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SAMURAI JACK’s Complete Series Looks Gorgeous in HD (Review)

SAMURAI JACK’s Complete Series Looks Gorgeous in HD (Review)

For being a visual medium—one where the only limit is the creator’s imagination—a lot of television animation relies on dialogue over action. Certain series, though, took the art form to its basics, giving over to an action-first style of storytelling. Samurai Jack is perhaps the pinnacle of this kind of television animation, feeling like moving paintings at times and living comic books at others. With the recent culmination of its fifth season, a 10-episode run set 50 years after the initial series, Adult Swim has gone back and remastered the original four seasons in HD to release a beautiful new complete series Blu-ray box set, making the series look better than it ever has before.

The original four seasons of Samurai Jack ran for 52 episodes from 2001 to 2004. It was a marvel of modern animation. Focusing on a single, ancient samurai prince flung into the distant future by monstrous evil deity, the series was an amalgam of movies like Shogun Assassin, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and comics like 2000AD and the work of Jack Kirby. Any and every reference and homage creator Genndy Tartakovsky and his crew could think of, they’d turn into an episode, and kept a frenetic pace and use of split-screens, zooms, and slow-motion throughout. I dissected the whole first season in my Samurai reJacked column, and it was both a nostalgia trip and a film school.

The series was brought back in 2017 to give the character, the creators, and the audience a proper send off, showing a meaner, colder Jack, 50 years after the culmination of the original. It was more grown-up than the original, but then again the audience were all 13 years older too. These 10 episodes featured some of the show’s finest animation and gave Jack a resonant and satisfying emotional conclusion, even if personally I didn’t feel like the very last moments were quite as narratively resonant as they could have been. It was still a triumph in myriad ways.

But I’d seen those 10 episodes in HD already (since that’s how they were made and broadcast)! This release is most exciting for how well the original episodes were remastered. The show, like most animation of the era, was shot on film using cels but edited on video, which gave it its standard definition, 480i quality. For the Blu-ray release, the original film elements were remastered to a mostly flawless and clear hi-def experience. The episodes retain their original TV aspect ratio of 4:3, since prior to HD broadcasting, nothing was in widescreen.

When opening this set, I immediately went to the 9 essential episodes Tartakovsky told us about before the release of season 5. These represent some of the creator’s favorites, and the ones most beloved by fans. “Jack and the Three Blind Archers,” an episode where Jack has to fight against archers who hunt via sound, looks absolutely amazing in this new format, as does the season four premiere episodes, “Samurai Versus Ninja,” which has one of the greatest fight sequences the show has ever created, done in stark, expressionistic black & white.

Definitely the main draws for this release are the episodes themselves, as they should be, because unfortunately this release doesn’t offer a ton in the way of extra features. The first three seasons contain a few extras from the original DVD releases. These include featurettes about pitching, a short doc about Genndy Tartakovsky’s life, a featurette about the martial arts of the series, focusing on Wu Shu, a narrated gallery of unused sketches, and a basic making-of featurette. Again, all of these are from earlier releases and are in SD. There are no extras at all on the season four disc.

The season five disc has the most new stuff, including a 13-minute featurette about the series’ return, and five “pitch movies” in which Genndy and the writers narrate episodes using storyboards, so you can see what that’s like and how cool storyboards look now in the digital age. These are quite neat. I think the biggest disappointment in terms of extras is that there are exactly two episode commentaries, one on “Jack and the Three Blind Archers” in season one and the other on “Jack and the Spartans” in season two. Both of these were recorded for earlier DVD releases. I’d love to have more of a retrospective in the form of new extras and commentary, but c’est la vie.

So, boring-ish extras aside, this is still a gorgeous-looking release, and one fans of the series will want on their shelf, because we’re getting to see the original 52 episodes in the highest quality format we’ve ever seen them. As this is a release produced by Warner Bros Home Entertainment, I feel as though this is a good indicator of the quality of the HD remaster we’ll get for the recently announced Batman: The Animated Series Blu-ray set, and that’s yet one more reason to love this.

Bottom Line: Samurai Jack: The Complete Series is well worth going back, back to the past.

Images: Adult Swim/Cartoon Network

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!

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