Samurai Jack

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Samurai Jack
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky
Written by
Directed by
Voices of
Theme music composer
Opening theme "Samurai Jack"
Ending theme "Samurai Jack"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 52 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Genndy Tartakovsky
Producer(s) Genndy Tartakovsky
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Cartoon Network Studios
Distributor Cartoon Network
Original network
Picture format 480i (seasons 1-4)
1080i (season 5)
Original release
  • August 10, 2001 (2001-08-10) –
  • September 25, 2004 (2004-09-25)
External links

Samurai Jack is an American action-adventure chanbara animated series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network. The series follows Jack, a time-displaced samurai, in his singular quest to travel back in time and defeat the tyrannical demon Aku. The series is known for its cinematic atmosphere, masking-based animation style, and battle scenes which pay homage to samurai films.

Tartakovsky drew from a number of influences when creating the series, including the 1970s series Kung Fu, classic anime, and the works of directors Akira Kurosawa and David Lean. The series premiered on August 10, 2001, with a TV movie called The Premiere Movie. The series ended on September 25, 2004, after airing 52 episodes.

Samurai Jack has since garnered high critical acclaim. It won 4 Primetime Emmy Awards, 6 Annie Awards and 1 OIAF Award, as well as eight additional nominations. All four seasons have been released on DVD by Warner Home Video.


Plot and characters

"Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!"

-Aku, in the opening title sequence

Samurai Jack tells the story of a young prince (voiced by Phil LaMarr) from feudal Japan, whose father acquired a magical katana that he used to defeat and seal a shape-shifting demon named Aku (Mako Iwamatsu). Having foreseen that Aku would eventually break free, the Emperor sent his son to travel the world and train his mind and his body before returning years later to Japan as an adult. After taking his father's katana, the prince challenges Aku to a duel and defeats him. But Aku creates a time portal before the prince can deal the final blow, sending his opponent into the distant future with anticipation that he would be able to amass sufficient power to deal with the samurai by that time.[1]

The prince arrives in a dystopian, retro-futuristic Earth ruled by Aku and filled with his robot minions and a large number of alien immigrant races of various appearances. The first people he encounters in the future call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name (his true given name is never mentioned in the series).[2] Standard episodes follow Jack's search for a way to travel back to his own time, where he hopes to stop Aku before these events come to pass. The cartoon depicts Jack's quest to find a time portal, while constantly facing obstacles set by Aku in a classic battle of good vs. evil. Typically, each time Jack believes he has reached the end of his quest, something causes him to miss his chance.[3][4]

In one attempt, Jack locates a stable portal to the past, but the guardian of the portal (Kevin Michael Richardson) defeats him after a long but noticeably mismatched battle. The guardian is about to crush Jack when the portal starts to flicker and glow, seemingly giving the guardian a message: the guardian has a giant pterodactyl take the unconscious Jack away. After Jack leaves, the guardian states that it is not yet time for him to return to the past and an image of what is implied to be an older Jack is seen in the portal, indicating that Jack is predestined to succeed, but it will take years for him to do so.[3]

Episodes range from dark and epic to light-hearted and comical, and often contain little dialogue. Stories instead rely on the series' highly detailed, outline-free, masking-based animation, as well as its cinematic style and pacing. Many battle scenes in the series are reminiscent of samurai films, and since Jack's robot enemies bleed out oil or electricity and his monster and alien foes bleed out slime or goo, the action of these films can be exhibited while avoiding censorship for blood and violence.


Samurai Jack takes place in a future Earth where science and technology have developed far beyond what is available in the present day and in some ways resembles magic on its own.[5] However, despite scientific advances, the future is decidedly dystopian — for example, in one episode the mafia profits greatly from the sale of simple water.[6] The distribution of technology is also very uneven, with some areas having advanced megacities while others resemble ancient to industrial conditions such as Ancient Greece, medieval Europe or the Middle East, Victorian-era England, 1920s Chicago and more. Aliens, bounty hunters and robots as well are plentiful and always ready for a fight. The leader of this society is Aku.

While the setting is distinctly retro-futuristic and technological, instances of mythology and supernatural events do occur. Mythologies, like Valhalla, as well as even supernatural forces, such as demonic enemies, make regular appearances, yet do not seem to stand out amongst the technologically advanced inhabitants. Aku himself is supernatural, as is Jack's sword.

Stories take place in a variety of locations. Ranging from beautiful wilderness to futuristic or even dystopian cities, there is often a stark contrast made between the industrial world and the natural world.



Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky as a follow-up to his successful series Dexter's Laboratory. He intended to develop a series "that is cinematic in scope and that incorporates action, humor and intricate artistry".[7] Prior to Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky had complaints with action cartoons, which is why he decided to create his own series in the genre. He based his new project on the samurai character, one of his favorites, as well as the works of Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa and Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago director David Lean.[8] Cartoon Network executive Mike Lazzo recalled Tartakovsky pitching him the series: "He said, 'Hey, remember David Carradine in Kung Fu? Wasn't that cool?' and I was like, 'Yeah, that's really cool.' That was literally the pitch."[8]

Influences and design

Samurai Jack frequently features appearances from deities of varying pantheons and creatures of legend. Tartakovsky was influenced by many different sources. The series overall was designed to look like a Japanese epic, with individual episodes taking on their own styles. Action in Samurai Jack borrows liberally from old martial arts and samurai films, as well as action films of the 1970s and Japanese anime. Like 1963's Toei Animation studio release entitled The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (originally Wanpaku Ōji no Orochi Taiji), it uses multiple angle and split screen shots to display action from multiple angles. The plot is frequently stopped to allow for the building of tension before combat or for the sake of humor: it is also not uncommon for episodes to be almost entirely free of dialogue. Regardless of the setting, the simple, minimalistic art style employed resembles ukiyo-e paintings.

Tartakovsky has also acknowledged taking some of his thematic inspiration from Frank Miller's comic book series Ronin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future in order to battle a shape-shifting demon. Similarly, the episode "Jack and the Spartans" was specifically inspired by Miller's graphic novel 300 that retold the Battle of Thermopylae.[9]

In the episode "Jack Remembers the Past", Tartakovsky included a cameo of a samurai with a young child in a baby carriage. This character has a strong resemblance to Ogami Itto of Lone Wolf and Cub.[10]

In addition to occasionally borrowing from ancient sources as well as current ones, Samurai Jack has referenced Tartakovsky's previous work as well. When Jack first meets the canine archaeologists, one of the dogs is "Big Dog" from 2 Stupid Dogs, a show on which Tartakovsky worked in 1993.[11]

In the episode "The Birth of Evil", Odin, Ra and Vishnu are shown to join forces to battle the dark power that would one day spawn Aku. In another episode, Jack shows he is familiar with the chronology of the Greek pantheon, such as the Olympian Zeus and the Titan Cronus.[12]

The premise of the entire series — a solitary man from the Orient wandering in a foreign society — is adapted directly from the early 1970s television drama Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine as the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine.[8] While their individual adventures do not correspond to each other, the ongoing dynamic of solitary wanderer learning, sometimes through pain and sometimes bemusedly, his new surroundings, while simultaneously teaching his own sense of ethics to those he meets, is consistent. At the conclusion of season 2 of Kung Fu, Kwai Chang meets a burly, somewhat crazy Scotsman who is transporting his wife in a gigantic casket. In this case, it turns out that the wife is a stone statue.


The network announced the series' launch at a press conference on February 21, 2001.[13] Weeks leading up to the series were accompanied by a sweepstakes giveaway sponsored by AOL in which the grand prize was a trip for four to Japan. The promotion also included sneak peeks of Samurai Jack, behind-the-scenes model sheets, as well as exclusive Cartoon Orbit cToons.[14] Samurai Jack officially debuted on Cartoon Network on August 10, 2001, with the three-part special "The Beginning".[15] The premiere received high praise, including four award nominations, as well as was released as a standalone VHS and DVD on March 19, 2002.[8][16][17] Cartoon Network ordered 52 episodes of Samurai Jack, which were aired as 4 seasons of 13 episodes each, as a primetime member of the Cartoon Cartoon Fridays programming block. The final episode aired on September 25, 2004.

Reruns had frequently been shown on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang from August 3, 2009, until December 4, 2011. Then, it was re-added on the schedule on June 4, 2012, and last aired until June 1, 2014.[18] Later, the series moved to Adult Swim's Toonami block for reruns on February 1, 2014. It was removed on Adult Swim's block on January 25, 2015.


On December 2, 2015, Adult Swim announced that it would be airing a new season of Samurai Jack on its Toonami programming block sometime in 2016. The series is once again being produced at Cartoon Network Studios with Tartakovsky as executive producer.[19]


Critical reception

In 2004, British broadcaster Channel 4 ran a poll of the 100 greatest cartoons of all time, in which Samurai Jack achieved the 42nd position.[20] The show was ranked 11th by IGN for its Top 25 Primetime Animated Series of All Time list in 2006.[21] IGN also ranked the show 43rd in its Top 100 Animated Series list in 2009.[22]

Matt Zoller Seitz, a film and television critic for and Vulture respectively, considers Samurai Jack, along with Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars, to be a masterwork and one of the greatest American animated shows on television, mainly for its visual style:[23]

"[A]lthough Tartakovsky is a good storyteller, in a silent-movie sort of way — expressing what’s happening moment-to-moment through picture and sound rather than in dialogue — I never watched either of these programs for their plots, and I don’t re-watch them for narrative, either. I re-watch them for the same reason that I visit art museums, attend live concerts, and pause during journeys from point A to point B in New York to watch dancers, acrobats, or street musicians: because I appreciate virtuosity for its own sake. And that’s what Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars and Samurai Jack give you, scene for scene and shot for shot .... [T]he plot was never the point. It was always about the visual music that Tartakovsky, his designers, and his animators created onscreen."

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2002 Annie Award Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Television Production[16] Lynne Naylor
for "Jack and the Warrior Woman"
Outstanding Music in an Animated Television Production[16] James L. Venable
for "The Beginning"
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production[16] Dan Krall
for "The Beginning"
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production[16] Scott Wills
for "The Beginning"
Outstanding Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production[16] Bryan Andrews
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
OIAF Award Best Television Series[24] Genndy Tartakovsky
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More)[25] Brian A. Miller, Yu Mun Jeong, Yeol Jung Chang, Paul Rudish, Genndy Tartakovsky, Bong Koh Jae
for "The Beginning, Parts 1–3"
TCA Award Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming[26] Samurai Jack Nominated
2003 Annie Award Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Television Production[27] Cartoon Network Studios Nominated
Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Television Production[27] Andy Suriano
for "Jack and the Haunted House"
Outstanding Directing in an Animated Television Production[27] Genndy Tartakovsky and Robert Alvarez
for "The Birth of Evil"
Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production[27] Scott Wills
for "The Birth of Evil"
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation[17] Scott Wills
for "Jack and the Traveling Creatures"
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation[17] Dan Krall
for "Jack and the Spartans"
2004 Annie Award Outstanding Directing in a Television Production[28] Genndy Tartakovsky
for "Tale of X-49"
Outstanding Production Design in a Television Production[28] Richard Daskas
for "Seasons of Death"
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)[17] Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Don Shank, Robert Alvarez, Randy Myers, Yu Mun Jeong, Bong Koh Jae, James T. Walker
for "The Birth of Evil
2005 Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)[17] Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Bryan Andrews, Mark Andrews, Hueng-soon Park, Kwang-bae Park, Randy Myers, James T. Walker
for "Seasons of Death"
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation[17] Bryan Andrews
for "Seasons of Death"

Legacy and influence

The distinctive style of Samurai Jack is what drew Lucasfilm to recruit Tartakovsky for the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. Much of the signature cinematic style of Samurai Jack is present in Clone Wars, such as lightning-fast combat, extended sequences without dialogue, explosions, epic vistas, etc.[29] Samurai Jack also remains a popular subject with Cartoon Network animators and was referenced and parodied in the series Duck Dodgers and Dexter's Laboratory (another cartoon created by Tartakovsky).

Reviewers of the 3D animated feature film Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) have noted that the stylized 2D opening sequence is either inspired by or a homage to Samurai Jack.[30][31]

Jack later made a cameo on the Uncle Grandpa episode "Pizza Eve".[32]

Other media

Home video releases

Like other previous Cartoon Network shows, Samurai Jack DVDs were released by Warner Home Video between 2003 and 2007. The DVDs include episode numbers in Roman numerals as they appear at the end of each episode but remain untitled. Season 1 was released on Netflix streaming service in 2013.[33]

Samurai Jack VHS and DVD releases
Title Episodes Release date Description
Region 1 Region 4
The Premiere Movie 4 March 19, 2002[34][35] October 10, 2007[36] Available on DVD and VHS, this release contains the first 3 episodes of season 1 ("The Beginning" (I–III)) as well as the episode "Jack and the Scotsman" (XI) in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
Season 1 13 May 4, 2004[37] November 7, 2007[38] This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 1. It also includes a "making-of" documentary, an original animation test, original artwork, as well as commentary on one episode.
Season 2 13 May 24, 2005[39] March 4, 2009[40] This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 2. It also includes commentary on "Jack and the Spartans" (XXV), "Creator Scrapbook", as well as an original episode pitch.
Season 3 13 May 23, 2006[41] September 9, 2009[42] This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 3. It also includes commentary on "The Birth of Evil" (XXXVII/XXXVIII), "Lost Artwork" and a featurette called "Martial Arts of the Samurai".
Season 4 13 August 28, 2007[43] October 3, 2012[44] This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 4. It also includes "Genndy's Roundtable", "Genndy's New Project", deleted scenes and Samurai Jack promos.
Samurai Jack and Friends 7 October 7, 2014[45] N/A This DVD includes episodes 14 through 20.
Other releases including Samurai Jack episodes
Title Episodes Release date Features
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
4 Kid Favorites: The Hall of Fame Collection Vol. 2 7 March 12, 2013[46] N/A N/A 4-disc compilation set includes Samurai Jack: Season One, Disc One

Video games

The Samurai Jack world has been seen in the video games Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku for the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2004.[47][48]

Several elements of the Samurai Jack concept were reused in several video games: the MMORPG Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall features Jack, the Scotsman and Demongo as non-playable characters, and Aku is a Nano. The online game Project Exonaut features Jack only as a playable character for the Banzai Squadron. The brawler game Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 features Jack and the Scotsman as playable characters while Aku is an assist character, a boss and a playable character.

Samurai Jack is voiced by Phil LaMarr once more for most games and by Keith Ferguson for Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion. In Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall, the Scotsman is voiced by John DiMaggio and Demongo is voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Due to Mako Iwamatsu's passing in 2006, Aku is voiced by Greg Baldwin in Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall and Fred Tatasciore in Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion.


In February 2013, IDW Publishing announced a partnership with Cartoon Network to produce comics based on its properties. Samurai Jack was one of the titles announced to be published. It was further announced at WonderCon 2013 that the first issue of Samurai Jack would debut in October 2013.[49] The first comic in the series was released October 23, 2013.[50] The series wrapped up in May 2015.

He also appeared in multiple issues of DC Comics' anthology comic series, Cartoon Network Action Pack, which ran from July 2006 to April 2012.


There had been plans for a Samurai Jack feature film in 2002, but this project was cancelled after the lackluster performance of The Powerpuff Girls Movie.[51] In a 2006 interview, Tartakovsky confirmed that "Jack will come back" and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film."[52] In 2007, Fred Seibert of Frederator Studios called Jim Samples, then-general manager of Cartoon Network, and was granted the rights to a Samurai Jack movie, as long as Tartakovsky had creative control.[53] The then newly formed production company Frederator Films announced in Variety that one of their first projects will be a feature film adaptation of Samurai Jack, written and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.[54] As of September 2009, the film was said to be in the writing stage of pre-production, co-produced by Cartoon Network Movies and J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions alongside Fred Seibert of Frederator Films and distributed by Warner Bros..[51][55] The movie is still being planned.[56][57]

In September 2012, Genndy Tartakovsky announced in an interview with IGN that a Samurai Jack movie is in pre-production. He said: "I've been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There's something about it that's connected with people. And I want it, it's number 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the President (of Digital Production at Sony Pictures Entertainment), is like 'Hey, let's talk about Jack. Let's see what we can do.' And I go, 'You're going to do a 2D feature animated movie?' and he's like, 'Yeah. Maybe. Let's do some research and let's see.' So it's not dead for sure by any means, and it's still on the top of my list, and I'm trying as hard as I can." It is going to be the conclusion for the series.[58] The film, which is budgeted at $20 million, will combine traditional 2D animation with stereoscopic 3D.[59] Tartakovsky said the loss of Mako Iwamatsu (Aku's voice actor) would also need to be addressed.[60] As of October 2015, there has been no new updates on the production of the film, but from October 2013 to May 2015, the continuation of Samurai Jack had been reprised as Samurai Jack comics.[61]


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  61. Issue 1: Samurai Jack — Released: October, 2013

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