Hit or Sh**: Adult Swim’s SAMURAI JACK
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Despite what you may have read in various advertisements and promotional materials, Jack is not back. The samurai that stars in Adult Swim’s SAMURAI JACK reboot bears almost no resemblance to the faultlessly honorable warrior we knew roughly a decade ago.
Sure, he’s still slaughtering robot hordes with gorgeous efficiency, but now he uses an electric polearm and a spiked motorcycle instead of his iconic sword. And as the edginess of his weaponry increases, so does the edginess of his character. Jack’s donned the requisite devil-may-care attitude and facial hair necessary to show that he’s suffered. This would normally bore me, but what endears me to Jack’s character in the first place is his simplicity. He remains essentially the same blank white knight slate throughout four seasons of brutal trials, and now after eons of being the same, he’s broken down. It’s predictable, but also comfortable and understandable. After all, Jack’s had a rough go: he has become a timeless being, forever hopelessly thrashing against the demon lord Aku’s omniscient tyranny. Now he kills ostensibly for the fun of it, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from his constant bearded scowl.
But all of this is secondary to the fact that watching Jack kick ass is still incredibly satisfying. SAMURAI JACK makes the majority of its impact as a visual spectacle; Tartakovski’s animation shows maturity and makes the most effective use out of its raised violence cap. A squirmy scene of a ritualistic birthing ceremony early in the episode feels much more authentic than Jack’s overwrought badassery.
The show is at its weakest, however, when it’s doing neither of those. The pilot drags a bit in the middle during unsurprising scenes of Jack’s parents guilt-tripping him from beyond the grave, which are beautifully animated but use more cheesy dialogue than necessary. Jack’s ghostly projections overstay their welcome, but it’s nice to see them at least experiment with talk-heavy scenes. Later in the episode, we’re treated to one of the mouthiest and most enjoyable villains in SAMURAI JACK history: a flute-wielding robot dressed in impeccable purple robes with a proclivity for jazz music and scat vocals that goes by the name of Scaramouche. Granted, most of his dialogue is scatting, but his voice, aesthetic, and sheer fucking slickness make his fight with Jack the best scene in the pilot.
Scaramouche, immediately after doing the Fandango
The one element of classic Jack missing from this pilot was Aku himself. Despite his dominance of the universe, we never actually see him on screen; we only hear his voice (which sounds considerably different, due to Mako Iwamatsu’s unfortunate passing in 2006) on the other end of a phone conversation with Scaramouche. I suspect we’ll see Aku more as the series progresses, at the very least to address his devout cult of followers, the Daughters of Aku, who seem poised to be the main antagonists. A group of seven women who have been trained since birth to hunt and kill the Samurai, the Daughters get almost as much screen time as Jack himself.
This reboot spends a lot of time on old tricks that keep working, with a few experiments thrown in to keep things interesting. This pilot creates an excellent jumping-off point for what could be the most brutal, visually delicious season of SAMURAI JACK ever. As long as the cheesy edginess is kept at a tolerable level, this season will at the very least give Jack an honorable ending.
SAMURAI JACK airs on Saturdays on Adult Swim