Nothing is known about the return of Samurai Jack. All fans have to go on is a six second trailer and a brief announcement that the show will be premiering on Adult Swim’s Toonami block sometime this year.
The original Samurai Jack premiered on August 10, 2001. Just days after I started sixth grade. It was a series I had been eagerly awaiting after seeing promos on Cartoon Network for months featuring beautiful animation and quick cuts (both in editing and with swords). I distinctly remember a short interview with creator Genndy Tartakovsky where he claimed that he had never seen a show with “enough action,” and he wanted Samurai Jack to be that show. I wanted it to be that show too.
My older brother was quick to remind me that no show could ever have more action than Dragon Ball Z (our obsession at the time), but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that half of Dragon Ball Z was just standing around screaming and waiting for the characters to actually fight. Sure, when the fighters finally came to blows the action was fantastic, but not every episode was an “over 9000" throw down to remember.
When Samurai Jack’s opening night finally came it was in the form of a “Premier Movie,” which was basically just the first three episodes cut together. I watched it wide eyed, becoming more and more jealous of my younger brother, who’s name actually is Jack. My older brother and I discussed how they had made all of Samurai Jack’s enemies into robots or magical beings so they wouldn’t have to make it too gory. But I wasn’t much for blood and guts as a youngster, so the pseudo-dismemberment worked in my favor. Jack decapitating Aku’s enormous beetle army in a rain of oily vengeance was such a satisfying ending that we decided to stick around for the rerun.
As an 11 year-old, my life was very focused on video games and cartoon, and I knew this was going to be a show I latched on to. I could never get over how the show managed to make a twenty two minute story feel like a cinematic masterpiece. The slow camera pans, intricate action sequences and character designs were like nothing I had every seen on TV, let alone in a cartoon. Not to mention the show knew when to be silly, something every action series needs from time to time.
Looking over the list of Samurai Jack’s original four seasons it’s extraordinarily difficult to choose an episode that stands out as the absolute best or even just my personal favorite. There’s the one where he has to take on the badass Anubis archers who never miss. The one where he has to fight off his “mad” evil twin. The one where he’s trapped in the Dome of Doom and has to battle his way out gladiator-style. There’s even episodes inspired by My Neighbor Totoro and Frank Miller’s 300. Too many standout stories, locations and characters to count.
When Samurai Jack was cancelled in the fall of 2004 I was conflicted. It was far and away my favorite show at the time. But even then I remember thinking, “This is ok.” I had seen plenty of cartoons that had run their course and grown stale, or switched show runners and changed too much of what made them unique. Samurai Jack was going out on top. It even won a Prime Time Emmy in its last season for outstanding animation in the episode “The Four Seasons of Death” (possibly the best looking episode ever). Jack had never reached his goal and defeated Aku, but his adventures would forever be embodied by a show that they so rightly deserved. Still. No one ever really wants their favorite show to end.
As the DVD boxsets of each season released I snapped them up and added them to my growing collection of animated classics. I watched the entire series once a year in a marathon during the holidays so I could enjoy the show with my brothers. There was a great run of Samurai Jack comics published by IDW from 2013 to 2015 that I read obsessively upon their individual release. It was obvious that I wasn’t the only one who thought Jack needed to return to the small screen.
And now here we are in 2016, with Samurai Jack about to jump back into action. Twelve-years later. I know Genndy is still involved and I hope, I pray, that the folks who are working on this new series know what they’re dealing with. Shows like Teen Titans, Dexter’s Lab and more have come back from the dead and been wholly different entities. Not always terrible, but different in a way that made fans of their source material unsure if they were still enamored with the show as a whole. I don’t want that for Jack. I’m all for new adventures, but my fear is that they’ll take it in some strange new direction.
Another piece of kindling in my small fire of doubt is the loss of Mako Iwamatsu, the voice of Aku. He died two years after Samurai Jack’s original end, leading to fan speculation that they would never revive the series. Aku is a character just as important as Jack. There is no show without Aku. And for many fans Aku is dead, because Mako has passed. Obviously they’ll be replacing him with a soundalike, but it’s just something nagging in the back of my subconscious.
The adult in me is optimistic that Cartoon Network knows what they’re doing, but the kid in me worries Jack may not have the same magic he did back in the good old days. Will the action be as crisp? Will the backgrounds be as beautiful? I don’t want to regret wishing my favorite show was back on the air after more than a decade.
So I guess I’m ready for some new Samurai Jack, Adult Swim. I look forward to seeing what kind of epic enemies and mythical quests you can throw at my favorite warrior.
Just don’t screw this up.