Samurai Jack: A Timeless Piece Or Forgotten Trash? Dec 7, 2015 18:44:05 GMT -6
Post by szuniverse on Dec 7, 2015 18:44:05 GMT -6
How do we define the word art? Many would think this is an easy question to answer, but in reality, it’s tough to define. Different people suggest different meanings such as something that is shown on display at a museum or that art is anything that presents itself as serious and challenges the mind. So what does the term mean? By definition art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” So, by this definition, anything is art. That macaroni art you made in the first grade is art, The Walking Dead graphic novel is art, and yes, that horrible, cringe inducing Adam Sandler movie is art.
So where do we, as humans, draw the line to what’s high art and how we can separate that from regular art? Well, in a lot of cases it’s very hard to separate both of these terms because of different opinions. In a world where art is defined by everyone’s different view on a TV show or movie or game or anything. Any medium can be described as art except for one; animation. No one in the world considers “cartoons” to be art. Now, how can that be? Everyone shares the same opinions on animation, whether it’s here in the states or in foreign countries, or if it’s something made to shut your kids up. That is nothing but a false statement.
About a while ago I came across a few videos on Youtube by two separate youtubers. One from Pan Pizza on When Are You Too Old To Watch Cartoons and Anime, and another by Animat on Why Do People think Animation is for kids? Both of these two discuss on their thoughts on how animation is perceived by the general audience. Pan’s stance on it is basic...it’s a TV show and that he and others shouldn’t be judged for watching something that’s being drawn. He also brings up at 1:56 that at the beginning of animation it was made for everyone cartoons were originally shown in movie theaters as shorts before a feature film. Pan also brings up at 3:11 that animation is a massive group project and it takes a lot. Some who do animation for a living, some weren’t born as good drawers and they took a lot of time to master their craft, it’s hard to find people that have dedicated their own lives to master in creating this art form.
Animats take is different, his stance is that he believes that animation is a social stance. As he stated at 5:02 he believes that much like how adults think that a kid shouldn’t watch an adult movie, adults shouldn’t watch a kids film because it was not made for them specifically. He also believes that those who choose not to watch cartoons tend to think that while getting older those shows you enjoyed as a kid, you would have to one day drop them completely because you aren’t that age anymore. So for those who do indulge in it the general audience may perceive you as a weirdo of sorts. Of course both do come down to the same view point, no one should be judged on what they watch or how they handle their hobbies.
Animation, regardless whether you watch it or not, can be extremely mature and can challenge the viewer watching it. Which brings me to a show that I think defines the word art; Samurai Jack. Granted, Samurai Jack isn’t the first, and certainly not the last, show to appeal to more than just kids. Batman the Animated Series, Teen Titans, Adventure Time, and Avatar the Last Airbender are proof that animation isn’t just for children. However, I wouldn’t go around calling these shows good art. I do like these shows and they hold a special place in my nostalgic driven heart, but none of them come close to Samurai Jack. This is the show that made me love animation and got me into the industry to begin with.
I remember the first time I ever saw Samurai Jack. It was back in August of 2001 and on Cartoon Network they were promoting a movie, which was a small trailer for the show. I was so intrigued by that commercial that I wanted to tune in. So on the day that the first episode premiered (also called the premiere movie which combined three episodes into one) I sat down and watched it. Overall, I thought it was awesome, I loved the artwork and the action scenes were well made. After that, I continued to watch it as it aired originally it aired primetime on a weekday on Cartoon Network. However, I only watched the first season during that 7 o’clock time slot. I tried watching the second season during that time, but I just couldn’t keep up with it.
Then I found out that in late 2003 Samurai Jack would air Saturday nights on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. Technically they were just re airing episodes that aired a few days before, but since I usually would tune into the block since its move to the weekends. Originally, Toonami aired weekdays after school where they would air a lot of action oriented anime and cartoons. So every Saturday night I would tune into Toonami and catch up on the latest Samurai Jack episode. Samurai Jack follows a Samurai warrior (voiced by Phil Lamarr) who is tasked to wield a magical sword to vanquish the evil demon Aku (Voiced by the late Mako Iwamatsu). Unfortunately, before the samurai could slay Aku, he summoned a portal to send the samurai into the future. Upon his arrival, he meets alien teens who saw him escape nearly getting crushed and then proceed to call him Jack. He liked the nickname given to him so he decided to tell everyone to call him that. Throughout the series, Jack’s main task is to defeat Aku and return to the past.
The show was created by Genndy Tartakovsky creator of Dexter’s Lab and Sym Bionic Titan. He also was a writer and director for The Powerpuff Girls, 2 Stupid Dogs, Hotel Transylvania, and at one point an upcoming Popeye movie which unfortunately was dropped due to creative differences. When asked in an interview by Revolution Science Fiction about Samurai Jack’s origin Genndy stated the show draws a lot from Japanese culture and the team researched from various sources but they wanted to keep it as close to a samurai film as possible. In the interview he also stated that there wasn’t just one single show or movie that inspired Samurai Jack. The show itself was inspired by a lot of different sources. Such as Dave Lee pictures to Battle of the Planets to Thundarr the Barbarian.
The main draw with Samurai Jack is that it isn’t like any conventional action show. During his time at Cartoon Network, Genndy wanted to create a show that was completely different than any other show that he was working on at the time. He wanted to make an action show and focus more heavily on the action than the actual plot. He also wanted to create something that was fun that didn’t take itself too seriously while managing to create a world. However, since he was pitching this as a kids show, and he wanted the fight scenes to be intense, he couldn’t show bodies being sliced in half. So instead he thought, “Well why doesn’t he fight robots?” That’s where the whole idea of the future came into play.
I can safely say that Samurai Jack manages to be one of the more unique action shows I’ve ever seen. I will say that I agree that the art style is very simplistic, but is incredibly charming. It’s void of outlines and the very simplistic storyline is great. Mainly because you can show anyone a random episode of the show and I would bet that a lot of people would enjoy it. It’s simple and to me, that’s fine as long as you bring something unique to the table and Samurai Jack does just that. It managed to try new things and take various risks that even the team would be unsure if it would work. The show itself has gotten universal praise by critics and fans a like. One review came from Entertainment Weekly stating that the simplistic art style is crude in its design, but that overall, Samurai Jack becomes a beautiful, sometimes devilishly scary, dream of a cartoon.
One of the reasons why I think Samurai Jack is considered art is because most of the show has very little to no dialogue and instead manages to incorporate the storyboard as a way to tell the plot of each episode. To me, that’s very unique and charming. Every action show at that time basically used scripts to tell the plot and the art took a backseat. Samurai Jack, on the other hand, threw away the script and told everyone to visualize the story instead of writing it. So the storyboard artists were the writers. They told every episode through each scene they drew and each story they told incorporated a different style.
For example, in episode I, the first episode of the series, the set up is somewhat similar to many anime and samurai films. The first episode is basically Jack as a child seeing Aku capture his father and rise once again to wreak evil on the world. Within this first episode we get a base on who Aku is and why Jack uses the sword that he has. The rest of the episode is Jack training and traveling the world as he grows up, learning how to fight and vanquish Aku. The beginning of the episode has dialogue but most of it is spent in silence obviously paying homage to Seven Samurai.
Another reason I think it’s art is that it has different tones throughout the show. What I mean by that is that throughout the duration of the series many episodes can jump back and forth between calm and collective to over the top and silly. One example that I would think of is episode XXI; Jack and the Farting Dragon. This episode is as explained by the title, it’s very silly and doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. The basic premise of this episode is that Jack comes to this town that has been destroyed by a dragon's farts. So he must find the dragon and put a stop to its farting. Like I said before, the episode is fully aware that it’s silly and plays around that whole idea. To me a lot of artwork can be like that, some can be very thought provoking while others are just there to be silly and a lot of the creators are fully aware of this.
Another episode of the show that does this would be L; Tale of X9. This whole episode doesn’t focus on Jack at all instead it focuses on a robot with emotions. The first half of the episode goes into deep detail about the back-story of X9 and why he has emotions. Apparently his creator put it in him for laughs. In the beginning, he told the audience that he left helping Aku to live a peaceful life with a dog he found. However, his pup was captured by the scientists who created him. So if he wants to see his dog again, he has to defeat the samurai.
This episode feels like something Frank Miller would write. It’s feels a lot like Sin City because most of the episode is spent in monologue and in silence. I also enjoy the fact of how radically different it is from previous episodes in the series. The entire show pretty much focuses on Jack as the main character. Yet in this episode it switches it up and manages to feel drastically different but still retain what made this show great: smart writing and excellent presentation. Samurai Jack is one of the few programs on TV that shows the viewer rather than tell. I could go into tremendous amount of depth, but I feel like people should support this series and judge for themselves. The amount of detail that goes into every episode isn’t just admirable, it’s astonishing. I think Samurai Jack manages to try something different each and every episode. Like I stated previously with episode L of the series, the show likes to mix things up and doesn’t stick to one format. Since it’s taking place in the future, anything is really possible. That means the artist can tell any story that they want, they aren’t bounded by any rules.
For example, in episode XXXV Jack and the Haunted House, the main plot is that Jack was walking in the forest and came across a girl crying. When he approached the girl she ran away. He wanted to know why she was crying and why she was in the woods so he decided to follow her. He ends up at an abandoned house and manages to find a way inside. When he enters the home, he’s presented a vision of a man writing. Throughout the entire episode, he has more visions and they grow more detailed as the episode moves along. In the end Jack, finds out what happened to the home and why it was abandoned. What stood out to me the most in this episode is the atmosphere. The episode itself was very unnerving and manages to be scary. This supports my case that the show tries to incorporate different elements. This entire episode has an unsettling mood and manages to try something different with its storytelling rather than Jack finding the girl and him defeating whatever evil lurks. Instead, it tries to build up tone and tries to make the viewer uncomfortable. I remember watching this back when I was a kid and the episode freaked me out a lot. I’m not a fan of being scared, but I was invested in this episode. I wanted to know more about the mystery that surrounded that home and I wanted to see if the hero would overcome the dilemma. Overall the episode, in my humble opinion, is great and convey to the audience that it can take risks and manage to do different things with it’s main character.
In conclusion, I think that Samurai Jack does what it set out to do; creating something different than any other show was attempting at that time. While there were a lot of action cartoons back then, most of them were trying to sell you products rather than selling you the show. Genndy didn’t want that. I think this show is a great piece of art thanks to it’s little dialogue, having various tones, and managing to try different ideas with it’s main character.