan Andrews
for "Seasons of Death"
Won
2017Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Individual Achievement in AnimationBryan Andrews
for "Episode XCIII"
Won
Scott Willis
for "Episode XCIII"
Won
Craig Kellman
for "Episode XCII"
Won
Lou Romano
for "Episode XCV"
Won

Other media

Board game

A year after the series was concluded, a board game adaptation covering all five seasons was released, titled Samurai Jack: Back to the Past. Players work together to complete tasks to help Jack return to the past while competing to earn honor for their actions.

Comics

In February 2013, IDW Publishing announced a partnership with Cartoon Network to produce comics based on its properties. Samurai Jack was one of the titles announced to be published. It was further announced at WonderCon 2013 that the first issue of Samurai Jack would debut in October 2013. The first comic in the series was released on October 23, 2013. The final issue came out in May 2015. On October 25, 2016, IDW re-released all of the issues in a compilation entitled "Tales of a Wandering Warrior". Tartakovsky does not consider the comics part of the story of Jack.: 4:58

Jack also appeared in multiple issues of DC Comics' anthology comic series Cartoon Network Action Pack, which ran from July 2006 to April 2012.

Home media

Like other previous Cartoon Network shows, Samurai Jack DVDs were released by Warner Home Video between 2002 and 2007. The DVDs include episode numbers in Roman numerals as they appear at the end of each episode but remain untitled. Season 1 was released on Netflix streaming service in 2013. Samurai Jack: The Complete Series was released on Blu-ray and Digital HD on October 17, 2017, and contains remastered versions of the first four seasons of the series, courtesy of ACMEworks Digital Film, Inc. The series is also available on HBO Max since May 27, 2020.

Samurai Jack VHS and DVD releases
ProductEpisodesRelease dateDescription
Region 1Region 4
The Premiere Movie4March 19, 2002October 10, 2007Available on DVD and VHS, this release contains the first 3 episodes of season 1 ("The Beginning" (I–III)) as well as the episode "Jack and the Scotsman" (XI) in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
The Complete First Season13May 4, 2004November 7, 2007This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 1. It also includes a "making-of" documentary, an original animation test, original artwork, as well as commentary on "Jack and the Three Blind Archers" (VII).
The Complete Second SeasonMay 24, 2005March 4, 2009This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 2. It also includes commentary on "Jack and the Spartans" (XXV), "Creator Scrapbook", as well as an original pitch for "Jack and the Scotsman, Part 2" (XVII).
The Complete Third SeasonMay 23, 2006September 9, 2009This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 3. It also includes commentary on "The Birth of Evil" (XXXVII/XXXVIII), "Lost Artwork" and a featurette called "Martial Arts of the Samurai".
The Complete Fourth SeasonAugust 28, 2007October 3, 2012This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 4. It also includes "Genndy's Roundtable", "Genndy's New Project" (a tour of Orphanage Animation Studios), alternate takes for two snippets of "The Tale of X-49" (L) and Samurai Jack promos.
Samurai Jack and Friends7October 7, 2014N/AThis is a re-issue of the first disc of season two, containing its first seven episodes.
The Complete Fifth Season10October 17, 2017N/AThis 2-disc DVD includes all 10 episodes from season 5. It also includes "The Evolution of Jack" and detailed reviews of the storyboards of five of this season's episodes (XCIV, XCVI, XCVIII, XCIX and C).
Other releases including Samurai Jack episodes
ProductEpisodesRelease dateFeatures
Region 1Region 2Region 4
4 Kid Favorites: The Hall of Fame Collection Vol. 27March 12, 2013N/AN/A4-disc compilation set includes Samurai Jack: Season One, Disc One
Samurai Jack Blu-ray releases
ProductEpisodesRelease dateFeatures
Region ARegion BRegion C
The Complete Series62October 17, 2017December 2, 2019N/AThe complete series boxset includes all 62 Samurai Jack episodes across all 5 seasons, all remastered in Blu-ray high definition, a first for the previous four seasons. All special features from the videodisc releases of every season except season 4 are also included in this box set, along with new cover art for the prior 4 seasons, steelbook art for the first season's cover and redemption codes for UltraViolet digital versions of all episodes.
The Complete Fifth Season10October 17, 2017N/AN/AThis Blu-ray includes all 10 episodes from season 5, along with the same special features as the DVD version.

Video games

The Samurai Jack world has been seen in the video games Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku for the GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2004. Three years after the series was completed, a third game, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, was released on August 21, 2020, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Apple Arcade. It is the first Samurai Jack game to be available on Microsoft and Apple platforms and serves as an alternative extended scenario of the series finale.

Elements of the Samurai Jack concept were reused in other Cartoon Network video games. The MMORPG FusionFall features Jack, the Scotsman, and Demongo as non-playable characters, while Aku is a Nano. The brawler game Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 features Jack and the Scotsman as playable characters while Aku is an assist character, a boss, and a playable character.