Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Yaoi Vibe-Samurai Jack

The very first time I heard about this cartoon was through their premiere ad that would showcase their pilot episode, and I was quite in love with this cartoon, and have been following up on it for quite a bit and even managed to watch the season finale of the series. I was utmost surprised that Samurai Jack was voiced by an African-American, because he totally did not sound African-American at all! Phil LaMarr rocks! And he does a kick-ass voiceover for Ozzy in Ozzy & Drix as well ^_^

The humbleness and courage, and also the strength of Samurai Jack as he endured throughout the episodes was rivoting and always supported his journey along the way, hoping that one day he would get back home. My favourite episode would be the one where he battles his evil self forged by Aku after all that pent-up frustrations he bottled up throughout his adventures, and the episode where the little children were forced to listen to Aku's stories, only to end up frustrating him and running off, leaving the children to make up their own story of how Samurai Jack defeated Aku. Oh, and also the episode where he fought Demongo. Yeah, that.

It's kinda sad that they ended the series with a rather cliffhanger that doesn't really feel like an ending at all, because I would've hoped that by then he was able to return back to his time and such, but apparently it may be revived, according to this quote:

There had been plans for a Samurai Jack feature film in 2002 with New Line Cinema, but this project was canceled after the lackluster performance of The Powerpuff Girls Movie.[3] In an interview, Tartakovsky confirmed that "Jack will come back" and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film." [6][7] Newly formed production company Frederator Films has announced in Variety that one of their first projects will be a feature film adaptation of Samurai Jack, written and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.[2][8] As of September 2009, the film is in the writing stage of pre-production to be distributed by Paramount Pictures and co-produced by J. J. Abrams alongside Fred Seibert of Frederator Films.[3][4]

Plot

Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish Samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!

This quotation begins each episode of Samurai Jack, which tells the story of a young prince (Jack) from Feudal Japan whose father's empire is destroyed by the demon Aku. The child Jack escapes destruction and travels the world training his mind and his body for years until he reaches adulthood, becoming a legendary samurai. Then, taking his father's magic katana, he challenges Aku to a duel and defeats the demon. However, before Jack can deal the killing blow, Aku creates a time portal and sends his opponent into the distant future, anticipating that he would be able to amass sufficient power to deal with the Samurai later. The protagonist arrives in a dystopian, futuristic Earth ruled by Aku and filled with his robot minions and a large number of alien immigrant races of various appearances. The first people he encounters in the future call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name - his true given name is never mentioned in the series.

Standard episodes follow Jack's search for a way to travel back to his own time, where he hopes to stop Aku before these events come to pass. The cartoon depicts Jack's quest to find a time portal, while constantly facing obstacles set by Aku in a classic battle of Good versus Evil. Typically each time Jack believes he has reached the end of his quest, a deus ex machina causes him to dramatically miss his chance. In one attempt Jack locates a stable portal to the past, but the guardian of the portal defeats him after a long but noticeably mismatched battle. The guardian is about to crush him when the portal starts to flicker and glow, apparently giving the guardian a message; the guardian has a giant pterodactyl take the unconscious Jack away. After Jack leaves, the guardian states that it is not yet time for him to return to the past, and an image of what seems to be an older Jack is then seen in the portal; this seems to indicate that Jack is predestined to succeed, but it will take many years for him to do so.[9]

Setting

Samurai Jack takes place in a world where science and technology has developed far beyond what we have available to us today, and in some ways resembles magic on its own. However, despite scientific advances, the future is decidedly dystopian - in one episode the mafia has profited greatly from the sale of simple water.[10] Aliens, bounty hunters, and robots are plentiful, and always ready for a fight. Above all of this stands Aku, which is evident as the shape of most buildings in urban settings resemble the shape of his head.

While the setting is distinctly futuristic and technological, several instances of mythology and supernatural events do occur. Mythologies, like Valhalla, and even supernatural forces, such as demonic enemies, make regular appearances, yet do not seem to stand out amongst the technologically advanced inhabitants. Aku himself is obviously supernatural, as is Jack's Sword.

Stories take place in a variety of locations. Ranging from beautiful wilderness and to futuristic or even dystopic cities, the stark contrast in these can be extremely rigid. Regardless of the setting, the simple, minimalistic art style employed resembles ukiyo-e paintings.

There is at least one indication that the setting is a dystopian future version of the universe in the Cartoon Network series The Powerpuff Girls. During the three-part series premiere movie, a ruined billboard advertising dog food is seen; this originally appeared in "Uh Oh Dynamo," the last episode from the first season of PPG.

Characters


Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is the son of the Japanese Emperor who ruled the area where Aku originally appeared on Earth, and is banished to the future by Aku during their first battle, where he is left in every episode to search for a way home. He was born on the day that his father defeated Aku and he seems to be the only mortal (aside from his father) to be a match to Aku.

As a boy, after his father was captured by Aku, Jack traveled around the world to prepare both physically and mentally for his confrontation with Aku. He studied under various scholars, such as Egyptian thinkers, and attempted to master each art of combat from the cultures he met, training with African warriors, Viking sailors, Robin Hood, Mongolian warriors, Shaolin monks, Greek Olympic contestants, Russian Cossacks, and several others. The only time Young Jack has spoken is in Season 3, Episode 5: "Jack in Egypt".

Later, after being sent into the future, he is taught the ability to jump hundreds of feet into the air by a species of blue gorilla and a jungle man, thus allowing him to reach vast areas he previously could not reach while also giving the impression that he can fly. Jack's magic sword was forged by the gods Odin, Ra, and Rama through three mortal avatars. The sword was forged from the righteous energy within Jack's father; it is unable to harm beings that are pure of heart, as seen in Episode XXX where Aku steals the sword and attempts to kill Jack with it, but fails even to cut him.

Jack strongly exhibits the characteristics of a stoic hero. He is unfailingly polite and humble despite the completely alien nature of the futuristic world and never scoffs at or disparages the customs of the people he encounters (as unpleasant as they seem to him at times). Despite his almost hopeless situation, he does not bewail his destiny, instead exhibiting a strong amor fati. Jack consistently shows an uncommon moral strength of character by helping the poor and defenseless along the way, in one instance even helping talking dogs that worked for Aku, in another, releasing the souls of a family in a haunted mansion. Occasionally, he faces great physical pain, or has to forget his own goals in order to help someone in need.

In the first episode, his name was never mentioned. In the second episode however, he began using the name Jack when three teenage aliens, after witnessing Jack survive a huge fall by jumping onto cars, referred to him as Jack while praising him when he landed - in this case, more of a generic term, à la "dude" or "guy." Later, when asked to identify himself, he replied "They call me Jack." His real name has never been revealed (however, his way of replying his name when asked may be a homage to Violence Jack who shares a similar response as well as name).

Aku

Aku (voiced by Mako) is Samurai Jack's main enemy. His name means "evil" in Japanese. He is similar to Akuma, the evil demon with burning eyes from Japanese mythology (which may also be another source for his name). He is an extremely powerful demonic wizard whose primary ability is shapeshifting like the god of evil Amatsu-Mikaboshi, though he possesses many other powers. He requires no food, water, or air and is capable of interstellar travel. He also has the ability to spy on Jack and others from a large sphere he can summon at will in his tower. A significant aspect of the series is that Aku is immortal, and Jack's samurai sword is the only weapon capable of harming and finally defeating him; even the slightest physical contact with the sword's blade causes Aku severe pain, and wounds inflicted by it take much longer to heal from. Because of this, Aku does not like to fight Jack himself (only doing so when Jack is incapacitated or without the sword), preferring to let his minions do it for him. Aku is also vulnerable to varying degrees to other forms of magical or divine attacks (such as the powers and artifacts of gods).

Aku constantly antagonizes Jack, often attacking him while he is weak, and other times defending himself from Jack's own gambits. The two seem doomed never to defeat each other, for though Jack has bested Aku on numerous occasions, Aku merely transforms into a small creature and escapes, usually calling out a taunt over his shoulder as he flees, a fact that he himself is aware of and even makes a reference to in one episode.

The episode The Birth of Evil reveals Aku's origin. Long ago in the vastness of space, a great formless evil appeared. Before the darkness could do harm to the universe, it was set upon by the kings of three religions: Odin, the one-eyed king of Asgard and the Norse Gods; Ra, the sun god and king of the Gods of Egypt; and Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, the supreme being in Hindu mythology. So fierce was their attack on the shadow, that it was completely destroyed, save for a small fragment that was flung aside in the heat of battle. For ages the fragment drifted through the cosmos and eventually fell to Earth, and caused the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs when it landed. The land around its impact site eventually formed into the islands of Japan, where it slowly grew and spread like poison over the course of eons, creating an ever-spreading forest of black spikes and toxic tar that devoured any who entered. Eventually the forest grew so large that the Daimyo of the land (Jack's father), decided to kill the evil at its source. Armed with a magic oil given to him by Buddhist monks, the Lord and his cavalry rode into the heart of the forest, the Lord himself the only one to survive. Once at the black lake at the forest's center, the Samurai Lord doused an arrow into the oil he was given, lit it with a green flame, and shot it into the lake. Instead of destroying the evil however, the magic arrow gave it both a will and consciousness, thus the demon Aku was born. Aku proved to be unstoppable, so with the help of the three gods, Jack's father forged a sword capable of harming him. With it, he was able to defeat Aku and somehow turn the demon into a black tree. This imprisonment lasted less than a decade however, as a solar eclipse released Aku upon the world once more.

While he is usually presented as a serious and threatening foe (as well as being pure evil), Aku is also a source of comedy due to his outrageous design and sometimes wise-guy behavior, supported by Mako's over-the-top voice acting.

Secondary characters

When Jack arrives in the future, he finds that Aku has conquered the world and rules the populace with an iron fist. Jack finds that there are still warriors in this age, and occasionally meets both those fighting for and those siding against the side of good. Samurai Jack's universe is populated by a diverse cast of characters who often appear for single episodes with only two notable exceptions.

  • The Scotsman
Like Jack himself, he is only known as the "Scotsman" (voiced by John DiMaggio) rather than a real name, and he is one of only two characters to appear in four episodes - "Jack and the Scotsman", "Jack and the Scotsman II", and "The Scotsman saves Jack" (which consists of two consecutive episodes). When he first meets Jack ("Jack and the Scotsman"), he makes fun of Jack, calling him various names and insults (such as calling him "a sissy in a nightgown"). He even derides Jack's sword, calling it a butter knife, though Jack has impressed him by the end of the episode. He even gets Jack to help him rescue his dainty, beautiful wife from a demon (this is an understatement by the Scotsman as she is, ironically, larger and more terrifying than the Scotsman himself, and stronger than Jack and the Scotsman combined). He often goes on long winded tangents about how beautiful his wife is, often painting her as a figure of beauty. In "The Scotsman Saves Jack" he does however make a crack about her weight. In the same episode he seems to have gotten Jack's name at some point calling him Samurai Jack, instead of 'friend' or 'stranger' like he did in previous episodes. When he meets him in a tavern in "Jack and The Scotsman II" he asks "Remember me?". The Scotsman even saves Jack when Jack loses his memory due to the Sirens (whose songs have no effect on the Scotsman who is the only one immune to it, as he compares their singing to "someone stepping on a lot o' cats". In a running gag with The Scotsman, he compares their singing to his wife's, which, according to him, is beyond perfection.)
His notable features include his legs; one of them is normal, if disproportionately small, and the other is a fully functional machine gun, which he wields in combat along with several explosives contained in his kilt. He also carries a shield on his back (which he rarely uses), and uses a 6-foot-long (1.8 m) Scottish Claymore (sword) inscribed with Celtic runes making it unbreakable even against Jack's blade. He also has superhuman strength and endurance, evidenced when he could pick up and throw an entire tank with relative ease, headbutt a robot until it exploded, and get bitten by a pair of alligators without so much as flinching. This is apparently a genetic trait, as the other members of his family are just as powerful and, by admission of the Scotsman himself, even rowdier than he is (they even have the same disproportionately small legs). The Scotsman is heavily featured in the two-part episode "The Scotsman Saves Jack". He counters the Siren's song with his bagpipe playing, thus giving Jack back his memory and saving The Scotsman from being crushed.
The Scotsman serves as a convenient foil for Jack, as they are nearly perfectly matched in fighting and survival skills, but very different in personality, manners, and sense of honor. While Jack is humble and polite, The Scotsman tends to be rude and brags about his skills. Yet he happily calls Jack "The Greatest warrior on the planet aside from me." Whereas Jack has mastered many martial arts and skills, The Scotsman seems to rely almost entirely on his freakish strength, brawling using his Claymore, machine-gun leg and various grenades in his kilt.
  • Jack's father
Played by Sab Shimono (older) and Keone Young (young), appears in four episodes: "The Beginning", "Jack Remembers the Past", "The Aku Infection", and "The Birth of Evil", in which he plays an important role. Like his son, he is brave, humble, and polite.
Yaoi vibe: 0/10
There seems to be a love-hate relationship between Jack and Aku, but not enough to the point where there is a possible yaoi vibe and pairing going on. In fact, it gave me more of a sense of dread that there ever a pairing between them (Jack with the Scotsman was even worse). But there is a Lupin-ish character that Jack met in one of the serious that could probably be a possible pairing, but I don't feel as much about him to actually have a vibe for them. So yeah. But anyway, I'll still give this cartoon a rating for being quite an awesome cartoon series of all time:

Awesome vibe: 10/10

Existing pairings (that I'm getting a vibe for):
Nada

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