I have to admit that since I cut cable last year, my cartoon watching has diminished quite a bit. Well, kinda…it’s actually gone up, but it is now made up almost entirely of the shows my toddler watches – Curious George, Octonauts, Daniel Tiger and a small host of others. And they’re not all bad…
…but the news that came down within the past couple days has me debating whether or not I should reinstate my cable – Samurai Jack is returning to the Cartoon Network in 2016.
The Legacy of Samurai Jack
Samurai Jack ran between 2001-2005, a time that was sort of pre-internet in that Facebook-wasn’t-really-a-thing-yet kind of way. America wasn’t streaming their shows and YouTube wasn’t a force (heck, Google was just hitting their stride).
Given all that, Samurai Jack wasn’t an overly popular or mainstream cartoon but it created a very dedicated and loyal fanbase, myself included. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, who helped create the likes of Dexter’s Lab and the Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack was a wonderful and beautiful balance between all of his cartoons up to that point.
Jack had a action, wonderful art and emotional storylines as Jack was always trying to find his way home after being thrown into a time warp from ancient Japan. He learns as he wanders but also takes us back to his childhood home in some very personal moments.
I loved watching Samurai Jack because it hit that sweet spot between action and great art. Whereas the Powerpuff Girls was all action, all the time, Jack used action only when necessary – maybe not unlike the philosophy of Jack himself. It would have been easy to have Jack slicing his way through the universe in every episode but they didn’t.
However, the one Jack episode that I remember being blown away by when I saw it was “Jack and the Three Blind Archers.”
Jack heard a legend about a magical well at the top of a lone tower that had the power to send him back home, but it was protected by 3 blind archers. Not thinking much of it, Jack attacks head on only to get beat down. He has to regroup and control his feelings before he can thwart the bad guys. To do so, Jack studies nature and uses his body to overcome the odds…he listens the breeze, feels the grass under his feet and so on. (Interestingly enough, Curious George also has an episode like that, just without the archers.)
Jack then advances to the tower and defeats the archers, turning them back into the normal men they once were. They then tell Jack that the well gave them unlimited power but at the price of becoming blind monsters. Despite his love to return home, Jack does the right thing and destroys the well.
A cartoon’s journey
That’s a good story, a classic story, but what will strike you about the episode is the limited about of dialog. There’s barely any. The story is told through sounds and beautiful animation and art. It’s more like a Tom & Jerry episode than Powerpuffs. It’s elegant and given the nature of other cartoons at the time, a rare gem that holds up well to this day.
Samurai Jack coming back is a wonderful thing because we never really got an end to Jack’s story. The series ended without a finale so as far as we know, Jack is still wandering around space and time trying to find a way home.
I doubt we’ll get an end in 2016, but why would we want one? Samurai Jack was probably a little ahead of its time in terms of cartoons. With help from Adult Swim and just the internet at large, cartoons that are less-mainstream-yet-more-interesting are more watched than ever. Not unlike Jack himself, the show has found itself thrust into a future it couldn’t have expected…only this time that’s a wonderful thing.