“Samurai Jack” on Cartoon Network
The lesson is simple, fans: Never give up. Go ahead and bug Joss Whedon. You might just get that new season of “Firefly.” After all, Genndy Tartakovsky has returned to put a fifth and final season on his cult cartoon “Samurai Jack” after a 13-year hiatus. There are, evidently, rewards to fanatic dedication, patience and repeated publication of online fanfic.
“Samurai Jack” ran on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2004. It related the story of a samurai prince (voiced by the legendary Phil LaMarr) from feudal Japan who used a magical katana to battle a shape-shifting demon named Aku. Unable to defeat the warrior, Aku banished him to the far-flung, postapocalyptic future—at which point an all-powerful, still-living Aku felt confident he and his robotic minions could defeat “Samurai Jack.” For four seasons Tartakovsky’s series gathered loyal fans, young and old. Unfortunately, the show ended on a frustratingly unfinished cliffhanger. Now, after countless broken promises of a feature film wrap-up, Cartoon Network has committed to a fifth season of “Samurai Jack”—and it’s easily the best of the show’s run.
This new iteration of “Samurai Jack” retains Tartakovsky’s simple, stylized, extremely angular animation style (also seen in “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars”). But, having moved to the CN’s more grown-up Adult Swim programming block, the show is free to explore its darker side. A bearded, more grizzled Jack has traded his magical sword for a motorcycle and machine gun. Like “Adventure Time” and so many other shows that have come and gone since, the original run of the show always toed the line between kiddy fun and adult entertainment. The shows were often too slowly paced for kids and too lightweight for adults. This new series retains a certain whimsy (a bebopping robot assassin with the voice of Sammy Davis Jr., for example), but it’s much more PG-13 when it comes to the violence. Rivers of the dead stream before Jack’s hallucinating eyes, robotic beetles are ground to a pulp and children are brutalized. Fights—which were prominent in the original, but way too tame—are now appropriately rough. Those who were kids when the show aired more than a decade ago are best situated to appreciate it as grown-ups today.
With only 10 episodes in this final season, the show’s producers are able to lavish a bit more time, money and care on each episode. Storylines have the freedom to be less episodic and more serialized now that they’re building toward a definitive climax. Jack’s struggle this season revolves largely around the seven daughters of Aku, trained since birth to kill their father’s time-lost enemy. And it’s looking like an epic fight to the finish. One that fans have been waiting for for a very long time. It gives us fanboys and fangirls hope for more “Carnivàle” or “Deadwood” or “Pushing Daisies” or “Twin Peaks” or ... Oh, wait. We’re getting that one.