Usually, it takes a show awhile before it sends its characters into outer space. I’m pretty sure it was well into the last season before Steve Urkel went to space in Family Matters. (It may also have been season 2; I have no idea.) The point is, going into space is something most shows either do right away because it’s a major part of the plot/concept, or way towards the end as a jump-the-shark situation. Alternately, some shows in fact NEVER go into outer space, but that’s unconfirmed.
Samurai Jack in only its fifth episode sends its lead out among the stars, and it completely falls in line because that’s just the kind of show we’re dealing with.
Episode V, “Jack in Space,” is another title that tells you exactly what the episode’s about. We’ve established that Jack was in the past, we’ve seen him in the future, and we’ve seen him fight off aliens on behalf of strange creatures — next step is surely having him do that same stuff but in outer space!
Let it never be said that the Samurai Jack episodes are overwritten. They don’t really need much plot or story, though, because they have such an imaginative premise and artwork that is as gorgeous on the sixth viewing as it is on the first. In this episode, the design changes slightly to be like a 1950s and ’60s version of what the rocket age might look like, and I love it to pieces.
Already, we’re seeing a common theme in the beginning of episodes, which is Jack out in the wilderness somewhere, attempting to commune with nature, when the pleasant scene is interrupted, often loudly and violently, by the future. In this case, he’s drinking from a stream and makes room for a thirsty deer when they’re both startled by something out in the woods. The deer runs off and Jack goes to investigate, being forced to dodge various explosive arrows shot by something big. He dashes through and eventually makes it to a small clearing where several people in spacesuits are loading supplies into a rocket ship with a tree-top on the nose.
The astronauts are most disturbed when they see Jack, not because of Jack himself, but because of what’s following him. Three giant, robotic praying mantises appear and scan them. After a moment, one of the mantises says the astronauts have been found guilty of desertion, and under the laws of Aku will be summarily put to death. Quickly, Jack jumps into action and kills all three of them, but the last one’s head is able to fly off, which is no good for anyone because it’ll surely report that the astronauts (who were enslaved as Aku’s robot designers) are at large and then they’re sunk. They have incredibly low odds of actually escaping before Aku’s blockade stops them… but what if…
They realize that ol’ Jack is pretty much unstoppable and with him helping the astronauts, they might just escape. Jack agrees to help, but he says, “I’m grounded. I cannot fly.” Good thing these people have enough time to put Jack through an astronaut training montage, including teaching him (though he pretty much figures it out himself) how to operate a rocket pack. While they celebrate their success that day, they mention getting to go home and Jack laments the fact that he can’t go home, and relays the story from the first three episodes. The astronauts think they might be able to send Jack back in time, but only if he makes it back to their shuttle before they reach light speed.
They must take off quickly as Aku’s forces close in and, despite the bumpy takeoff, they get up okay and Jack, in his spacesuit, exits and prepares to battle. The insectoid theme of the earlier bad guys continues when a bunch of robot ticks begin drilling into the hull. Jack cuts their heads off but they continue to drill. Then, in the weirdest but most effective cutaway ever, Jack has a flashback of a tick biting into his skull and then needing a match to make it go away. Jack then lights his sword on fire using the rocket (something which our science editor Kyle Hill will tell you is impossible) and burns them all. Then, robot mosquitoes begin draining the fuel before robot hornets arrive and shoot explosives. It seems like Jack will get to go with the astronauts, but then he can’t because of plot.
As I said, these shows aren’t very intricate, but they do offer the chance to put a samurai in various amazingly realized battles. Have you ever wanted to see a samurai fly through space destroying giant robot bugs? So had Genndy Tartakovsky, evidently, and he was able to make it happen! That’s part of the glorious nature of Samurai Jack — it feels like whatever the creators’ inner 12-year-old selves can dream up, their outer incredibly-talented-designers-and-animators selves can realize.
I love the way the show can keep the same overall visual style but incorporate other types of art and drawing depending on the situation. For the astronauts’ ship and accouterments, it became like a pop art version of what the future looked like drawn by people in the ’50s and ’60s. It feels very Eisenhower’s America.
Also, if you’ve ever seen Chuck Jones’ Marvin the Martian shorts, the backgrounds in that (done by layout legend Maurice Noble) are definitely paid homage in this episode of Jack. The emphasis was on shape and color, not so much looking realistic, even for a cartoon. It is something about this show I truly adore.
Next week, Jack meets his match in the form of a strange and powerful woman who aides him on his quest for a special jewel, but she may have ulterior motives of her own. “Jack and the Warrior Woman” is next week. Space will not be there, unfortunately.