Samurai Jack is an American animated television series created by animator Genndy Tartakovsky that aired on both Cartoon Network and Toonami from 2001 to 2004. It is noted for its highly detailed, outline-free, masking-based animation, as well as its cinematic style and pacing. It was the first Cartoon Network original series aside from those which comprised the Cartoon Cartoons lineup at the time. It is currently shown on its sister network Boomerang and has garnered a strong cult following.
The plots of individual episodes range from dark and epic to light-hearted and comic, but typically follow “Jack”, a time-displaced samurai warrior, in his singular quest to find a method of traveling back in time. Many of the battle scenes in the series are reminiscent of samurai films, and since Jack’s robotic enemies “bleed” oil or electricity and monsters and aliens bleed slime or goo, the series is able to exhibit the action of these films while avoiding censorship for violence.
Samurai Jack is no longer available to be viewed by American residents via the Toonami Jetstream website. Production on the show was halted in 2004, but it was never officially ended. In return, Tartakovsky has announced plans to direct a theatrical film, stating that it will provide a definitive conclusion to the series. The feature film was reported to be in pre-production as of 2009. Though it has been delayed, Tartakovsky has said he is still interested in the project.
Samurai Jack frequently features appearances from deities of varying pantheons and creatures of legend. In the episode “The Birth of Evil”, Odin, Ra, and Rama are shown to join forces to battle the dark power that would one day spawn Aku. In another episode Jack shows he is familiar with the chronology of the Greek pantheon, such as the God Zeus and the Titan Chronos.
Samurai Jack occasionally borrows from ancient sources as well as current ones. In the episode “Jack and the Spartans”, Jack fights alongside an army of three-hundred warriors who bear a likeness to Spartans, defending their home from an army of robots that would reconstruct themselves after each day’s fight. The plot of this episode is based on the Battle of Thermopylae, while the episode’s artistic style is a homage to Frank Miller’s comic book, 300.
The show has referenced its creator’s previous work as well. When Jack first meets the canine archaeologists, one of the dogs is “Big Dog” from 2 Stupid Dogs, a show on which Tartakovsky worked back in 1993.
The premise of the entire series - a solitary man from the Orient wandering in a foreign world - is adapted directly from the early-70’s television drama “Kung Fu”, starring David Carradine as the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine. While their individual adventures do not correspond to each other, the ongoing dynamic of solitary wanderer learning, sometimes through pain and sometimes bemusedly, his new surroundings, while simultaneously teaching his own sense of ethics to those he meets, is consistent. At the conclusion of season 2 of Kung Fu, Kwai Chang meets a burly, somewhat crazy Scotsman who is transporting his wife in a gigantic casket. In this case it turns out that the wife is a stone statue.
Zintaris symbol looks like a diamond with four lines inside a circle. It represents five basic positive human characteristics: Goodness, modesty, wisdom, skills and inner peace and is the symbol (or “ka-mon”) of Jack’s family. All the families of the nobility in Japan had their own individual ka-mon or mon. Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack, in an interview said that they did careful research to make sure that Jack’s family’s ka-mon would look authentic without copying any other ka-mon.
For Samurai Jack Tartakovsky was influenced by many different sources. The series overall was designed to look like a Japanese epic, with many individual episodes taking on their own styles. One episode could resemble a book by Dr. Seuss when the next could involve Jack fleeing from a Demonic Horde. Action in Samurai Jack borrows liberally from old martial arts and samurai films, and action films of the 1970s. Like 1963’s Toei Animation studio release entitled The Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon (Originally Wanpaku Ouji no Orochi Taiji), it uses multiple angle and split screen shots to display action from multiple angles. The plot is frequently stopped to allow for the building of tension before combat or for the sake of humor; it is also not uncommon for episodes to be almost entirely free of dialogue which results in cinematic or stylized episodes.
Tartakovsky included a cameo of a Samurai with a young child in a baby carriage in the episode “Jack Remembers the Past”. This character has a strong resemblance to Ogami Itto of Lone Wolf and Cub.
Tartakovsky has also acknowledged taking some of his thematic inspiration from Frank Miller’s comic book series Ronin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future ahead of our present in order to battle a shape-shifting Demon. Similarly, the episode “Jack and the Spartans” was specifically inspired by Miller’s 300, a graphic novel retelling of The Battle of Thermopylae.
In 2009 Samurai Jack reruns were pulled from American television but Tartakovsky promised a film would soon follow. In the years since the property has stayed in development but no progress had been made. In September 2012, Genndy Tartakovsky announced in an interview with IGN, that a Samurai Jack movie is in post-production. He said; “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 (of Digital Production at Sony Picture Entertainment), 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.” It is going to be the conclusion for the series. The film, which is budgeted at $20 million, will combine traditional 2D animation with stereoscopic 3D. It is being produced by Fredarator Films and J. J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot Productions. Tartakovsky said the loss of voice actor Mako Iwamatsu, who played Aku, would also need to be addressed, but that’s a good problem to have.