FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (14)
February 14, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite animated TV series.
SAMURAI JACK | GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY | 2001–2004, 2017
Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shapeshifting 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.
That’s all the backstory you need to know about Samurai Jack. The show follows Jack, a samurai, as he wanders across different time periods searching for a portal that will bring him back to slay Aku, a demon that destroyed his village. The plot is a typical hero’s journey, but that’s OK. In fact, the appeal of the show is its simplicity, not just in narrative but in style.
Prior to Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky created Dexter’s Laboratory, which introduced his iconic ultra-flat animation. Samurai Jack pushes this style to the next level: Characters are made of shapes more than lines; these shapes blend and interact with each other effortlessly to create a sense of fluidity. Aku, the shapeshifting master of darkness, is probably the best example of this; his body is a face slapped onto an abstract swathe of matte-black which shifts constantly. There is ornamentation, no sense of an actual body.; this creates an effect in which the viewer feels Aku is truly shapeshifting.
Watching Samurai Jack is like watching a lava lamp. Rather than a sense of scale or perspective, there’s a constant movement and collision of amorphous blobs. Oddly, this breakdown of form makes the show feel organic. We don’t encounter the world as solid, outlined objects that make sense; instead, we see forms interacting, constantly moving, and our perception is heavily altered by our perspective and depth. The style of Samurai Jack capitalizes on this phenomenon, drawing the viewer in.
The art isn’t the only minimal thing about the show, though. The dialogue is sparse; in some episodes, there is no talking at all. (When I first started watching Samurai Jack as a four-year-old in 2003 — my mom rented the original four seasons on Netflix DVD — I wasn’t sure if Jack could speak.) Most of the time, there is only a faint background sound of birds as Jack walks through a forest, or hushed voices as Jack sits in an inn. The tension building up to the fight scenes is maximized by this quietude; when the action does start and the silence is broken, the viewer is shocked.
The atmosphere of this animated series is a truly unique one. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Miranda Mellis on STEVEN UNIVERSE | Luc Sante on TOP CAT | Peggy Nelson on PINK PANTHER | Charlie Mitchell on COWBOY BEBOP | Mimi Lipson on THE FLINTSTONES | Sam Glenn on BIG MOUTH | Mandy Keifetz on ROAD RUNNER | Ramona Lyons on SHE-RA | Holly Interlandi on DRAGON BALL Z | Max Glenn on ADVENTURE TIME | Joe Alterio on REN & STIMPY | Josh Glenn on SPEED RACER | Adam McGovern on KIMBA THE WHITE LION | Jonathan Pinchera on SAMURAI JACK | Lynn Peril on JONNY QUEST | Stephanie Burt on X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES and X-MEN: EVOLUTION | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on THE JETSONS | Adam Netburn on NARUTO | Madeline Ashby on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER | Tom Nealon on TRANSFORMERS | Sara Ryan on BOJACK HORSEMAN | Michael Grasso on COSMIC CLOCK | Erin M. Routson on BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD | Deborah Wassertzug on DARIA | Lydia Millet on BOB’S BURGERS.
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