Samurai Jack (2001) is slated to return to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim later in 2016, with the first promotional image released last week. The award-winning action-adventure cartoon told the story of a samurai prince who is destined to use a magic katana to defeat the demon Aku. Aku sends the samurai through a portal into the future – a future where Aku has been able to take control. Now, the samurai, nicknamed Jack by the dystopian denizens of this new world, is trying to make his way back to the past so that he can undo all of the evil that Aku has wrought. The show unfortunately ended in 2006 after five seasons without any resolution.
Not much is known about the upcoming ten episode season although creator Genndy Tartakovsky is set to return as an executive producer. It’s rumored that the show will be darker and more mature than the previous seasons. Given the promotional image, it appears that the series will continue Jack’s quest to return to the past – and perhaps give fans the resolution that they have waited years to see. But what does this new season have in store? We put together a list of things that the new season will need if it wants to live up to the previous seasons, as well as avoid some of their weaknesses.
Here are the 15 Things We Want to See From Samurai Jack’s Return:
15. Badass Fight Scenes
One element of the original Samurai Jack series that should be at the core of the new series is the badass fight scenes. Whether Jack is dueling a single threatening opponent or working his way through a limitless army of cronies, the show’s incredible animation brings these combat sequences to life. To put it simply, Samurai Jack wouldn’t be Samurai Jack if it didn’t center on the warrior’s journey, and that means creative and dynamic fight scenes are a must.
If the rumors about the new Samurai Jack season are true, then the show will pick up fifty years later. In that time, it’s safe to assume that Jack has been fighting for his survival, especially given the promotional image that has just come out, showing a tired, bloody, and desperate Jack. It’s likely that, over the years, Jack has learned some new techniques, fighting styles, and tricks, which the new episodes could showcase.
14. The Scotsman
After traveling to the future, Samurai Jack had few allies to help him on his journey; the Scotsman is one of the only reoccurring characters that appears over the show’s first five seasons. The Scotsman is in many ways different from Jack – he’s loud, angry, talkative, and plays the bagpipes. The two form an odd couple of combat, though, since the one thing that they do have in common is their impressive fighting abilities.
The Scotsman brings with him a lot of elements that made the original Samurai Jack great – when he’s around, it’s guaranteed that there will be both great fight scenes and great jokes. Together, the Scotsman and Jack can take on just about any minion, bounty hunter, or henchman thrown their way.
13. Wordless Storytelling
Samurai Jack is a taciturn man who rarely speaks, which is sometimes used for dramatic or comedic effect. But in addition to Jack’s silence, the show Samurai Jack embraced the power of silence. Over the seasons, it is clear that the creative team understood the importance of showing rather than telling. The result is magnificent wordless sequences, where the audience is able to understand the action and characters simply through versatile visual storytelling.
In Jack and the Haunted House from season three, silence is used to enhance storytelling and atmosphere by omitting any background music. This heightens the feeling of unease during the episode, magnifying the small sounds as Jack moves through the haunted house. It’s impossible to look away from the screen. This engaging form of storytelling demands that the audience give their full attention to the show, and fully immerse themselves.
12. Avoiding Repetition
One of the biggest pitfalls for the new show to avoid is repetition – it could be easy for the show to become a formulaic sequence of Samurai Jack facing off with the newest “big bad” henchmen of Aku, struggling against them at first before discovering their weakness and ultimately defeating them. The show’s half hour format, combined with very little crossover from episode to episode meant that many episodes could feel interchangeable.
The new season is only going to have ten episodes, and it is unclear if there is any plan for additional seasons after that. Given this limited opportunity, the best way to utilize these episodes is to embrace creative storytelling and invent ways to make the material new. What other obstacles outside of fighting might Jack face? What does the toll of combat for such a long time look like for Jack? How can his experiences from previous seasons and from this season build and be portrayed in later episodes? What sort of callbacks could be included? By developing the characters and by taking risks, this season has the potential to break the mold and give fans and new audiences a truly unique experience.
11. Creative Dystopian Landscapes
The world that Aku forges after sending Samurai Jack through the time portal is dark and inventive. The visuals, situations, and characters that appear in this dystopian future ruled by a demon give the creative department an opportunity to shine. Visuals have always been a strong part of Samurai Jack and because this distant future is a bizarre blend of technology, mythology, and magic, they are able to create striking and innovative settings.
The eerie cities made of eye-shaped windows and horned spires, the Dome of Doom where gladiators fight and the crowd votes on whether or not they are killed, the gangsters who make their profits on clean drinking water, the propaganda that Aku tries to spread about Samurai Jack – all of these elements add together to create a disturbing vision of the future. Hopefully, the future season will continue to explore what a world without Samurai Jack looks like.
10. Major Laughs
Samurai Jack is a television show that appealed to children and teenagers, but that did not mean that it wasn’t enjoyable for adults as well. One way that Samurai Jack found that it could appeal to all audiences was by incorporating humor. The premise of the show is rather bleak, as the world has been taken over by an evil and deadly demon with little regard for human life. Aku has destroyed the environment, enslaved people, and created a horrible dystopian reality. He is a villain through and through who is bent on killing Samurai Jack and anyone else who stands in his way. And yet, Aku is perhaps the funniest part of the show, shouting and laughing hyperbolically like a stereotypical villain, cracking self-aware jokes that no one else in the show seems to understand, and even ordering pizza.
One of the show’s best episodes is the season one finale, Aku’s Fairy Tales, in which Aku attempts to use propaganda to indoctrinate children into believing that Samurai Jack is actually a villain. The premise of this episode is horrifying, but the result is hilarious, with Aku desperately trying to take control of the show’s story.
9. Pulling from Mythological Sources
Samurai Jack pulled from a rich variety of different sources, including mythologies from around the world. Drawing elements from these ancient stories, the show would take creatures, settings, or plot points while reinventing them to create a fresh interpretation. The Norse gods, along with the heavenly sanctuary for viking warriors, Valhalla, also appears in Jack and the Lava Monster. Egyptian mythology also features prominently in the episode Jack in Egypt. In The Scotsman Saves Jack, the sirens from Greek mythology sing and hypnotize Jack along with everyone else (except for the Scotsman, who prefers bagpipes and thinks they sound like howling cats). The sirens were famed for their beauty and coercive song; they could control men and would convince them to drown themselves in the depths of the ocean. Of course, the incorporation of the sirens is also an allusion to Homer’s The Odyssey, as Odysseus also encounters these mythical creatures on his voyage home. By having the sirens in Samurai Jack, there are distinct parallels drawn between Jack’s own journey home.
The new series would be a chance to incorporate even more myths and stories. It could either return to the mythological places and creatures that were previously introduced, or it delve into different mythologies: the stories of King Arthur, Indian myths, Japanese folklore, Celtic legends, or Chinese tales.
8. Purposeful Story Arc
The original Samurai Jack was largely episodic, with each episode being a self-contained saga that Jack experienced during his meandering journey to return to the past. The order of many of the episodes within a season wasn’t important, and often times, it could feel like the show was treading water, without really moving forward in any meaningful way. On his futuristic odyssey, Jack would encounter many strange creatures, adversaries, and adventures, and each episode was simply him reacting to these encounters.
With only ten episodes, the new season of Samurai Jack has the potential to have a strong overarching plot in addition to telling ten shorter stories of Jack’s adventures. Reportedly, since the new season is paced like a movie, a strong story arc will be incorporated. Ten segments creates the appropriate amount of time to show a self-contained story arch, and the hope would be that each episode serves a purpose that furthers Jack’s journey to return to the past and vanquish Aku once and for all.
7. The Guardian
The Guardian was an adversary that Jack battled, appearing in Jack and the Traveling Creatures. Guarding of a time portal, the menacing blue creature is surrounded by the corpses of the people who have tried to vanquish him in combat and failed. The Guardian alludes to a chosen one who will be able to defeat him and get through the time portal. The Guardian defeats Jack in combat, and it is clear that Jack, even though he is a talented warrior, is no match for the Guardian. After Jack is knocked unconscious, the Guardian summons a creature to take him to safety, because the Guardian reveals that Jack is the chosen one, but the time is not ready. An image of an older Jack, dressed in red, is shown through the portal.
Since the Guardian alludes to this later time, it would make sense, in this upcoming series, that the Guardian would reappear. A rematch between the Guardian and Samurai Jack would show just how much Jack has grown, and would also relate to Jack’s quest to return to the past in order to undo the evils of Aku.
6. Gorgeous Animation
Samurai Jack is known for its gorgeous animation. The color, the vivid images, the elegant framing and shapes. The show is first and foremost a visual experience. The show has a strong look, but it explores how that aesthetic can be expanded upon over the course of the series. The artful eye behind Samurai Jack also uses visuals to pay homage to many different genres of film, including live action samurai films, horror, film noir, and Golden Age Hollywood westerns. Even though the style of the show can change from episode to episode, its devotion to crafting the highest quality visuals is unwavering and its cinematic quality is rare for a televised animated program.
Many critics have praised the show’s visuals and even have gone so far to say that the plots and characters of Samurai Jack are secondary to its visceral visual experience. The new season will have to try to live up to the critical acclaim of its predecessors.
While Samurai Jack‘s visuals are often praised and highlighted, the music featured in the series also contributes greatly to the experience. The atmosphere that the background music creates is matched perfectly with the setting and emotions of any given time in an episode. The music selection varies greatly, from fast-paced taiko drumming to slow-building classical or electronica. The music is also sometimes incorporated into the plot, like the hypnotic club music in Jack and the Rave, the bagpipe music of the Scotsman, or the eerie song of the sirens.
The theme song, written by Will.i.am, is also a catchy beginning to each episode – after Aku, the self-described shape-shifting master of darkness, gives a quick recap of the plot from his perspective, the hip-hop theme plays during the credits, repeating: Gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack. Hearing that theme song play with new episodes is every fan’s dream.
4. Pop Culture Homage
Samurai Jack enjoys making references to other television shows, movies, and media in popular culture. This could be as small as the Scotsman parroting Star Wars to call Heck’s Bucket Seaport the same “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that Obi-Wan Kenobi called Mos Eisley in A New Hope. Aku, too, is especially pop culture savvy. Or, it could be as large as devoting a whole episode to homage: one episode, called Jack and the Spartans, pulled both visually from the movie 300 and referenced its source material. Jack and the Creature pulls from Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Another example of this is Jack is Naked, which is based on the novel Alice in Wonderland, with Jack even crossdressing to play the role of Alice. Samurai Jack is dense with references to popular culture.
3. Jack Returns to the Past
Jack is been on a mission to go back in time. Driven by his goal of returning to the past and stopping Aku from creating the horrible future that he is now stuck in, the samurai prince has endured countless obstacles and fought innumerable opponents. If the new season wanted to create a stir, then Jack returning to the past could be an amazing finale. It would be the culmination of all of his work, and could end the series on a much-anticipated happy note. Conversely, it could also set the stage for new adventures or new disappointments in (possible) seasons to come. Either way, fans want Jack’s journey to the past to be addressed, and the prospect of Jack returning to the past would be an excellent way to raise the stakes and move the story forward, either to its conclusion or to its next chapter.
2. Jack vs. Aku
Jack versus Aku: this pair of opposites make up the core of the show. While Jack is poised, composed, silent, and righteous, Aku is shifting, menacing, babbling, and pure evil. The show has always been based on their diametric positions, and in the end, it always comes down to the two of them. Perhaps Aku’s defeat of Jack feels inevitable, but the question on everyone’s mind is still there: how?
This is the moment that fans have been wanting for over a decade. While the destined pair have fought before, a rematch with a greater sense of finality could and should be the culmination of the new season, as opposed to a metafictional awareness of their ever-continuing fighting in Jack Versus Aku. It remains to be seen if Samurai Jack and Aku will face off in the future or the past – or perhaps their duel could occur across time. All that’s clear is that they should face off.
This ten episode season does not need to be the end for Samurai Jack; many fans would be overjoyed to learn that there were more episodes coming to Adult Swim in subsequent years. It also does not need to end with Jack returning to the past and destroying Aku; while this does feel like the eventual end that the show would lead to, it’s also possible that the creative team has dreamt up something different for Samurai Jack. But fans would like to have and deserve some sort of resolution rather than having the show disappear without any sort of closure or real ending. More than anything, the previous lack of resolution was frustrating, and after over a decade of waiting, it’s time to experience more Samurai Jack – and hopefully this time, leave with a sense of closure.
What do you want to see when Samurai Jack returns to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in 2016? Join the discussion in the comments!