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Samurai Jack: Deep Cuts

It almost seems surreal, but this week Genndy Tartakovsky and Samurai Jack return to the airwaves to finish what they started over a decade ago. Jack’s journey has been on hiatus since 2004, when the show was placed on hold so Genndy and crew could work on the original Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries. Clearly it would be awhile before Genndy would have a chance to get back to Jack, as he unceremoniously left Cartoon Network in 2011 for Sony Pictures Animation after the cancellation of Sym-Bionic Titan for very dumb reasons.

That’s all in the past, Adult Swim and Genndy have brought Samurai Jack back for a 10 episode limited series that will hopefully see Jack finally defeat his eternal enemy Aku and return home to the past.  Samurai Jack returning to T.V. is huge deal and folks all over the internet have been celebrating his return. Adult Swim has been streaming the original series on loop for the last three weeks leading up to the March 11th premiere of the new season.  Jack’s whole journey is worth watching as  Samurai Jack is a triumph of visual storytelling.  Everything from the water painted backgrounds, the pulsing sound design, the lack on hard lines on characters, this show pushed forward what animation could be. Presented below are some “Deep Cuts” from the original series. These may not be some of the more recognizable or Emmy wining episodes, but collectively embody what makes Samurai Jack such a dope show to experience.

  I “The Beginning”

Samurai Jack premiered as a three part television movie; however, it is the first part “The Beginning” let audiences know this was not going to be the standard action show. The series’ first episode shows the resurrection of Aku and “Jack’s” training around the world to prepare him for his fight. It also teaches viewers what to expect from this show. Genndy tells of a story of how Cartoon Network execs were freaking out after viewing the first episode because the opening sequence went three minutes without a line of spoken dialogue. This was unheard of in animation and they feared audiences would not follow long or get bored and changed the channel. This was not the case. “The Beginning” features drama, action and comedy all while saying very little.

XLIV “The Princess and the Bounty Hunters”

This episode might remind some of the Classic Batman: The Animation Series episode “Almost Got ‘Im.” Jack does not (really) show up until the last two minutes. What makes this even crazier than that Batman episode, the frame of this story is being told by entirely new characters – who have to be introduced and developed in about 4 minutes of animation.  Five Bounty Hunters gather in a snowy village and plan to ambush Jack.  While each of their plans are infused with their colorful personalities, individually they do not have what is needed to take out Jack. The rest of the episode is all tension building, with the hunters deciding on a plan, setting up their ambush and waiting – a lot of waiting. Jack’s take down of the hunters is burial. While most of them are motivated by money alone, one of hunters is a victim of Aku’s treachery and their plight might have you rooting for them by the end.

XXXVII & XXXVIII “The Birth of Evil”

Aku’s presence cannot be understated. His striking design and the performance of the late great Mako are a large driving force of the show. “The Birth of Evil” tells the story of the original battles with Aku, who is in parts celestial entity and human creation. “The Birth of Evil” truly is a journey through time and space. Samurai Jack is a show from the pre HD era, it was animated for a 4:3 ratio; however, Genndy and crew would frequently cut off the tops and bottom of the screen to create a faux 16:9 ratio to really show the epicenes and scale of battles. Between the opening scene of Ra, Vishnu and Odin battling in space to Jack’s father’s first showdown with Aku, the animators make good use of the technique here.

XXX “Jack and the Traveling Creatures”

Jack is shown throughout the series as an unmatched warrior. Perhaps his physical skill is only matched by his dexterity and wit in combat. Even without his sword, Jack will find a way to defeat his enemies. What happens when Jack meets an enemy he cannot over power? “Jack and the Traveling Creatures” answers that and contains so many of the elements of Samurai Jack fans loves. Jacks begins the episode in a strange land with a magical lake he cannot cross. Befriending some creatures Jack learns how to cross the lake riding on the back of a giant beast. The Beast is ancient and appears to know a way Jack can travel back to the past. To get there, Jack must travel with another ancient Beast. The creatures are large but also distant toward Jack, as if they are withholding information and testing him. Once Jack gets to the portal, he cannot enter it because there is a Guardian. Even Aku, with all his magic and trickery, could not defeat Jack in a fight but this guy just over powers Jack. Jack does not win this fight. More importantly than Jack’s defeat, is the tease of Jack’s future at the end of episode the Guardian is shown.

XLIX “Seasons of Death”

Everything from the backgrounds, the colors, sound design and the great animation, Samurai Jack has always been a very beautiful show. “Seasons of Death” masterfully shows off all of these elements in four short vignettes. Two of the stories feature Jack heavily, while the other barley see him on screen at all.  Best of all – the colors. Traveling through the four seasons really allowed the artists of Samurai Jack to show off. This one episodes features some of the most lust and devise backgrounds the whole series. The audio work is top notch as well. The Ticks an tocks of mad scientist’s lab in Fall or the grinding metal war machinery of Winter of the add life to these worlds. Each of the vignettes showcases the action, humor and brevity the show is known for.