Nailed It! – Samurai Jack   1 comment

Spam kicks off the first in our series NAILED IT! A look at the movies/ TV shows that we think are perfect.  As for what makes something “perfect” I’ll let Spam explain… -AS

Hello again Internet! I was able to convince Atomic Sam to let me do another one of these blogs, but this time, I’m not going to look at another terrible movie and try and tell you it’s great on a meta-level. This time we’re going to talk about things that are actually good! More than good, in fact, Sam and I will be talking about movies and shows that are perfect!

I got this idea from the “Still Untitled” podcast where Adam Savage describes Raiders of the Lost Ark as a perfect movie. If you want to get an idea of what I mean, watch the podcast here.

To be clear, these posts won’t just be the AFI top 100, or the Criterion Collection releases; it’s movies/shows where you wouldn’t change a thing. Ones where you can’t imagine any change that makes it better. (Obligatory George Lucas joke). Movies and shows that perfectly tell the story they want to tell. They are the Platonic Ideal of that story.

So knowing that these PERFECT media encapsulate a story told exactly as it should be, it’s easy to think they would all be movies. TV shows often have a big ongoing story as well as smaller arcs that may last one season,  and if canceled, loose plot threads can go unresolved. Well that’s not a problem with my first submission to Nailed It!: Samurai Jack is a PERFECT TV show.

Watch out!

Watch out!

Genndy Tartakovsky‘s Emmy award winning show is best summed up at the beginning of every episode:

Imagine everything that was cool about Kill Bill, in a cartoon, set in the future, against aliens, cyborgs, and robots, venturing thru every setting from desert, to city, to jungle, to wild west, to space, and everything in-between. That is Samurai Jack. The warrior price known only as Jack fights to get back to his own time, save his people and prevent the future he landed in.


This show blends together a cyberpunk future with Kurosawa films, in the style of the 1974 TV show Kung Fu. Tartakovsky wanted the show to be primarily action and designed it to be, “thin on plot” but I’d say that’s not really a negative. The story is told almost entirely through action rather than dialogue, but you still know what’s going on. The storyboard artists/writers (the jobs were combined) made decisions based on what their 8 year old selves would think was cool! That’s all you need to know right there. Why would Aku turn into a giant scorpion? Because it’s awesome. Why would Jack fight a loudmouth 1970s sounding, boombox toting, MC Hammer looking fake samurai? Because it’s awesome! Why would Jack join up with prohibition style gangsters, a Spartan Army, or a giant Scotsman with a 6 foot claymore, bagpipes, and a machine gun for a leg against a bounty-hunting pig version of the Cajun sheriff from Live and Let Die?! Because it’s AWESOME!


Tartakovsky uses all manner or visual storytelling devices, slow motion, letter-boxing when the action gets tense, split screens, freeze frames within a split screen, and they all add necessary drama. Some sequences can be more than 10 minutes in a 22 minute episode without any dialogue. Phil Lamar, who voices Jack, described it as one of his easiest jobs. Because Jack is man out of time, he’s ignorant of the world around him, so other characters often have pages of exposition about where to go to find some plot device, to which Jack would reply, “thank you, I will go there.”

The art style is somewhat flat, almost cell shaded, similar to The Powerpuff Girls (Tartakovsky was the animation director) and the lack of outlines on any character give the show a unique look. The animation especially fights is fluid and dynamic, with lots of fast motion, rapid cuts, but never disorienting. There are visual Easter Eggs, homages, and references to Blade Runner, Star Wars (a lot), The Wild Bunch, Akira, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Live and Let Die (as I mentioned), 300 (5 years before the movie came out), Lone Wolf and Cub, as well as other shows Tartakovsky worked on like 2 Stupid Dogs, and The Powerpuff Girls. Episode 40, “Samurai versus Ninja” includes a gorgeous, sequence where a white clad Jack battles a black clad ninja both fading in and out of the two-color background. It’s one of my favorite martial arts fights of all time. If you don’t like it, you probably won’t like the show, or some of my other picks for Nailed It.

Unfortunately, Cartoon Network canceled the series after 52 episodes. There had been plans to end with a movie, but after the Powerpuff Girls Movie floundered at the box office, Cartoon Network got cold feet. Also, Aku’s voice actor Mako (The Wizard/Narrator from Conan the Barbarian) passed away in 2006, meaning a new voice actor for Aku would be needed (I’ve got ideas, but we can touch on that some other time). And that’s the only thing worth changing in this perfect show, giving it the ending it deserves. Jack and Aku in an epic showdown. They could bring back characters (aside from the one recurrence of the Scotsman) to join Jack in his assault on Aku, defeat him in the future, send Jack back to the past, heck even do both! 

 Samurai Jack is available on Netflix (DVD, not streaming), iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video. The complete series DVD set is available on Amazon.

Was Samurai Jack a perfect show? Or were there flaws that Spam overlooked? Tell us below!


Posted February 4, 2013 by atomicsam in Nailed It, TV

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  1. Pingback: Nailed It! Sym-Bionic Titan | AtomicSam

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