I’ve neglected this here blog for a while, mainly due to a few things catching up to me, and a few new things occupying most of my time, all leading up to me having little time to analyse my days enough to write a few hundred words about some inanity here. It’s not all bad though, because I’m writing here and now, and I suppose it’ll breathe a few more moments of life into what may have, for a while, looked like a dead page. So, without further ado, I shall present you with the thing that I’ve enjoyed most in the past month or so: Samurai Jack.
Yes, Samurai Jack is that old(ish) cartoon from Cartoon Network about a Samurai sent to the future who wanders about helping strangers. Yes, it was on a children’s tv channel, but no, it’s not for kids. Sure, they could enjoy it, and I’m sure many do, but really, this is quite a mature, funny, dramatic and brilliantly directed show that is a testament to how many cartoons can be really appreciated by adults. I guess they’re a lot like comics, in some respect. There are those aimed at the lower demographics, and those aimed at the higher.
There are a few things that really stand out on Samurai Jack. Luckily, they’re the main things that make something brilliant. Art style, direction, music, writing. These four things are at such a startlingly high quality in Samurai Jack that I wonder why it only lasted four series. I’m by no way a cartoon aficionado, but I like to think I know a good one from a bad, and the fact I’ve got the (excellent) Spawn anime series on my shelf is testament to that. So when I say that the harsh lines and broad brushstrokes that make up the art of Samurai Jack are just a few steps away from proper art (i.e. not that aimed for a purpose other than to be appreciated), I like to think I’m close to the mark. They’re reminiscient of the Japanese wall paintings you have a vague recollection of, but have never really seen. The lack of harsh black lines everywhere makes it all seem excellently fluid, and certainly adds something to the program.
The music, similarly, is brilliant. It’s a fusion of electronic and classical, bringing in sweeping orchestras and pounding beats. It’s really quite astonishing how well thought out the whole thing is, to show the juxtaposition of the Samurai from feudal Japan set among a future of hover cars, robots and other such crazy inventions. Everything is finely in tune, and the music is that much more so. Every fight has the perfect accompanyment, and even the quieter moments are very well thought out musically.
I’m kind of ticking great things off a list here, explaining why I think they are great, but I think to understand the brilliance of Samurai Jack you’ll really need to see it for yourself. However, there is two moments in the show that I think will demonstrate quite how brilliant it is. The first is a throwaway scene, and one that you see often in the episodes. Jack walks into some sort of bar, sits down, and a set of bounty hunters try to capture him to get the bounty on his head. Except, this time, the whole thing is shot in homage to the classic scene from Desperado, when Antonio Banderas walks into the bar, his face slipping in and out of shadow, and orders a water. Then all hell breaks loose. It’s perfect, and children won’t understand it (as Desperado is an 18, natch.), but it just shows the quality of the cartoon that they can nonchalantly throw in a brilliant little scene like that.
The other example is a bit more indicitive of the sort of thing the show does best. In the fourth, and final, series, there’s an entire episode that barely features Jack at all. It’s centered around a Private Eye Robot, who was one of the first to be made for Aku (the series’ antagonist) when his robot army was being assembled. This particular robot was given a prototype emotion chip, and as he carried out missions for Aku he started to make moral judgements, until he decided to retire because he didn’t want to carry on doing evil, or something. He meets a stray dog, called Lulu, and they live happily for what seems like hundreds of years. The best thing about this whole thing, though, is it’s narrated by the robot, who’s tinny voice is a wonderful little departure from the noire style that’s obviously being parodied. The fact it all ends with him going ‘Tell… Lulu… I love her..’ before his eyes dim out in Terminator-esque fashion is just the icing on the cake. It’s a throwaway story that becomes that much more brilliant because of it.
The only possible criticism I could make of the series is that it has no ending, no conclusion. Jack doesn’t get back to the past, and he doesn’t defeat Aku. I know that they aren’t inclined to end a plot like that, as his state of limbo allows so many stories to be told, but the fact that we don’t get a satisfactory plot arc is mildly frustrating, if only because you so desperately want Jack to make it home. There’s one episode where he stumbles upon the ruins of his home, several thousand years after it was destroyed. The entire episode is dedicated to his memories, and it’s really quite moving, seeing him walking among the wreckage of his old city.
Samurai Jack is brilliant viewing. It may be just a cartoon, but it’s leagues ahead of some of the dross adorning our televisions these days. Most of the dvds are available through amazon, although I’m not sure if they’re available in the UK. The fact is, if you can stomach watching something that could be said to be aimed at children, and you enjoy the psuedo anime stylings, it’s pretty much essential viewing. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that absolutely genius 300 homage episode. Well, here’s a picture from it.