Samurai Jack

I shall wander the Earth like Caine…you know, in Kung Fu…if he had a talking dog…

A shadow has fallen across the great Isle of Japan. It has arisen in times past, and always been defeated. But its evil shall never die. Only one sword can kill it. Only one man can wield that sword. The whole thing would be quite frightening, if only the immortal demon-wizard-dragonthing Aku (Mako) didn't look so…so…silly.

Welcome to the world of Samurai Jack, an interesting hybrid that fandom has worked itself into a lather over. And it's all part of Cartoon Networks' plan to introduce more challenging fare.

Jack is that one man who can wield the sword, after his father (voiced by Sab Shimono) falls in Aku's attack. Actually, at the time he is not Jack, but a nameless prince of Japan, spirited away as a young boy by his mother. She takes him to a Chinese junk dealer, and bids him a teary farewell. The royal family had planned for such a worst case scenario, and arranged for the young boy to be trained to avenge the family.

And in a brilliant and wordless sequence, he gets that training. Covering the world and history like Xena, the boy learns from Romans, Egyptians, Africans, and even Robin Hood. As a master of all weaponry and fighting styles, he returns as a young man to meet his mother, speak aloud (in Phil Marr's voice), and face his destiny. Just as he confronts Aku in final battle, the "dying" immortal opens a time portal, hurling the warrior into the far, far future.

And that's where things get weird. Long-time Cartoon Network director Genndy Tartakovsky has taken many disparate influences and mushed them together in this interesting but uneven series. The young warrior lands in a future that borrows heavily from many different movies. He first appears mid-air in a sequence straight out of The Fifth Element. The demon Aku's face appears on every billboard, endorsing various products, just as a geisha did in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Upon getting his bearings, the warrior gets dubbed "Jack" by some street punks, and enters a bar with more than a little resemblance to Mos Eisley.

Aku has completely conquered the Earth in Jack's long absence, and opened it up to intergalactic influences, hoping to own the universe. So Jack's task has grown even more important. In this Earth's history, Aku rose again only twenty-five years after Jack had killed him, so the samurai must defeat him in the future, then return to his own time to kill him again. It's good to introduce small children to mind-bending time travel paradoxes. It makes them stronger.

The show has a very stylized look, as if Jonny Quest fought Dexter's Laboratory and lost. But after a while one adjusts, and it becomes kind of cool. The tone of the show bounces, though, and in the first three episodes (to be shown Friday night at 8 p.m.) it remains off-balance. In some places, an anime feel becomes pronounced, and only works intermittently. And then there are these talking dogs…

If you don't mind Jack swearing his services in defense of Huckleberry Hound's descendants, everything will be just fine. We're still not sure where this series is going, but it's interesting enough that when it settles into its regular time slot Mondays at 8 p.m., we will be giving it another try.

When? Friday, August 10, 7 p.m. 90 minutes
Regular Series: Mondays, starting August 13, 8 p.m. 30 minutes

Derek McCaw

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