Cartoon Network started life as a clearing house for old Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbara offerings, but they slowly began to produce their own works, as well. Now their line-up is dominated by their own product, mostly rereuns of The Powerpuff Girls.
Fun as PPG may be, not all of Cartoon Network's original programing is as cutesy and pink as those three kindergarteners: one, in particular, is aimed at a decidely more mature audience.
In a bleak troubled world of the future, one hero
stands alone, fighting evil as he presses ever onward on his quest to return home and free his people. He is the chosen one. He is the Warrior. He is Samurai Jack.
Samurai Jack is one of the most elegant cartoons on the air today. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky is unafraid to use silence in his stories, providing long stretches with no dialogue, and many with no music, either - the pilot, in fact, has no spoken dialogue until nearly half an hour in. The picture will often break into graphic blocks during intense moments, the action is all expertly planned and executed and the character designs, while more complex than some of Tartakovsky's previous work, are still less cluttered and affected than the anime which is the show's only real competitor. In fact, Samurai Jack can really be seen as part of the "Americanime" style that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm began over a decade ago.
A few weeks before the show premiered, Cartoon Network began selling 11" figures of Samurai Jack and his nemesis, Aku. The figures were completely sold out before the pilot was off the air, proving just how popular this new character was. That was in the last half of 2001, and now we've finally got another shot at the timelost ronin.
There are three figures of our main hero, but the most "standard" would have to be Battle Armor Samurai Jack. Wearing the piecemeal armor crafted for him by the talking dogs who he defended in the pilot episode, this Jack looks cool and in control. The figure stands more than 5⅝" tall, and sees Jack in his usual white robes. Above that is the salvaged samurai armor that he wore to face down the hoardes of beetle-like robots that Aku sent to destory the workers.
Jack's likeness is great, from the angles of his body to the little topknot in his hair. The homemade armor looks weathered, and even has the Mac bulldog hood ornament on top of his cooking pot headgear. Watch out, Ma Hunkel, there's a new kitchenware wearer in town! The armor can be removed, leaving plain Jack at your command.
Press the button on Jack's back, baby, Jack's back for sword-slashing action. He's only articulated at the neck, shoulders and waist, though the sideways arm motion (which looks more like a nudge than anything else) keeps his right shoulder from moving. This lack of motion is really disappointing, since they could have easily given him hips and wrists, and he has a lot of difficulty standing up.
Samurai Jack is a high point in the animated genre - really, how many cartoons can you watch with the sound off and still follow the story? That's not to say that Jack is simplistic: it's not; it's just that the actual art of the animation is handled so expertly that the images are capable of conveying the story by themselves. Like a samurai who knows when and where to strike, Genndy Tartakovsky has brought us a cartoon that weds all the best elements into a new and better form.
Unfortunately, very little of that coolness has rubbed off on the toys: I'm glad I got Jack, to be sure; I'm just disappointed in him, and I won't be getting any more.