animation

Wacha! ‘Samurai Jack’ is back and it’s more brutal and beautiful than ever

The cult animated series returns for a fifth season with an expanded storyline and the same visual brilliance.

After a long and arduous wait of over 12 years, the cult animated series Samurai Jack is back. The cartoon series that ran from 2001 to 2004 tells the story of a samurai who has been flung into a dystopian future by Aku, the shape-shifting dark lord. Aided by his trusty magic sword, which is the only weapon that can put an end to his arch-enemy, the samurai (voiced by Phil LaMarr) spent four seasons roaming post-apocalyptic lands, fighting evil, and looking for a way back home to kill Aku (voiced originally by Mako Iwamatsu and now, Greg Baldwin) before the time portal was opened.

Even when it was first aired, the four-time Emmy winner was like nothing on television. Created by master animator Genndy Tartakovsky, who is also behind Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Hotel Transylvania franchise, Samurai Jack was known for its captivating artistry, intense and intricate action, intelligent comedy, unhurried narrative, and minimal dialogue. Low angle shots, long silences, close-ups, slow motion – the show was a visual masterpiece and years ahead of its sugar rush-happy contemporaries.

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Samurai Jack: 3 showdowns with Aku.

Tartakovsky has acknowledged Akira Kurosawa’s movies and Frank Miller’s comics as inspirations. While Samurai Jack was never really aimed at a young audience, it had to keep the blood, gore, brutality to a minimum since it was on Cartoon Network. All of this has changed after the show’s return on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s night-time programming block for grown-ups.

At the beginning of season five, 50 years have passed since we last saw Jack. As a side-effect of time travel, he has stopped aging. Aku, the Shogun of Sorrow, is still alive and still rules the world.

Samurai Jack has evolved from one man’s journey back in time to a more complicated and troubled study of Jack’s psyche. He can’t kill Aku and can’t return home either – the years of searching for a way to defeat Aku have come to nothing, and this realisation is taking a toll on him. Stuck in this purgatory, he is no longer the stone faced do-gooder. He is conflicted, tired and haunted by the souls and ghosts of his ancestors. His trusty sword has been replaced with bigger and meaner guns. He has visions of the past and apparitions that berate him for forgetting his purpose.

Aku too has changed. The shape-shifting master of darkness was always a bit of a comic relief. His evil machinations were carried out by robot drones and mechanical bugs and beetles. Now, he has a cult of assassins, the seven daughters of Aku who have been bred to defeat the samurai. Clearly, the show has earned its place in the more grown-up space of Adult Swim.

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Samurai Jack season five trailer.

Jack’s purpose was always to find a time portal – Will.I.Am’s opening track for the show Gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack, is still catchy. But episodes from the initial run were self-contained and ended with Jack helping the victims of Aku’s evil reign survive another day. The new season is more connected in terms of storyline, and has opened itself up to a more intricate and detailed flow of characters and themes.

Samurai Jack was intended to end with a movie, but when that didn’t seem to be working out, Tartakovsky reached out to Cartoon Network for a limited series to bring an end to Jack’s story. While the new storyline has become more mature, this is still Samurai Jack. The show is still a tour de force. The sequences in the new episodes are breathtaking, be a high-speed action fight sequence or a slow chase inside an ancient temple in the woods. Through the darkness, the show retains a measure of its comedic genius too, thanks to Aku.

With newer technology, the process of filmmaking was amped up, but the show remains calmer than anything else out there. Samurai Jack is still a stylised 2D animated show that takes it slow and makes a long-lasting impact.

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Samurai Jack season five sneak peek.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.