So if you’ve been on the inter-webs recently you’ve likely noticed that everyone’s in a hubbub over a little show called Samurai Jack being brought back from the dead for a new season in 2016. The show has been held up throughout the years as a beloved classic, and having reviewed the show a year ago, I can confirm that it’s stood the test of time fairly well. So if you need a refresher on what made the series so great or haven’t seen it and are curious to see what all the excitement’s about, here’s a list of my 10 favorite episodes from the show in honor of it’s revival.
10) The Birth of Evil
Every story needs a beginning, but in this case we’re going to the beginning-beginning. This is the episode that finally explained Aku’s origins as well as the origins of Jack’s legendary sword (which oddly enough despite being forged by several gods, none of them were Japanese ones) and it’s the only episode where our titular hero is nowhere to be found, with the story instead being told through the perspective of his late father. Given this was told as a two-parter it’s one of the show’s more cinematic pieces and it’s chockful of the show’s usual brand of action and direction, making for a really nice prequel and one that answered a couple of burning questions.
9) Jack and the Scotsman
Samurai Jack is a show with little to no continuity so it’s nice to get a recurring character besides our hero and villain, and the Scotsman proved to be a welcome addition to the series. Out of all the episodes he’s featured in though, his first appearance is definitely his strongest. In addition to being another solid action piece for the show, it’s really fun to see his brash personality play off of Jack’s more reserved persona, making for some good comedy and one of the better uses of the “handcuffed together” scenario (and as I type this my mind is now filled with horrifying images of the slash fics this may have inspired) as the two are forced to work together in order to fight off the various bounty hunters after their heads. With Jack being something of a lone wolf half the time, it was nice to see him find at least one ally in the future, and their team-up here proved the two most dangerous men on the planet are even more dangerous together (darn, I did it again!)
8) Jack Remembers the Past
The series carries with it, many different moods and stories, but this is one of the few that’s genuinely about our hero himself. Given Jack’s story started off with him being sent off to train against Aku, there wasn’t really anytime to see his childhood before that so this serves as a window into what his life was like before disaster struck. More importantly though, it serves as a reminder that Jack is pretty much alone, as there’s still no way for him to actual return to his home and his look back on bygone days helps to make this one of the show’s more quiet entries and proof that dialogue isn’t always necessary to strike an emotional cord.
7) Jack and the Blind Archers
Speaking of silence, it’s pretty much impossible to do a list like this without this episode being in there somewhere. This early entry in the show’s run features Jack being pitted against a trio of mystic archers in order to gain access to a wish granting well that could return him back to the past (bet you can’t guess what DOESN’T happen!). What really makes this one stand out is that it was one of the first episodes in the series to prove how well direction could carry a mood even without much dialogue, something practically unheard of for western animation at the time (and in some ways is still the case unfortunately). The silent samurai movie nature of it, makes for a really cinematic action piece and while the ending twist isn’t too surprising it caps off the tension of the episode pretty well and if you need an example of how well the show can handle that kind of style, look no further than this.
6) Jack and the Lava Monster
Like the previous episode, this one is another action centric entry but this one has some actual story to it giving it an extra punch. In this one Jack encounters a monster that’s actually the spirit of a Norse warrior who tried to resist against Aku’s hostile takeover of his homeland, only to be cursed by the demon. Now he’s stuck in this body and unable to ascend to Valhalla with the rest of his brethren unless he can die a warrior’s death at Jack’s hands. This makes for a pretty tragic tale in addition to the usual epic fight scene with the combination making it a standout among the show’s earlier entries. It also makes for one of the show’s darkest when you consider this was an episode of a children’s cartoon where the main character was effectively helping a guy to commit suicide. Nighty, night kids!
5) The Premiere
It wouldn’t be fair to do one of these without mentioning the episode that started it all. The premiere is a great introduction into Samurai Jack’s world, displaying everything from how epic, to how downright weird the series can get as we see the beginnings of Jack’s fight against Aku and his first encounter with the distant future he now finds himself trapped in (the latter of which involves talking dogs). All of the show’s sense of direction, fight choreography and killer soundtrack can be found full force here, making for a perfect segway into getting people interested in the show. One of the things that stands out the most about it though is the climatic battle between Jack and Aku’s robot army which features what still holds up as one of the most cleverly constructed middle fingers to violence censorship ever conceived.
4) The Good The Bad and the Beautiful
So this one isn’t as widely remembered as some of the others but it’s pretty solid. This episode is a western spoof featuring Jack on the run from a pair of bounty hunters…who also happen to be divorced and spend just as much time stabbing each other in the back as they do trying to kill Jack. If the premiere is everything great about the show in movie form, then this one is everything fun about it distilled into 22 minutes of pure entertainment. It’s funny, action packed, and clever, making for a great testament to the kind of material you can generally expect from the show when it’s just out to have a good time.
3) Jack v.s. Aku
Despite what the title of the episode implies, this one is almost entirely comedy and as far as that goes, it’s the show’s best effort. In a surprising moment of self-awareness, Aku realizes just how repetitive the battles between him and Jack have become so he offers to settle things in a mano-a-mano fight to the finish. Of course Aku being the slippery devil that he is, tries to cheat his way through the battle with Jack trying to counter all his plans, making for a hilarious “I know, you know, that I know” setup (Light Yagami would be proud). It’s always nice to see a show have the balls to make fun of itself, and this episode succeeds at that in spades.
2) The Tale of X-9
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a robot mook? The answer’s probably no, but too bad because Samurai Jack shows it to you anyway, and the result makes for one of the show’s strongest entries. We follow the titular X-9 who used to be one of Aku’s elite robot enforcers until he decided to settle down and live the quiet life with his pet Lulu (sweet thing). That is until Aku calls him for one last job in trying to get rid of Jack and holds Lulu hostage to ensure he goes through with it. Since X-9’s name doesn’t happen to be Samurai Jack though, his fate is sealed the moment he encounters our hero and it makes for a pretty sad ending. I’m a fan of noir spoofs (mainly because noir is impossible for me to take seriously) and this delivers on all fronts, so the next time you encounter a robot mook in a game, you might wanna think about who he could be leaving behind before you slaughter him. You monsters.
1) Jack and the Spartans
This is another one of the show’s most looked back upon episodes and for good reason. This one features Jack teaming up with a small army of Spartans in order to help defend what remains of their domain, and while at first glance it seems like an obvious homage to the movie 300, it actually aired well before that and is instead a tribute to an earlier film called The 300 Spartans as well as the novel that inspired it. As such, the episode is shot in a deliberately cinematic fashion, ramping up the show’s usual mix of direction, action and storytelling considerably. It’s an episode that stands at the pinnacle of the show’s sense of style, and shows just what it’s capable of accomplishing in a mere 22 minutes when all of it’s elements are in perfect harmony. It also helps that this episode has nothing to do with Aku, making for a great standalone piece, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen the show before, but are curious as to why it’s so highly regarded. The show has a lot of greats, but this is by far one of it’s most brilliant.
And there you have it. Samurai Jack is a show with a lot of style, and these episodes are prime examples of said style at it’s best. As we look onward to the new season, it’s hard to say what else the show will end up accomplishing, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.