On August 10th 2001 Cartoon Network premiered Samurai Jack, an original series created by Genndy Tartakovsky who had previously made a name for himself with one of the network’s earlier hits Dexter’s Laboratory as well as helping Craig McCracken out on the much Beloved PowerPuff Girls. This however would end up being Taratkovsky’s biggest hit yet. But why is it so beloved? Well, I cannot speak for everyone, but here is my two-cents on the subject.
If you look at Jack’s success in its simplest form it is arguably one of those in the right place at the right time situations. Jack aired when action based animations were still popular acquisitions and anime had been rising in popularity in the west over the past five years, so you take an original series that is action oriented while still having the style of comedy one would expect from the Cartoon Network brand at the time mix that with some Asian themes and boom you have yourself a show that could grab multiple demographics in one foul swoop. This explanation however is vastly over simplifying Jack’s success and is more of something you would hear in a cooperate boardroom then an average animation fan such as myself.
The true reason for Samurai Jack’s success is in the execution of the show, the series used the animation medium in ways that are still a delight on the eyes. Taking the traditional simple shapes of cartoon characters and juxtaposing them with even more simplistic yet beautiful painting like backgrounds having a characters motion and sound effects fit perfectly with the music, making every little sound as crystal clear as what little dialogue came from the characters all made for a truly unique and enjoyable experience. Yes unlike so many cartoons that depend so heavily on dialogue to move their story forward Samurai Jack depended on action in a literal sense. There were whole episodes where jack would hardly or never speak at all, episodes that fully depended on the movements of the characters and world around them to tell the story. This also helped the series have a cinematic feel to it which made things feel as if they had even more depth and weight to them. This in my opinion is why Samurai Jack was so successful and why the series has resonated with so many for so long, it was something genuinely unique in comparison to other animations on television at the time, it fully took advantage of animation as a form of visual storytelling. It was a simple as it was complex, and as refined as it was innocent. Even by modern animation standards it is a series that truly stands out.
Sadly Samurai Jack ended its initial run in September of 2004 but its legacy would endure. The series continued to get new adventures in comic books from both DC Comics and IDW Publishing over the years and constant on again off again rumors of a feature film, reruns on Boomerang, and fans demanding more adventures kept the flame alive and finally after over a decade Adult Swim,Cartoon Network and Genndy Tartakovsky have answered fans demand and greenlight a 5th season to wrap-up the storyline which began airing on Toonami on Saturday nights as of March 11th 2017.
Overall Samurai Jack is a series that so far has stood the test of time and continues to be one the most beloved original series Cartoon Network and Tartakovsky have produced. And while true the Adult Swim revival is a bit more bloody and intense then the original, for the most part it still manages to retain the spirit the original had and continues to be a genuinely enjoyable piece truly showcasing animations legitimacy as an art form.
So welcome back Jack, and thanks for all the memories.
This post is dedicated to Mako Iwamatsu, the original voice of Aku and Last Airbender’s Uncle Iroh.