Apr 3, 2017

[TV] Samurai Jack: Season 1

With the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack in full swing, Tobie and I are trying to go through the first four seasons first before joining the rest of the geek world in learning about Jack's final adventures. It's an interesting exploration of a figure that has always felt rather iconic to me from my younger years but at the same time it was frustrating how he didn't get a proper ending at the time.

Going back to the start of the show is certainly proving to be a fun and interesting experience that is dredging up a lot of good feelings of nostalgia along with it. This is more than just a children's cartoon. It's more than even your average Adult Swim production.

Samurai Jack remains to be a cinematic animated masterpiece that will forever have a place in my heart. It combines so many things that I love in one series and I'm enjoying every moment of going through every single episode.

Synopsis: Samurai Jack is an American science fiction fantasy series created by Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter's Lab fame. The first season debuted in 2001 and ran for 13 half-hour episodes.

Every episode of the series starts with a recap of the show's premise as narrated by Aku (Mako), the antagonist of the show. It's a bit of dialog that is burned into my memory at this point:
Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!

Our hero (Phil LaMarr) spends his life training to defeat Aku and rescue his people from his dark magics. Eventually he challenges Aku with his father's magic katana but Aku banishes him to the future before he can strike the final blow. This dark future is one where Aku controls everything and his evil has now spread out to the rest of the universe. There the future residents refer to him as "Jack" in line with their usual slang. Thus he takes on the identity of Samurai Jack as he quests to find a way to go back home to his own time and defeat Aku once and for all.

What I Liked: Where does one begin to cite things to love about this show. First one has to consider just how different the show's treatment is versus most others. Instead of your typical straight up cartoon storytelling mostly through dialog, we have a TV experience that is highly cinematic. Most of the show's key dramatic moments are conveyed through actions and looks without the aid of dialog. Thus the way it all comes together is quite the masterpiece.

Then you have the story itself, something that manages to often be epic in scale while still fitting into twenty-something minutes. The show remains episodic and yet every new story of Jack enhances his reputation in our minds of why he is such a great warrior. And while the show is filled with some great fight scenes, we also see how Jack deals with conflicts in creative ways that may not always involve him wielding his sword. It's all quite smartly done.

What Could Be Better: I think my only nitpick as we go through the old episodes again is that I do wish they had tried to tell a more connected story. A lot of the episodes of the show largely stand alone there's no real need to watch most of these episodes in some sort of  a sequence or order. Sure some characters are introduced in certain episodes and brought back in later ones so the sequence may matter more there, but beyond that it's quite a grab bag of experiences.

Given such a powerful storytelling approach, I often wonder what the show might have been like had they chosen to stick to a stronger core narrative across all the episodes from start to finish instead of us just towards the end. And thus this first season can feel a little disjoint as Jack goes from adventure to adventure in an almost random manner.

TL;DR: Samurai Jack's first season is a timeless classic that remains great way of setting up this series in a way that shows a lot of the best of the show in one season. It may not have a single connected story beyond the 3-part pilot episode, but that doesn't mean the other episodes are diminished in any way because of that. Thus the first season gets an awesome 5 waves of robot minions out of a possible 5.

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