TV Broadcasting (USA)
One of the best shows since Powerpuff Girls.
By Jake Forbes
I must admit that I am not a fan of the Cartoon Network school of animation.
Space Ghost is hilarious, the Powerpuff Girls are cute (if repetitive) and
Dexter's Lab has many moments of genius, but pretty much the rest of their
original programming makes me want to gag. So it was with a sense of duty
and not anticipation that I attended the premier of Samurai Jack at the San
Diego Comic Con. Now, they told us that we were watching Cartoon Network's
Samurai Jack, but I think they must have played the wrong tapes. What they
did show was a beautiful 75 minute art film with an amazing soundtrack,
wonderful characters, and a very sophisticated sense of humor. It was
The story opens with an intense and psychedelic sequence of the
shape-shifting demon god Aku escaping from imprisonment in the earth. This
sequence on its own would win awards at an independent European animation
festival, but it's only the tip of Samurai Jack's iceberg. Aku then proceeds
to ravage a medieval Japanese city until he is confronted by a noble
samurai with an enchanted sword. The samurai keeps Aku at bay long enough
for his wife and son to get away. The story then follows the samurai's son
as he is passed from culture to culture, developing his warrior skills. He
learns to ride with the Arabs, sail with the Vikings, spar with the
Ethiopians, practice kung fu with the Chinese, etc. Once he has become a
man, the young samurai returns to Japan to meet with his mother, who gives
him the enchanted sword of his father. Then it's back to Japan to free his
people from Aku's cruel reign. The samurai defeats Aku, but there is a
twist- Aku transports the samurai far into the future so that he and his
descendants can't stop the demon from taking over the Earth.
What's most impressive about this first act is that it's 95% dialogue free!
It's not until the young Jack confronts Aku that we get any real dialogue.
The creepy music and beautiful animation do a wonderful job at keeping the
viewer's attention. That Cartoon Network would allow the very first episode
of a series to be so abstract is a miracle, but I'm very glad it happened.
The second and third parts of the premier movie take the samurai far into
the future, where his acrobatics and swordplay earn him the nickname "Jack".
In this future, the evil Aku has enslaved the people of Earth and turned the
planet into an intergalactic trading port for smugglers and criminals. Jack
is soon enlisted by a group of canine archaeologists who are being forced by
Aku to dig up valuable gems when they'd rather learn about their ancestors
who walked on all fours and couldn't talk. The final standoff between Jack
and the scarab armies of Aku is very impressive, although the slow motion
and split-screen techniques are perhaps a bit overused.
Despite it's Japanese inspiration, Samurai Jack is definitely not attempting
to be anime. There are motion lines in some of the fight scenes, but
overall, it looks more like vintage Disney shorts than it does Rurouni
Kenshin. But with its mature themes, slower pacing, and abstract action, I
think that anime fans might be the most able to adapt to the show.
In Samurai Jack, I think that the Cartoon Network school of animation has
really matured from a cheap alternative to "proper" animation, into a real
artform. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky uses the low cel count, simple
character designs, and bright colors to create something that is beautiful,
exciting, fun, and entirely unique. How will this play on prime time TV?
With the creepy and mostly dialogue-free soundtrack and the abstract
split-screen action, I'm sure a lot of mainstream watchers will be put
off by the movie premier. It's their loss. With Samurai Jack, the
"Adult Swim" block on Cartoon Network, and Invader Zim on Nickelodeon,
America finally seems to be getting what anime fans have known all along:
animation is not just for kids- it can be so much more.