Long ago in a distant land, Aku, the shapeshifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil. But, a samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck, Aku tore open a portal in time and flung the samurai into the future, where his evil is law. Now, the samurai seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is Aku. He’s gotta get back, back to the past, he’s Samurai Jack.
Samurai Jack is a 2001 children’s animated series lead by Genndy Tartakovsky, starring Phil LaMarr as the titular Samurai Jack and Mako as Aku. The series ran for 5 seasons, though there was a 12-year gap between seasons 4 and 5, more on that later. To call it strictly a “children’s animated series” though is a bit of a disservice. Like with Batman: The Animated Series, some episodes definitely have a time-filler feel, but other episodes feature moments that can only be described as art.
Stranded in the future, Jack (taking the name the locals call him) immediately sets out to find time portals or magic to send him back to the past and prevent the future that Aku currently rules over. The show focusses on his journey as a whole. He’s always walking towards the next rumored solution to his problem, encountering new challenges, friends, and people to rescue along the way. Though Aku appears a few times each season, Jack spends most his time dealing with robotic minions of varying statures in Aku’s employ. With that said, Aku is perhaps one of the best villains in children’s animation, largely thanks to Mako’s unique voice and comedic timing. It’s truly a treat whenever he shows up.
Samurai Jack was canceled without a resolution after 4 seasons. The lack of resolution was intentional. The final episode is just another “someone needs help” episode, Aku isn’t even mentioned. Tartakovsky intended the viewer to simply understand that Jack will continue his journey. 12 years later, the show returned for a final season. Rather than being episodic and kid-friendly like the past 4 seasons, it had an overall arc and was darker and more geared towards the audience that grew up on the show. Sadly, Mako passed away in 2006, and Greg Baldwin took over as Aku. Regardless, the final season is an excellent end to Jack’s story.
Samurai Jack is an incredibly diverse adventure, it’s art much of the time, and it’s simply fun. It’s well worth watching. Since the first 4 seasons are very episodic, it’s safe to check out episodes XXXV or XL if you want just a taste first, and I’ve posted a few GIFs if you need an even smaller taste. You can stream Samurai Jack on HBO Max, or buy the whole series on Apple TV for $84.99, so maybe just get HBO Max for a month and stream it.