With most of the recent spate of reboots and long-delayed continuations to TV shows, we talk about the final product in terms of how much is the same. It is as though any kind of change or differentiation from the original formula is egregious and scorn-worthy. With Adult Swim’s new 10-episode return to Samurai Jack, the differences are what will make it go down as one of the best animated miniseries of all time. Samurai Jack‘s original four-season run ended in 2004; both the makers of the show and the audience have changed in 13 years, and the show reflects that. It’s still Jack, but it’s decidedly grown up.
The story of Jack, the samurai prince from ancient times who is flung into the far future by the evil Aku, never wrapped up in 2004, so creator Genndy Tartakovsky is spending his limited series finally giving our stoic hero an ending. But rather than follow Jack on a series of mostly unrelated adventures that pit him against futuristic baddies, we get deeper focus on both Jack and how he’s lived since the original series ended. He’s not the same optimistic valiant warrior he once was; he’s been changed by his ordeal, and it seems never-ending.
We pick up 50 years in the future, but Jack hasn’t aged at all. He doesn’t know why exactly, just that it likely has to do with Aku’s magic. He’s embraced much more of the future world than ever before, riding a motorcycle, wearing modified Japanese armor, and wielding an arsenal of new weapons–both melee and projectile. The episode opens with an extended action sequence where the new Max Max-looking Jack takes on a cadre of robotic insects. It immediately hearkens back to Samurai Jack‘s first story, where he defends talking dogs against other robo-bugs. But here, there’s no one to defend; Aku’s evil has remained unchecked for so long that there’s nobody around who needs a hero. Why he’s still even bothering to fight is very much at the heart of this season, and the first episode certainly offers no answers.
Undoubtedly, Samurai Jack has aged very well in terms of its visuals. While keeping the basic Little Golden Books-style of artwork coupled with Spaghetti Western and manga references, everything seems much more mature, from the widescreen HD look of everything, to the way Jack is drawn slightly taller, slightly more angular. Even though he hasn’t aged the 50 years he’s spent in Aku’s future, his face shows the wear of ceaseless battle. All of this angst and torment has made the gorgeous open landscapes seem all the emptier, and Jack all the more singular in his quest.
The premiere episode is wall-to-wall action, and as with the previous seasons, Jack gets to take on a specialized, mouthy robot, which in this case is a sound-based warrior. One thing I’ve always loved about the show is how it allows for silence and ambient noise to be the only soundtrack for long stretches, and having a bad guy who uses sound as a weapon only punctuates how quiet the show is normally. It’s a brutal fight, and one that Jack might be too weary to win. Although it is just the first episode, we know this is going to be an uphill battle for the man who at one point seemed like the perfect, unstoppable warrior.
Pretty much, this is a gorgeous and exciting piece of action animation, maybe even more so than it had been in its Cartoon Network days. This feels like a story that deserves to be told, unlike some of the recent reboots. Fans of the series have wanted to see Jack finish his battle with Aku, and our patience has paid off. This is exactly the show I had hoped we’d get, with a harder edge than before but no less heart. I’m incredibly curious to see where the show goes and what Jack will have to endure. And with only 10 episodes, you can expect no filler.
Samurai Jack‘s final season premieres March 11 on Adult Swim. Let us know how high your excitement level is in the comments below! Until then, check out Genndy Tartakovsky’s list of 9 essential original series episodes to watch as a primer.
Images: Adult Swim