The best cartoons stick with you well past your childhood. Everyone has their favourites and many will share theirs with anyone else their age, but my favourite was a bit less common: Samurai Jack. Its calm, relaxed nature set it apart from other cartoons at the time that relied upon silly escapades and hyperactive characters to make kids laugh. Samurai Jack, on the other hand, was always in a league of its own. Released in 2001 on Cartoon Network and later moved to its sister channel Toonami, Jack ran for only 4 series with about 13 episodes in each.
The tale of a brave samurai who was sent to the future by a demon called Aku, the story mainly focused on Jack’s attempts to return to the past. However, one of the main strengths of the show was how different every episode was. The overarching story is ever present, largely due to the great title sequence that concisely sums up the show, but the search for time travel is often put aside for an episode to show something completely different. From flashbacks to irrelevant side-plots, these were often the highlights of the entire series.
One episode in particular that deserves credit is season 4’s award winning The Four Seasons of Death. The episode is separated into four parts, telling the story of different foes and their attempts to defeat Jack, each relating to a different season. Spring shows a mysterious woodland grove, while Summer pits Jack against a sand demon in the desert. Autumn follows a mad scientist making a deadly poison and my personal favourite, Winter, shows the forging of a magical sword and the fight for who will wield it. Throughout the episode (with the exception of summer) there is practically no dialogue and yet each story feels so complete. So little happens but the focus on such different regions and characters goes a long way to create an amazingly well realised world.
The sheer style of Samurai Jack is what most people will remember it for. Long, atmospheric moments of silence were commonplace and not an episode goes by without an epic long shot showing some new and spectacular scenery. The fighting too was incredibly stylish with every battle being well choreographed and unique. With the variety that the futuristic world provided, it was possible to incorporate so many different locations, fighting styles and situations that each fight scene was always fresh and stylish in its own way.
Unfortunately, Samurai Jack never made it past its fourth season. Despite praise from fans and critics alike, including four Emmys, the show was cancelled in 2004. Plans were announced by creator Genndy Tartakovsky (who also made Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Laboratory) to make a film so that Jack’s story could be completed, but as much as I would love to see its return, another series would make far more sense. The show was already cinematic enough and almost every episode had the potential to have a film created around it. By condensing the remaining story into a single movie, I think it would lose something in the process. Jack was at its best in short bursts and when it focused on style over substance. The variety that made the series so unique would inevitably be lost. However, there has been little news on the project in years and it looks unlikely it will happen any time soon.
Despite my apprehensions about the possible film, the return of Samurai Jack would be welcome in any form. The quality of the show is undeniable and sorely missed. So few TV shows can capture an audience of all ages, let alone cartoons, but Jack was captivating from start to finish and stands the test of time fantastically. It’s a wonder that it managed to slip under so many people’s radars the first time around and it definitely deserves a second shot at the spotlight.