It’s a been many years since we last saw the Samurai warrior wielding a magic sword step forth to oppose Aku. Now that we’re living in an era of nostalgia and brand revivals, Samurai Jack is finally getting the shot it deserves. It’s been a while since Jack was the solo lead of his own show, but since his debut in 2001, he has cameoed numerous times, been featured in video games and even received his own comic book series. The lack of a proper conclusion has left fans hungry for more.
What if you’re not a member of the fandom, but are curious to see what all the excitement has been about? Or maybe you were a casual viewer when the show originally aired but you need a little bit of a refresher from the past to get you back up to speed? We’ve collected a series of important facts to reintroduce you to the series in order to get you up to speed. If you want to learn something new or gain some extra insight into the show thus far, check out these 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Samurai Jack.
15. We haven’t seen a new episode in over twelve years
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack was one of the last series in the initial wave of Cartoon Network’s original programming from Genndy Tartakovsky. After concluding his first series Dexter’s Lab and leaving The Powerpuff Girls behind, Tartakovsky was dissatisfied with action cartoons at the time and wanted to make a series of his own to address the lack of variety. After several months of development, Samurai Jack debuted with a three part special titled “The Beginning” on August 10, 2001.
The series aired a total of 52 new episodes for the following three years until the final episode which premiered on September 25, 2004. Since its original run, the series has seen second and third lives through syndication on the Boomerang Network and Adult Swim. The narrative never properly concluded which means that by the time the new episodes premiere this March, it will have been more than 12 years since we experienced the last chapter of Jack’s journey. That’s what we call the long haul!
14. The series was never officially cancelled
Despite being notorious for never reaching a proper conclusion, Samurai Jack was also never officially cancelled. When the series aired its final episodes in 2004, the ending was practically a non-event more in line with a season finale. Instead of making an official, publicized cancellation, the series was put on an indefinite hiatus after the final episode of season four,”Jack and the Baby.”
This left Samurai Jack fans uncertain about the continuation or cancellation of the series for months afterwards. The series creator Genndy Tartakovsky had moved onto other higher profile projects and Cartoon Network was satisfied re-airing the 52 existing episodes. In the years to follow, the character’s return seemed inevitable, but also less and less likely with each passing month without an announcement. For all intents and purposes, the series had ended, but thanks to the era of nostalgic revivals we’re living in, Jack’s journey will finally continue once again.
13. It served as the primary inspiration for the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars Micro-series
One of the biggest reasons Samurai Jack was put on indefinite hiatus was Genndy Tartakovsky’s pursuit of other projects, the biggest being the three seasons of the Star Wars: Clone Wars 2D animated micro-series that aired on Cartoon Network between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Lucasfilm was so impressed with Tartakovsky’s work on Samurai Jack, they recruited him and his team to pull back the veil on the untold stories of the Clone Wars. The animation follows the same style and the action sticks to Jack’s tried and true visual storytelling. The series achieved blockbuster ratings and won numerous awards including two Primetime Emmys.
Star Wars: Clone Wars established a legacy of its own by inspiring the visual style of Lucasfilm’s 2008 3D animated follow-up series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and by extension, the more recent Star Wars Rebels. Samurai Jack has been off the air for more than twelve years, but the influence of its stories and visual style have been felt through the waves Tartakovsky made in the Star Wars universe.
12. The series finale was originally planned as a movie
Even though Samurai Jack was indefinitely put on hold in 2004, Genndy Tartakovsky never gave up on his vision to complete Jack’s journey. Before finally announcing Jack’s planned return to Adult Swim in December 2015, Tartakovsky had spent years pitching his story to numerous studios in Hollywood. After the poor box office receipts of The Powerpuff Girls Movie in 2002, Cartoon Network was hesitant to fund another big screen venture. Tartakovsky shopped the project around to multiple studios throughout the years drawing interest from numerous studios including J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions.
Despite the announcements and proposed start dates, the film never came to fruition. Tartakovsky remained optimistic the project would eventually get off the ground as late as 2012 following the success of his big screen debut, Hotel Transylvania. Though the film never materialized, Tartakovsky says that the ideas he originally envisioned for the film will make their way into the series finale in the upcoming season.
11. The show was nominated for 6 Primetime Emmys
Samurai Jack wasn’t just a hit with fanboys. It also made a strong impression on critics and academy voters during its original four year run. The series won four of its six Primetime Emmy nominations, six of its ten Annie Award nominations and its one and only Ottawa International Animation Festival award. And this acclaim didn’t stop with awards. Famed critics including Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall have both rained their praises upon the series even ten or more years after the show’s last episode. And those are just a couple of especially notable examples.
If the latest trailer is any indication, it looks like Samurai Jack’s fifth and likely final season is also aiming to raise the bar. Does it stand a chance at six more Emmy nominations? Only time will tell for certain, but we can’t wait to see what critical acclaim is in store for the series.
10. The IDW Publishing Samurai Jack comics are non-canon
Before the announcement that Genndy Tartakovsky would resurrect Samurai Jack as a ten episode mini-series on adult swim, the only continuation we had of the series came from a monthly comic series from IDW Publishing Company that ran from October 2013 to May 2015. The comic simply titled Samurai Jack followed the titular character on even more episodic adventures of his search to travel back to the past. The series ran for 20 issues to similar acclaim as the TV series.
For many fans, this series represented the TV show’s true legacy. With so many years since the show was indefinitely put on hold, the Samurai Jack comics appeared to be the only hope we had to see the series to a proper conclusion. That is until Cartoon Network announced the series’ return in December 2015. Though many fans enjoyed the adventures from the comics, Genndy Tartakovsky and the creative team confirmed that the comics were no longer considered canon. There may be a hint of fan disappoint, but the creative team deemed it necessary in order to tell the most satisfying conclusion possible.
9. Jack is voiced by Phil Lamar
Samurai Jack may be a show known for its action and style, but it also had a hugely underrated voice cast which included the incredibly talented Phil Lamar in the titular role. Who is Phil Lamar you ask? Before he took over the voice acting scene, he was one of the original members of the 90s classic show Mad TV. You might know him as Bail Organa in Star Wars Rebels, Hermes Conrad in Futurama or Static in the original Static Shock TV show. His voice acting career even expands into video games such as his roles as the villainous Vamp in Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, John White in Infamous and Infamous 2, and various characters in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games.
When he’s not in the recording booth, he also does a notable amount of character work. His most memorable screen roles include earliest the ill fated Marvin in Pulp Fiction, a house shopper in Step Brothers and a cameo in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2. He’s proven to be one of the most versatile actors of our generation with Samurai Jack being one of his best roles to date.
8. The voice of Aku passed away in 2006
Another one of Samurai Jack’s best kept secrets is the voice behind Aku, the late Mako Iwamatsu. Mako is an actor who has become legendary as a voice and screen actor since his passin in 2006. Mako’s most acclaimed role was his Oscar nominated turn as Po-Han in Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles. His other notable roles include Akiro the Wizard in the Conan films, Kanemitsu in Robocop 3 and Toshio Wantanbe in Pacific Heights. Mako’s legendary voice career includes the role of Splinter in TMNT, the narrator of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and the voice of Iroh in Avatar the Last Airbender. Mako was a performer through and through who was working until the day he died. He died mid-production of a number of projects including the hugely popular Avatar. Samurai
7. Will.I.AM wrote and produced the theme song
One of Samurai Jack‘s more memorable traits was it’s theme song recounting Jack’s desperate mission to return to the past. Despite being an incredibly catchy and memorable theme song, many fans forget that it was actually composed by none other than the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.am. Will.i.am brought his special set of musical skills to Genndy Tartakovsky’s table before he became a household name. Since his time on Samurai Jack he’s gone on to start his own acting career that includes credits in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Date Night, and both Rio films.
While it’s impossible to credit Samurai Jack for the rise of Will.i.am’s career, the years the show was on the air also proved to be some of the musician’s most pivotal as he rose to fame throughout the early millennium. With the new season less than a month away, many fans are wondering if Will.i.am returns for a full Samurai Jack redux theme.
6. Its main inspirations are Akira Kurosawa films and Frank Miller comics
One of the more notable aspects of Samurai Jack is the way it blends so many different inspirations into something completely new. Where exactly does a time traveling samurai fighting robots draw its inspiration from? Genndy Tartakovsy has mentioned several over the years, but two of the most notable are the legendary Akira Kurasawa’s films and Frank Miller’s comics. Kurasawa, of course, set the standard for Samurai movies in films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Kagemusha.
These nods give the world and style some extra weight, but the less obvious influence is the iconic and oftentimes controversial Frank Miller comics. These references range from the subtlety of the comic book-y art direction to the more direct tribute to Miller’s 300 in the impress episode “Jack and the Spartans”. One or the more blatant yet lesser known inspirations comes from Frank Miller’s 1983 limited series Ronin, a story that also follows a Samurai dropped into the post-apocalyptic future. It’s a shameless inspiration, but as history remembers it, Miller didn’t seem to mind one bit.
5. The series is multi-genre
Samurai Jack is clearly an acclaimed and beloved series, but sixteen years after its debut, what has really set it apart from other TV shows? Once you start taking a closer look at the series, it’s easy to see. It uses its stellar animation to blur the lines between genre. The series features episodes that cover just about every genre across the spectrum all while feeling in line with the rules of the world established in episode one. There are episodes that play like silent films, epic fantasies, gangster films, space exploration films, romantic comedies, and even boy and his dog stories. Thanks to the episodic nature of the premise, there wasn’t a type of story Jack couldn’t find himself the star of.
4. Jack’s design is based on The Powerpuff Girl’s Professor Plutonium
Before making what has become his Samurai magnum opus, Genndy Tartakovsky worked on a number of other animated projects including Tiny Toons, Batman the Animated Series, The Critic, Dexter’s Lab and the hugely popular The Powerpuff Girls. He worked on the series for four seasons which means he undoubtably had the adventures of Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup on the brain when he was developing the pitch for Samurai Jack. There were a number of people who Gennedy brought over from The Powerpuff Girls to work on Samurai Jack which inevitably lead to some similar choices in art direction. There were a number of striking similarities, but none were as obvious or head turning than Jack’s very own character design.
In The Powerpuff Girls, their father is a happy go-lucky scientist who has a very similarly rectangular jaw. It’s unlikely this decision an unwitting mistake and is more likely meant to be a wink and easter egg to fans of both series.
3. Jack’s favorite frenemy is a machine-gun peg-legged Scotsman
Samurai Jack was a series that really only featured two main characters, Jack and Aku. Though flashbacks and dream sequences often incorporate people from Jack’s own past, there are very few recurring characters in the future timeline. That is with one major exception–a giant Scotsman with a machine gun for a peg leg and a magical Celtic sword voiced by John Dimaggio. The Scotsman and Jack first meet in season one and get into an obscenely hilarious fight when they cross each other on a one way bridge. Once they both realize they have a massive bounty on their head, they come together to fight Aku’s army of swamp people.
The pair would eventually reunite a second time when the Scotsman needs help saving his wife from more of Aku’s minions. The last we saw the Scotsman, he was rescuing Jack from an obnoxious brainwashing plot. He is rumored to appear in the upcoming season even though it is set 50 years after their last meeting.
2. Jack’s Sword was forged by Odin, Ra and Vishnu
Another really interesting aspect of the show that’s rarely touched upon is its blending of the lore of multiple cultures to empower Jack’s journey. In the debut movie, Jack is seen training with warriors and cultures from around the world to prepare his mind and body for his ultimate showdown with Aku. Not only has Jack experienced cultures from around the world, but his sword is also crafted by gods from multiple mythologies. Later in the series, we get a glimpse at sword’s forging by the gods Odin, Ra and Vishnu.
The sword was eventually passed down to Jack’s father who was defeated after many battles with Aku in the prequel season 3 episode “The Birth of Evil”. Jack’s divine doesn’t just have an enchanted edge, but has also proven to be unbreakable. The sword is said to be the key to Aku’s demise so you can be sure it will have a role to play in the upcoming season of the show.
1. Jack isn’t the hero’s real name
Samurai Jack may be the show’s title, but the truth is we still don’t know the name of the Prince from feudal Japan destined to defeat Aku in the ultimate showdown. He’s never given a name by his parents and remains without an identity until the third episode of the show after Aku sends him to the future. His name is given to him by the first people he encounters in the future who are so knee deep in street vernacular that the only thing our hero understands is the name “Jack”.
Even without a proper name, Jack quickly takes on his own identity as a legend. As early as season one, we can see that his feats and stance against Aku have become legendary, even in the eyes of children in drama classes. Later in the series, there’s hardly a person in any town who doesn’t know who he is. Name aside, Jack has become an icon in his world. We’ll have to stay tuned for just a few more weeks to learn whether or not our titular hero will ever receive a proper name.
Did you learn anything about Jack you didn’t know? Let us know by posting in the comments.