The plots of individual episodes range from dark and epic to light-hearted and comic, but typically follow "Jack", a time-displaced samurai warrior, in his singular quest to find a method of traveling back in time. Many of the battle scenes in the series are reminiscent of samurai films, and since Jack's robotic enemies "bleed" oil or electricity and monsters and aliens bleed slime or goo, the series is able to exhibit the action of these films while avoiding censorship for violence.
Samurai Jack is no longer available to be viewed by American residents via the Toonami Jetstream website. Production on the show was halted in 2004, but it was never officially ended. In return, Tartakovsky has announced plans to direct a theatrical film, stating that it will provide a definitive conclusion to the series.
The feature film was reported to be in pre-production as of 2009.
Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky for the Cartoon Network. As a follow-up to his successful series Dexter's Laboratory, Tartakovsky intended to create a series "that is cinematic in scope and that incorporates action, humor and intricate artistry". Samurai Jack began airing on August 10, 2001 and ran for four seasons.
Cartoon Network ordered fifty-two episodes of Samurai Jack, which were aired as four seasons of thirteen episodes each, as a prime time member of the Cartoon Cartoon block of programming. Despite critical acclaim, its Emmy nominations and wins, the show was taken off the air before the fourth season could complete its initial run. The unaired episodes were later shown as a Toonami special, on Toonami Jetstream (on Cartoon Network.com), and in re-runs. While airing, the series spawned a comic book and a video game tie-in. The show made a reappearance on Cartoon Network's adult swim, based on results from a successful user poll, noted in bumps during programming on February 22, 2008. The first episode of the series was broadcast during the network's Toonami block on March 29, 2008, and continued airing the episodes in order each week until the programming block went completely off the air on September 20, 2008. Samurai Jack began airing in August 2009 on Boomerang at 11:00 P.M (in place of Justice League Unlimited) until June 2011 but returned in September of that same year.
There had been plans for a Samurai Jack feature film in 2002 with New Line Cinema, but this project was cancelled after the lackluster performance of The Powerpuff Girls Movie. In an interview, Tartakovsky confirmed that "Jack will come back" and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film."  In 2007, the then newly formed production company Frederator Films announced in Variety that one of their first projects will be a feature film adaptation of Samurai Jack, written and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. As of September 2009, the film was said to be in the writing stage of pre-production, co-produced by J. J. Abrams Bad Robot Productions alongside Fred Seibert of Frederator Films and distributed by Warner Bros.
Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish Samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!
This quotation begins each episode of Samurai Jack, which tells the story of a young prince (Jack) from Feudal Japan whose father's empire was destroyed by the demon Aku. As a child, the prince escapes destruction and travels the world training his mind and his body for years until he reaches adulthood, becoming a legendary samurai. After taking his father's magic katana, he challenges Aku to a duel and defeats the demon. However, before the prince can deal the killing blow, Aku creates a time portal and sends his opponent into the distant future, anticipating that he would be able to amass sufficient power to deal with the Samurai later. The protagonist arrives in a dystopian, futuristic Earth ruled by Aku and filled with his robot minions and a large number of alien immigrant races of various appearances. The first people he encounters in the future call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name (his true given name is never mentioned in the series).
Standard episodes follow Jack's search for a way to travel back to his own time, where he hopes to stop Aku before these events come to pass. The cartoon depicts Jack's quest to find a time portal, while constantly facing obstacles set by Aku in a classic battle of Good versus Evil. Typically each time Jack believes he has reached the end of his quest, something causes him to dramatically miss his chance. In one attempt Jack locates a stable portal to the past, but the guardian of the portal defeats him after a long but noticeably mismatched battle. The guardian is about to crush him when the portal starts to flicker and glow, apparently giving the guardian a message; the guardian has a giant pterodactyl take the unconscious Jack away. After Jack leaves, the guardian states that it is not yet time for him to return to the past, and an image of what is implied to be an older Jack is then seen in the portal; indicating that Jack is predestined to succeed, but it will take many years for him to do so.
Samurai Jack takes place in a world where science and technology have developed far beyond what is available in our current time, and in some ways resembles magic on its own. However, despite scientific advances, the future is decidedly dystopian—for example, in one episode the mafia profits greatly from the sale of simple water. Samurai Jack is also theorized to take place in a post-apocalyptic shared universe with The Powerpuff Girls. Many similarities in the structure of the buildings resemble those from The Powerpuff Girls, one specifically including a billboard that can be seen in a similar looking place in both shows, the Samurai Jack port of it looking barren and destroyed. Aliens, bounty hunters, and robots are plentiful, and always ready for a fight. The leader of this world is Aku.
While the setting is distinctly futuristic and technological, several instances of mythology and supernatural events do occur. Mythologies, like Valhalla, and even supernatural forces, such as demonic enemies, make regular appearances, yet do not seem to stand out amongst the technologically advanced inhabitants. Aku himself is obviously supernatural, as is Jack's sword.
Stories take place in a variety of locations. Ranging from beautiful wilderness to futuristic or even dystopian cities, there is often a stark contrast made between the industrial world and the natural world. Regardless of the setting, the simple, minimalistic art style employed resembles ukiyo-e paintings.
Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is the son of the Japanese Emperor who ruled the area where Aku originally appeared on Earth, and is banished to the future by Aku during their first battle, where he is left in every episode to search for a way home. He was born on the day that his father defeated Aku and he seems to be the only mortal (aside from his father) to be a match to Aku.
As a boy, after his father was captured by Aku, Jack traveled around the world to prepare both physically and mentally for his confrontation with Aku. He studied under various scholars, such as Egyptian thinkers, and mastered each art of combat from the cultures he met, training with African Zulu warriors, Viking sailors, Robin Hood, Mongolian warriors, Shaolin monks, Greek Olympic contestants, Spartans, Russian Cossacks, and several others. The only time Young Jack has spoken is in Episode XXXI.
Later, after being sent into the future, he is taught the ability to jump hundreds of feet into the air by a species of blue gorilla and a jungle man, thus allowing him to reach vast areas he previously could not reach while also giving the impression that he can fly. Jack's magic sword was forged by the gods Odin, Ra, and Rama through three mortal avatars. The sword was forged from the righteous energy within Jack's father; it is able to cut through all but the most magically-protected targets. On the other hand, it is unable to harm beings that are pure of heart, as seen in Episode XXX where Aku steals the sword and attempts to kill Jack with it, but fails even to cut him.
Jack strongly exhibits the characteristics of a stoic hero. He is unfailingly polite and humble despite the completely alien nature of the futuristic world and never scoffs at or disparages the customs of the people he encounters (as unpleasant as they seem to him at times). Despite his almost hopeless situation, he does not bewail his destiny, instead exhibiting a strong amor fati. Jack consistently shows an uncommon moral strength of character by helping the poor and defenseless along the way, in one instance even helping talking dogs that worked for Aku, in another, releasing the souls of a family in a haunted mansion. Occasionally, he faces great physical pain, or has to forget his own goals in order to help someone in need.
His real name has never been revealed (however, his way of replying his name when asked may be a homage to Violence Jack who shares a similar response as well as name). In the second episode however, he began using the name Jack when three teenage aliens, after witnessing Jack survive a huge fall by jumping onto cars, referred to him as Jack while praising him when he landed - in this case, more of a generic term, à la "dude" or "guy." Later, when asked to identify himself, he replied "They call me Jack."
Aku (voiced by Mako) is Samurai Jack's arch nemesis. His name means "evil" in Japanese. He is similar to Akuma, the evil demon with burning eyes from Japanese mythology. He is an extremely powerful demon wizard whose primary ability is shape-shifting like the god of evil Amatsu-Mikaboshi, though he possesses many other powers. He requires no food, water, or air and is capable of interstellar travel. He also has the ability to spy on Jack and others from a large sphere he can summon at will in his tower. A significant aspect of the series is that Aku is immortal, and Jack's samurai sword is the only weapon capable of harming and finally defeating him; even the slightest physical contact with the sword's blade causes Aku severe pain, and wounds inflicted by it burn his body and cut away his power. Because of this threat, Aku does not like to fight Jack himself, and only does so when Jack is incapacitated or without the sword. Aku much prefers to let his minions and bounty hunters do it for him. Aku is also vulnerable to varying degrees of other forms of magical or divine attacks such as the powers and artifacts of gods.
Aku constantly antagonizes Jack, often attacking him while he is weak, and other times defending himself from Jack's own gambits. The two seem doomed never to defeat each other, for though Jack has bested Aku on numerous occasions, Aku merely transforms into a small creature and escapes, usually calling out a taunt over his shoulder as he flees, a fact that he himself is aware of and even makes a reference to in one episode.
The episode "The Birth of Evil" reveals Aku's origin. Long ago in the vastness of space, a great formless evil appeared. Before the darkness could do harm to the universe, it was set upon by the kings of three religions: Odin, the one-eyed king of Asgard and the Norse Gods, Ra, the sun god and king of the Gods of Egypt and Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, the supreme being in Hindu mythology. So fierce was their attack on the shadow, that it was completely destroyed, save for a small fragment that was flung aside in the heat of battle. For ages, the fragment drifted through the cosmos and eventually fell to Earth, and caused the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs when it landed. The land around its impact site eventually formed into the islands of Japan, where the evil fragment slowly grew like a forest and spread like poison over the course of eons, creating an ever-expanding mass of black spikes and toxic tar that devoured and poisoned any who entered. Eventually, the forest grew so large that the Emperor of the land decided to kill the evil at its source. Armed with a magic oil given to him by Buddhist monks, the Lord and his cavalry rode into the heart of the forest, the Lord himself the only one to survive. Once at the black lake at the forest's center, the Samurai Lord doused an arrow into the oil he was given, lit it with a green flame, and shot it into the lake. Instead of destroying the evil, however, the magic arrow gave it both a will and consciousness, and the demon wizard Aku was born. Aku went on a rampage of destruction, burning and killing. He proved to be unstoppable, so with the help of the three gods, Jack's father forged a sword capable of harming him. With it, he was able to defeat Aku and turned the demon back into a black tree. This imprisonment was only temporary, as years later, a solar eclipse releases Aku upon the world once more.
While he is usually presented as a serious and threatening foe, Aku is also a source of comedy due to his outrageous design and sometimes wise-guy behavior, supported by Mako's over-the-top voice acting. Aku's shifts in personality between serious and chaotic suggest that his mind changes form just as his body does. In addition, Aku has a tendency to refer to himself in the third person.
When Jack arrives in the future, he finds that Aku has conquered the world and rules the populace with an iron fist. Jack finds that there are still warriors in this age, and occasionally meets both those fighting for and those siding against the side of good. Samurai Jack's universe is populated by a diverse cast of characters who often appear for single episodes with only two notable exceptions.
Samurai Jack frequently features appearances from deities of varying pantheons and creatures of legend. In the episode "The Birth of Evil", Odin, Ra, and Rama are shown to join forces to battle the dark power that would one day spawn Aku. In another episode Jack shows he is familiar with the chronology of the Greek pantheon, such as the God Zeus and the Titan Chronos.
Samurai Jack occasionally borrows from ancient sources as well as current ones. In the episode "Jack and the Spartans", Jack fights alongside an army of three-hundred warriors who bear a likeness to Spartans, defending their home from an army of robots that would reconstruct themselves after each day's fight. The plot of this episode is based on the Battle of Thermopylae, while the episode's artistic style is a homage to Frank Miller's comic book, 300.
The show has referenced its creator's previous work as well. When Jack first meets the canine archaeologists, one of the dogs is "Big Dog" from 2 Stupid Dogs, a show on which Tartakovsky worked back in 1993.
The premise of the entire series - a solitary man from the Orient wandering in a foreign world - is adapted directly from the early-70's television drama "Kung Fu", starring David Carradine as the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine. While their individual adventures do not correspond to each other, the ongoing dynamic of solitary wanderer learning, sometimes through pain and sometimes bemusedly, his new surroundings, while simultaneously teaching his own sense of ethics to those he meets, is consistent. At the conclusion of season 2 of Kung Fu, Kwai Chang meets a burly, somewhat crazy Scotsman who is transporting his wife in a gigantic casket. In this case it turns out that the wife is a stone statue.
Samurai Jack symbol - Zintaris
Zintaris symbol looks like a diamond with four lines inside a circle. It represents five basic positive human characteristics: Goodness, modesty, wisdom, skills and inner peace and is the symbol (or "ka-mon") of Jack's family. All the families of the nobility in Japan had their own individual ka-mon or mon. Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack, in an interview said that they did careful research to make sure that Jack's family's ka-mon would look authentic without copying any other ka-mon.
For Samurai Jack Tartakovsky was influenced by many different sources. The series overall was designed to look like a Japanese epic, with many individual episodes taking on their own styles. One episode could resemble a book by Dr. Seuss when the next could involve Jack fleeing from a Demonic Horde. Action in Samurai Jack borrows liberally from old martial arts and samurai films, and action films of the 1970s. Like 1963's Toei Animation studio release entitled The Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon (Originally Wanpaku Ouji no Orochi Taiji), it uses multiple angle and split screen shots to display action from multiple angles. The plot is frequently stopped to allow for the building of tension before combat or for the sake of humor; it is also not uncommon for episodes to be almost entirely free of dialogue which results in cinematic or stylized episodes.
Tartakovsky included a cameo of a Samurai with a young child in a baby carriage in the episode "Jack Remembers the Past". This character has a strong resemblance to Ogami Itto of Lone Wolf and Cub.
Tartakovsky has also acknowledged taking some of his thematic inspiration from Frank Miller's comic book series Ronin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future ahead of our present in order to battle a shape-shifting Demon. Similarly, the episode "Jack and the Spartans" was specifically inspired by Miller's 300, a graphic novel retelling of The Battle of Thermopylae.
In a list compiling the 25 greatest animated shows in television history, by TV Guide, Samurai Jack was ranked 7th, being one of two Cartoon Network programs on the list. In 2004, British broadcaster Channel 4 ran a poll of the one hundred greatest cartoons of all time, in which Samurai Jack achieved the 42nd position.
The distinctive style of Samurai Jack is what drew Lucasfilm to recruit Tartakovsky for the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. Much of the signature cinematic style of Samurai Jack is present in Clone Wars, such as lightning-fast combat, extended sequences without dialogue, explosions, epic vistas, etc.
Samurai Jack also remains a popular subject with Cartoon Network animators and continues to show up in programs being broadcast today. The following are a few examples.
- The Duck Dodgers, episode "Samurai Quack" was dedicated to spoofing the various stylistic elements and plot devices of Samurai Jack, such as only ever killing robots and the progressive ripping of clothes leading up to the final battle of the episode. Tartakovsky himself also made a cameo in that episode. The role of Aku is played by Dodgers's Happy Cat alarm clock voiced by Mako.
- In one episode of Dexter's Laboratory, (another cartoon created by Tartakovsky), boy-genius Dexter frequently says "Samurai Jaction" rather than "action", e.g., "Aww, no more Samurai Jaction for you!" Also in the post-2001 episodes, a Samurai Jack action figure is sometimes visible on the shelf in Dexter's bedroom. Additionally, in one of the episodes Dexter is watching a TV show resembling Samurai Jack.
The show was ranked at #43 by IGN for its Top 100 Animated Series list.
The concept of Samurai Jack has also has been seen in the video games Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for the Game Boy Advance was in 2002, Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku for the GameCube and PlayStation 2 was released in 2004, Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall which features Samurai Jack, the Scotsman, and Demongo (with Phil LaMarr, John DiMaggio and Kevin Michael Richardson repising their respective roles) as non-playable characters who will give missions to players while Aku (now voiced by Greg Baldwin due to Mako's passing in 2006) is a Nano, Project Exonaut where Jack is a playable character only for the Banzai Squadron, the brawler Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion released on June 2, 2011 in North America for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 where Jack (now voiced by Keith Ferguson instead of Phil LaMarr for unknown reasons) and the Scotsman are playable characters while Aku is an assist character, a boss and a playable character.
Like many other previous Cartoon Network shows, Samurai Jack DVDs were released by Warner Home Videobetween 2003 and 2007. The DVDs include episode numbers in Roman numerals as they appear at the end of each episode but remain untitled. Copyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samurai_Jack