Samurai Jack Season 3

Dir: Genndy Tartakovsky, 2002. Adult Animation.
Samurai Jack Season 3

Admittedly, the show Samurai Jack does not seem worth getting into if giving it a quick glance. What with its child-like premise, silly title, and kind of annoying theme song, it would be easy to pile it together with all the other harmless cartoons that come and go. But to do so would mean to miss out on some of the best writing and certainly best direction, cartoon or otherwise, in the action genre. During its four year run, the story of an ancient samurai thrown into the future followed in the footsteps of other great hero journeys like Star Wars or Conan The Barbarian and reached the height of its potential in the Season Three, two-part episode "Birth of Evil."

Part One begins thousands of years in the past, somewhere in the cosmos, where three gods battle a formless, dark evil. One of the things that Samurai Jack has done so well is prove how gripping a simple good vs. evil story can be. There’s never any doubt in the show who the good guys or bad guys are, which is contrary to so much entertainment that likes to paint too much in gray. Most likely this happens so often for two reasons: one, because it seems more interesting to not know who to cheer for or to sympathize with the villain; and two, because we fear moral absolutes. But stories of good and evil work so well because they go beyond the skeletons in our closets and into a force larger than us, so well depicted in the opening of this show. But unfortunately for the three gods in battle, and the inhabitants of Earth, a tiny piece of this beast breaks off and makes its way toward our home.

Over the course of history this evil feeds off the sufferings of living beings, be they dinosaur or caveman, and eventually a Chinese village decides to fight back. In what has to be the most heartbreaking and soul-inspiring scene in a children's show ever, the ruler of this town tells his wife that, despite his love and loyalty to both her and their child (fetus Jack), he must forsake himself for the safety of his people. He rides with his warriors into battle through a forest of what could best  be described as branches of evil. Samurai Jack is almost hypnotic in the way it utilizes sound and images in its fight sequences. Here, as horsemen ride toward battle, more of these tree-like things spring up from the ground, taking out soldiers one by one, often off camera, until the leader is the last one standing. Very little is happening in this battle in terms of violent action, but a real sense of fear is evoked as our hero slowly learns the odds he’s up against. Later, in Part Two, another dreamlike battle is depicted in still frames, like those in a Lone Wolf and Cub comic which while being still and quiet also manages to be brutal and, frankly, badass. The show's creator, Genndy Tartakovsky, knows how to tell a story and depict a battle, and he sticks with the familiar formulas because they have proven to work and also get to something deeper within us.

Posted by:
Eric Branscum
Mar 23, 2010 2:27pm
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