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Samurai Jack: Season One

Having proved himself with "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Dexter's Laboratory," Cartoon Network BMOC Genndy Tartakovsky took a more adult turn with his next project, Samurai Jack. Jack (voiced by Phil Lamarr) was raised in ancient Japan to be a warrior after the evil demon spirit Aku (Mako) captured his father when Jack was just a boy. Training his whole life to defeat the demon, Jack finally comes home to vanquish Aku, but as he is about to land the fatal blow, Aku teleports Jack into the future. When Jack arrives, he's at first taken aback in this vaguely Star Wars-like world where Aku has spent the last years ruling the earth, but he quickly finds a group of people looking for protection from Aku and his hordes of robotic minions, and they might be able to help him get back home. The first three episodes of Samurai Jack: Season One set up the show's structure, and from there the series follows a template: Jack gets intrigued by some people who need his help and who may or may not send him back to his time; Jack ends up stomping out a lot of evil robots (only when his clothes get ripped is there any blood); and then Jack ends up none the better for his efforts. This can make a marathon session of SJ a little repetitive, but much of the show's fun is derived from how stylishly each battle sequence is rendered. It seems Tartakovsky and his collaborators watched the same movies Quentin Tarantino did for hisKill Bill series — many of the same types of homages come up, and both play with the aspect ratios according to what's needed to be seen on screen (the show will sometimes go CinemaScope, while at other times they'll be multiple panels on screen, and in other cases the screen will windowbox). Though the installments can be formulaic to a fault, all are great eye-candy, with Episode 7 following Jack as he must outsmart three blind archers whose marksmanship is unmatched, while in Episode 12 Jack humorously teams up with Depression-era gangsters. It isn't until the final episode of the season that the creators begin to play with the structure as Aku — noting that Jack has become a cult hero to the world's children — tries to convince the youth of his greatness by rewriting fairy tales to make himself the good guy and Jack the baddie. It's a great episode because it shows that the creators understand the series can stagnate when nothing new happens. Warner presents Samurai Jack: Season One in a two-disc set. On the first disc (in one of the worst-labeled supplements this reviewer has ever seen) is an audio commentary on Episode 7, a commentary that isn't noted in the special features section of the disc, but can only be accessed by selecting the individual episode. Also on Disc One are trailer for other Cartoon Network shows. On Disc Two there's "The Making of Samurai Jack," the original animation test, and a still gallery of original artwork. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.

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