Samurai Jack is an animated series created by Genndy Tartakovsky in 2001. The story follows a masterless samurai, Jack, flung into the future by his opponent, an evil entity named Aku. Samurai Jack is hailed as a masterpiece of animation due to its unique style: characters have no outlines, backgrounds are distinctly abstract, and unusual camera shot styles are used throughout the series.
Samurai Jack begins in fedual Japan and follows the story of a feudal lord and his people as they attempt to destroy the evil entity, Aku. Aku wins over the lord's efforts, but the lord's son escapes. He travels the world training himself in order to avenge his family and defeat Aku. However, when the time comes and the samurai faces Aku in battle, Aku flings the samurai forward into the future where Aku will presumably have gathered enough power to dispose of him.
The main storyline follows the samurai, dubbed "Jack" in one of the first episodes as a form of slang, as he travels the world both looking for a way to destroy Aku and a way to return home. Most episodes are non-continuous and can stand alone with little backstory. The series was never concluded.
Samurai Jack is the main character of the story and stands as a stoic protagonist. He is unfailingly polite and always willing to help those in need, even if it means he must put off his own goals. He also exudes a sort of childish innocence, in spite of his years of travel. His constant wonder with the future serves to remind the audience of this and also makes him more relatable for the younger audience Cartoon Network.
Aku serves as the antagonist of the story. His name in Japanese literally means "evil" or "wickedness" and he is reminiscent of the Japanese god Akuma, who was said to have flaming eyes. Aku's character design is actually quite outrageous and allows for Aku to serve as comic relief on occasion. He is a dictatorlike character and often has others do his fighting for him. Even when he faces Jack, he is likely to find the easy way when a battle looks bleak for him, taunting Jack as he goes.
The only other character to appear in more than one episode is known simply as "The Scottsman." On first meeting he antagonizes Jack, but later gains respect for the samurai. The Scottsman appears in four episodes and generally works as an ally and friend to Jack.
Samurai Jack was perhaps the first mainstream American animation to utilize lineless characters, instead allowing characters to stand simply as blocks of color. This serves as a way to blend the characters with their backgrounds and make them seem more a part of their world. The backgrounds of Samurai Jack are distinctly abstract in a style somewhat reminiscent of both Chuck Jones and also more ancient oriental brush paintings. The abstraction serves as an excellent way to convey character emotion, especially in a show that usually has very little dialogue.
Perhaps the most innovative technique in Samurai Jack is the use of comic book-like screen framing. Throughout the show, it is not uncommon to see widescreen shots, split screen action captures, or images that do not necessarily lend to the forwarding of plotline. The latter of these shots is often borrowed from Japanese anime and manga and generally serve to establish mood or change pace within a storyline. By manipulating the camera shots in this way, Samurai Jack often appears to be a comic book with occasional sound commentary.
Samurai Jack was embraced by Hollywood and won several Emmys throughout its run on Cartoon Network. These include Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation 2005 for Bryan Andrews (storyboard artist,) Outstanding Animated Program 2004, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation 2003 for Dan Krall (layout artist,) and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation 2003 for (Scott Wills.)