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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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.