I watched a lot of cartoons as a child. I still watch them now. But I hadn’t watched Samurai Jack when it was new since the flat art style repelled me. At most, I was only vaguely aware of the main driving conflict and I had never watched an episode from beginning to end. When I heard that it was coming back, it didn’t excite me at all — I understood why it was so popular, but it just didn’t grab me. However, I happened to be with some friends one day and they chose to watch this new Samurai Jack, so I watched it with them.
Its presentation floored me.
The very first thing I noticed was that so much was communicated without words. The episode’s opening sequence — a swarm of large, robotic insects surrounding two innocent blue creatures — showed how evil the enemies were and how innocent the victims were without any quips or speeches, just pure images. It also shows Jack’s physical courage and heroic outlook when he just smashes them, all without saying a single word. You don’t need a bunch of talking to see what kind of man he is.
Another scene, where an assassins’ cult known as the Daughters of Aku, had some dialogue, but it was very spare. From all of the shadows, all of the red, and all of the fire, you could see that these ladies were bad news. They didn’t talk about their evil plans or shout and make threats at random people — they showed the cult’s brutality simply by having its leadership beat small girls into submission as part of the girls’ initiation. And I do mean beat — a giant woman pulverizes them with her fists, and you hear every sickening blow. That this is being done to girls only heightens the horror of the scene.
Even in scenes with large amounts of dialogue, silence is used to express emotion. One scene has Jack face down a talkative robotic villain who delights in making jokes and running his mouth. While the robot refuses to shut his mouth, Jack simply glares at him for treating foul deeds like assassination as a thing to laugh at. No sarcastic put-downs, just an angry look that communicates volumes about Jack’s opinion of his foe.
There was so much more in the episode that I could get into, but I want to leave on a small but important note: the name of Jack’s archenemy, Aku.
In Japanese, “aku” means “evil,” so Jack’s nemesis is just that — evil. No special explanations, no psychological mumbo-jumbo, no political nonsense, just plain and simple EVIL that the episode makes sure to communicate to you. He is an entity that seeks control over all and will slaughter anyone who does not give him what he demands. He controls the future Earth, and Jack opposes his vile rampages at every turn. He is a creature of pure darkness that cannot be appeased or cajoled. He simply lives up to his name. Pitting a hero like Jack against such a foe is the stuff good stories are made of — it is pure, archetypal emotion, easily understood by even the youngest child.
Seeing that episode actually made me come to appreciate this new show. My expectations were low at first, but the power of the show’s imagery blew me away. I won’t keep up with it as it airs live, but I’ll consider watching it on a streaming service. I never that I would look forward to this.
Also, be sure to pick up a copy of my novella Sword & Flower if you haven’t already.