(through the voice of shape-shifting devil)

The days of Mommy and Daddy sleeping in on Saturday morning while the kids are safe watching cartoons are over. Long gone are Sylvester and Tweety Bird. They've been replaced with aliens sent from Hell, among other things. The following article describes a cartoon that will debut in Canada this weekend, although children in the United States have been watching it for two years.

This cartoon series - soon to be in movie theatres - "sensually" introduces the concept of Satanic World Domination to its target audience - innocent, young children.

The creator of the series is an immigrant from the Soviet Union. The hero is a macho-American guy named Jack who dresses up like a Japanese warrior - pony tail and all. ~ Jackie Jura

SAMURAI JACK - The Quiet Warrior
Stylish cartoon series Samurai Jack relies on lush animation, little dialogue
James Cowan, National Post, Sep 12, 2002

At the beginning of each episode of the animated series Samurai Jack, a sinister voice intones the following:

"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."

That's all you need to know to enjoy Samurai Jack. The series, which has aired on the Cartoon Network in the United States for two seasons and is now appearing on YTV, has a simple, if bizarre, premise: The eponymous stoic protagonist wants to escape the science-fiction future he's trapped in and return to his family in the past. Along the way, he encounters talking dogs, cattle-prod-wielding aliens and giant woolly mammoth gods, but basically he's just a guy trying to get home.

Since its premiere, Samurai Jack and its creator, 33-year-old Genndy Tartakovsky, have been lauded for the show's incredible visuals and sophisticated storytelling. Born in Russia, Tartakovsky emigrated with his family to the United States when he was seven. Upon arriving in America, Tartakovsky became transfixed by television in general (he cites Three's Company as an early favourite) and cartoons in particular. He studied film at Columbia College in Chicago before transferring to Cal Arts in Los Angeles to enroll in its animation program. After Cal Arts, he worked as a storyboard artist on a number of sub-par cartoons, such as Two Stupid Dogs, before creating Dexter's Laboratory in 1996. The tale of boy inventor Dexter and his annoying sister Dee Dee garnered four Emmy nominations and earned Tartakovsky a place both on Variety's "50 to Watch List" and Entertainment Weekly's "It List."

For a follow-up to Dexter's Laboratory, Tartakovsky wanted to create an action series that was equal parts Conan the Barbarian and Hanna-Barbera. He knew he wanted each episode to have a simple story arc to allow time for action sequences, and the structure of Tartakovsky's initial pitch to the Comedy Network underscored the simplicity of the show's storytelling.

"When I was writing [the pitch], I couldn't spend two days writing an entire battle sequence, so I just said, 'Fifteen minutes of action,' he said from his company's offices.

The show has remained true to this simplistic, or perhaps elegant, pitch.

"I decided that just because we have half an hour, that doesn't mean we're going to fill it with plot points," explained Tartakovsky. "We have one episode where Jack is crossing a bridge and he meets a Scotsman. And that's the whole story. It's like an old Charlie Chaplin, where things get more extreme and more extreme, but the plot is really just Charlie Chaplin walks into a bakery."

As for Samurai Jack's odd premise, Tartakovsky said it was born of necessity.

"I knew I wanted to make a samurai show, but I couldn't show him cutting humans on television. So I thought he could cut robots, and that's how the story developed into the future."

The futuristic setting also allows the creator and his team the freedom to create stylized monsters, galactic battleships and, in one notable sequence, rapping space teenagers.

While the stories may be simple, the animation is complex. A sequence might begin with a fullbody shot of Jack fighting but end by zooming into his eye in order to highlight his extreme concentration, while a confrontation between the samurai and the evil Aku takes place in split screen, so that two demons menace Jack from either side. With a lush score and incredible audio effects, the sensualexperience of the show can be overwhelming even without much dialogue from the hero.

"I wanted to have a solemn hero," said Tartakovsky. "I felt if Jack just talked, talked, talked, it would take away from his character. He's in a dark situation and he's not happy about it. So if he were to babble on, it would take away from his character."

With a nearly silent hero and stylized visuals, one can't help but wonder whether the show may be too challenging for kids. For his part, Tartakovsky doesn't think so.

"All we can do is make cartoons that communicate an idea very, very strongly. If it's clear enough, then any age group can understand it. If it's convoluted and confusing, then it doesn't matter if you're 10 or 50 -- you're not going to understand it."

Samurai Jack's success with both children and adults has sparked interest in a feature-film treatment of the series. In fact, both live and animated features are in development, with Rush Hour director Brett Ratner set to helm the live-action project. Tartakovsky admits to being wary about changing Jack's medium when the show works so well as a cartoon, but believes a movie will help the television show find a wider audience.

"I almost saw it as a commercial to get more people to watch the cartoon. If it turns out, that's great, but if not, there's still the animated show," he said.

Samurai Jack premieres at 11:30 a.m. Eastern on YTV on Saturday, Sept. 14.


Go to 25.Prolefeed and 35.The Brotherhood and WITCHES, WIZARDS AND DEMONS

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~