I had a few hours of downtime yesterday and as the wife was passed out on the couch I decided to load up Netflix on my computer in the hopes that maybe something new and interesting had been added; my curiosity was rewarded when I discovered that the first season of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack had been added.
If you’ve never seen Samurai Jack, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice – especially if you’re a fan of Akira Kurosawa or Frank Miller. The plot revolves around a Japanese samurai and his struggles against his arch-nemesis Aku, a massive shape-shifting demon that first subjugates the samurai’s homeland and then, after being confronted and nearly beaten, uses a magic spell at the last moment to hurl our hero far forward in time to a dystopian far future ruled by the demon and filled with robots, aliens, and other monsters.
The show is incredibly cinematic and takes its time in storytelling; unlike most animated fare it’s not uncommon to have whole episodes stretch by without much in the way of dialogue, a decidedly risky move for a show supposedly for children and teenagers. However, far from being cerebral or slow-paced, Samurai Jack focuses on the adventures of our eponymous hero: Jack is a man of action as much as he is a thoughtful Zen philosopher, and the fluid action sequences are stylized and kinetic.
If there’s anything bad I can say about Samurai Jack, it has more to do with the limitations of Netflix than anything else. As it was produced from 2001 to 2004, the show isn’t available in high definition on Netflix, which is an absolute shame considering its rich cinematic roots; watching Samurai Jack is like watching an ukiyo-e painting come to life, even in standard definition, and I can only imagine what the show would look like in full HD. Secondly, Netflix only has the first season right now, which means that anyone who watches the initial 13 episode run will most likely be left wanting more – or worse yet, having to troll through the bowels of the Internet for someone selling the rest of the series.
With that being said, spending some time to watch the first season (or re-watch it if you’re already a fan) is something I can’t more heartily recommend, especially since Samurai Jack is that rare gem that combines action, adventure, humor, and cinematic storytelling to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Give it a try and tell me I’m wrong, I dare you!