I was a mere eleven years of age when Samurai Jack first premiered on Cartoon Network. Because of this, I can speak with first-hand clarity of its instant obvious quality. Even at that tender age it smashed out from the screen, leaving its peers far behind with an unbelievable strength of vision. That’s not even to denigrate the network’s surrounding programming, itself a rich buffet of well-crafted material. It’s just that Samurai Jack is so singular. In no way does it ever hand-hold its audience. Instead, each frame shines with its own beauty, leading us through a slow and quietly crafted narrative. Its impact has endured long into my adulthood too, proving itself to be a consistent influence on my tastes.
It isn’t just moody ambience either. What strikes me, having recently binge-watched its entirety, is how funny it is. There’s an incredible amount of deft comic timing in there to break the tension, and it makes the whole affair frighteningly watchable. Main antagonist, Aku, is a constantly hilarious foil to Jack’s stoic resolve. The voice acting is some of the strongest in animation. Even its music stands out. Samurai Jack is simply one of the finest things to have ever been on television, in no small part for its production values.
Unfortunately, there were two main things that flawed its winning formula. For a start, its placement on Cartoon Network was always quite limiting on its scope. This, of course, left Jack fighting an array of oil-spilling robots without a drop of blood in sight. While understandable, the world of Samurai Jack is ripe for some more adult themes. Secondly, a satisfying conclusion was never quite reached. Mysteriously and suddenly cancelled before the end of its fourth season, Jack never found the closure he sought. This was frustrating for an audience that had grown dedicated over its run. When a long-teased film kept failing to materialise, it only made that frustration worse. A strong ending seemed impossible when 2006 saw the death of Mako Iwamatsu, one of the show’s principle voices.
Nevertheless, here we are in 2017, apparently on the cusp of that very ending. It was in December, last year, that Adult Swim first announced the new series. Recently, to drum up hype, they’ve released a trailer. It surprised me, popping up on my YouTube recommended videos in the dead of night. After years of waiting I was finally seeing fresh output from one of my favourite shows. Oddly, my first reaction was a groan. Reboots and things of that ilk never tend to come out well, and I would hate to add Samurai Jack to that increasingly large pile. Following my disapproving sigh, I finally took note of the thumbnail, feeling some instant relief. A click on the play button later, and i’m met with this:
It’s genuinely tough to know where to begin. It would at least be prudent to express how impressed my initial reaction is. Intact and, actually evolved, is its art style; important beyond belief to the series. Faithful in the extreme, as well it should be, it’s very satisfying to see this approach back on our screens. What’s even more satisfying about it is how clearly it’s reaching its potential. With a later slot, and clearly adult demographic, Samurai Jack seems to be taking its tone in the darker direction it deserves.
The added bite appears to be the enhancement fans had often dreamed of, now not afraid of getting its hands dirty in the quest for greater depth. Everything else about it slots into place too. Whether its a mysterious intrigue, the return of Phil LaMarr voicing Jack or its interesting music, the production values that always kept the show afloat are still very much there. It remains to see if the fleshing out within is worthy of the source material, but this is certainly a promising look at what’s shaping up to be an exciting release.
My only qualm and worry is the absence of Aku, and knowing that an impersonator is going to be filling the role. If everything around that potential hazard holds up, things should be pretty plain sailing. However, a poorly voiced antagonist will stick out like a sore thumb. We can only hope that the creatives involved have the same reverence for their iconic bad-guy as the other elements of Samurai Jack. This trailer, in its thought-provoking and adrenaline-dipped magnificence, gives me faith that things are in good hands. Set fifty years on from the original, I find myself hoping that Jack won’t go “back to the past” but, instead, explore an undiscovered future.