The 11 Greatest Episodes of Samurai Jack
?Samurai Jack changed American animation. The show was the result of a giant grab bag of influences, from Frank Miller’s Ronin, to Lone Wolf and Cub to spaghetti westerns to Asian cinema to Star Wars and Blade Runner. Samurai Jack was a man from the past, stuck in a horrendous future world ruled by his immortal archenemy, Aku. Samurai Jack didn’t look like anything American television audiences had seen before; the animation was dialogue-light, outline free and featured extensive split screens.
Debuting a few short months before Cartoon Network’s Justice League, Samurai Jack launched with much fanfare but quickly faded into the background for much of the general population in the face of Teen Titans and other animated action shows, including show creator Genndy Tartakovsky’s own Star Wars: The Clone Wars micro-series. But the influence of the series can be felt in a wide variety of places, from the fight scenes in Iron Man 2 (which Tartakovsky did the storyboards for) to the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. There were only 52 episodes of Samurai Jack, but here are 11 standouts in a crowded field of amazing animation.
Daily list suggested by The Great A’Tuin.
11) Jack and the Scotsman (Ep. XI)
?Samurai Jack drew from a pretty wide variety of comic books and it’s no surprise that one of the most popular episodes was based off of the classic fight-because-of-a-misunderstanding-before-we-team-up clich?. The story was decent, but the most interesting part of the episode was the introduction of a new hero, the John DiMaggio-voiced Scotsman. Jack could be a very lonely and solemn character and the very loud Scotsman, with his machine-gun leg and cat skull belt buckle, was the perfect opposite for Jack to bounce off of. The Scotsman was so popular that he returned for three more episodes.
10) Jack vs. Demongo, The Soul Collector (Ep. XXIII)
?Demongo is a nasty threat all on his own. He has the ability to teleport and appears to be immortal and he comes from the depths of the Pit of Hate, like Aku. But what puts Demongo over the top is his ability to absorb the essence of warriors he faces, reanimating their souls to do his bidding. Demongo spends the entire episode wearing Samurai Jack down, slowly grinding his spirit. Thanks to his cool visual look and his ability to actually pose a physical threat to Jack, Demongo stands out from the majority of Samurai Jack villains.
9) Jack Learns to Jump Good (Ep. XIV)
Samurai Jack seemed pretty invincible physically, which is why this episode, where Jack needs help learning a new skill, really stands out. Jack helps a monkey-like tribe learn to defend themselves from gorillas, and in return, they train him how to “jump good.” This is definitely one of the more lighthearted episodes, but it still helped explain why Jack was such an exceptional warrior and person.
8) Jack and the Smackback (Ep. XVI)
Some episodes of Samurai Jack were heavy on story and concept. This isn’t one of those episodes. Jack is forced into an episode long melee against some seriously unique and weird opponents in the Dome of Doom, a setting that takes the best of Mad Max and Gladiator films and blends them together.
7) Jack vs. Mad Jack (Ep. VIII)
It’s kind of a well-worn trope in comics that a hero fights an opposite version of himself. Superman has Bizarro, Spider-Man has Venom, and Jack has Mad Jack. The twist in this version is that Mad Jack is actually Jack’s rage personified by Aku. The angrier Jack becomes fighting Mad Jack, the more powerful Mad Jack grows. Instead of fighting, Jack wins by quieting his inner demons. Pretty metaphysical for a kids’ action show.
6) Jack and the Spartans (Ep. XXV)
Although this episode doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the story of Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae, but the art undeniably is influenced by Frank Miller’s comic 300. Not surprisingly, the episode’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds after Gerard Butler killed the hell out of some Persians in the movie theater.
5) Jack Remembers the Past (Ep. XIX)
Jack discovers that he’s in the area he grew up in and launches into flashbacks and memories of his past. Although Samurai Jack was an adventure series, the sow never held back on showing how much of his childhood and life was lost battling Aku. Plus, this episode also gave us a pretty killer Lone Wolf and Cub cameo.
4) Jack and the Three Blind Archers (Ep. VII)
This episode has everything. Flashbacks to Jack’s training, a mystical mcguffin that could send Jack home and some beautiful fight scenes. Jack has to fight three blind archers that guard a wishing well that could send him home, but the archers are way too powerful for him at first. This episode doesn’t really extend the Jack canon, but it is a well-written, beautifully designed and amazingly sound designed piece of work.
3) Samurai Vs. Ninja (Ep. XL)
The final battle in this episode is stunning. Samurai Jack must face a robotic Ninja in the final few minutes of daylight at a water tower. Jack and the Ninja both use light and dark as tools of concealment and their monochromatic battle is both tense and visually striking.
2) Tale of X9 (Ep. L)
?X9 is a former robot assassin for Aku that was given an experimental personality chip. Although the chip helped X9 survive several fights, it also allowed him to fall in love, with both jazz music and, more importantly, a sweet little dog named Lulu. This episode was told almost entirely from X9’s point of view and is really nothing short of a tragedy. Samurai Jack eventually shows up and eventually defeats X9 but it is a very hollow victory, for both Jack and the viewers.
1) The Beginning (Ep. I-III)
Come on. Was there ever really a doubt what the number one entry would be? The epic three-part opening of Samurai Jack introduced us to Aku, talking archeologist dogs in pith helmets and young Jack’s anachronistic training (Really? Samurai Jack trained with the Ancient Egyptians and with Robin Hood?). The highlight of the story was undoubtedly Jack’s faceoff with an army of beetle robots, a sequence that helped Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky hired on as the storyboard artist for the final fight scene in Iron Man 2.