This year will see the return of Genndy Tartakovsky’s legendary Cartoon Network series, “Samurai Jack.” Adult Swim is premiering the newest season of the series, which is speculated to continue where we left off 11 years ago, as Jack is still on the hunt for Aku. Will this year see Jack finally go back to the past? Will he defeat Aku and restore the world to its rightful balance of peace? Can Jack actually be reunited with his family once again?
We don’t know yet, but we’re hoping a proper conclusion is on the way. However, we do know what impressed us the most in “Samurai Jack,” and just how important this visually striking and continually inventive cartoon action-drama remains in the realm of animation. We’ve taken the time to compile the show’s best 15 episodes throughout its 52 episodes and four seasons. Take a look at the greatest “Samurai Jack” episodes down below.
15. SAMURAI VS. SAMURAI
In the show’s fourth season, episode 42, Jack encounters another samurai who doesn’t live up to his own hype. The big-mouthed warrior is named Da Samurai (voiced by David Alan Grier) and he’s a flashy fighter dressed in a cheesy 90’s hip-hop outfit (except, you know, in the future…), known best around town for his outstanding arrogance. He’s also got a sword named “Mama.” After watching Samurai Jack completely wipe out a small group of robots sent by Aku, Da Samurai learns of Jack’s fighting ability and challenges Jack to a duel.
Samurai Jack accepts Da Samurai’s challenge, under the condition that they fight in the rain. Jack ends up cutting a few bamboo sticks for the duo, claiming Da Samurai is not worthy enough to use a sword. Full of rage, Da Samurai attempts to strike Jack, but ends up missing and embarrassing himself. He also loses his expensive pair of sunglasses, which causes Da Samurai to absolutely lose it. The character is memorable for existing as a parody of MC Hammer and other awful, materialistic and cheesy rap stars.
14. THE FIRST FIGHT
“The First Fight” is the third episode in Samurai Jack’s first season and the last third portion of “Samurai Jack’s” premiere movie. It’s action-packed and the first taste of what’s to come for the series, making it an important primer for Jack’s universe. “The First Fight” sets up what type of droids and robots Jack will mostly face off against, displays Aku’s treachery and It also features a batch of archeologist dogs that seem oddly reminiscent of those featured in the “Monkey See, Doggie Do” episode of “Powerpuff Girls,” which was another show also created by Genndy Tartakovsky.
Acting as the final part of a three-episode arc, “The First Fight” shows Jack planning out an extensive battle for morning against a horde of beetle-like droids. The fight scene plays like one out of a Kurosawa movie (if Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films were set in a post-apocalyptic future, that is), lasting nearly 15 minutes of non-stop sword slashing. There are huge explosions and hardly any talking from the hero as he effortlessly tears through the swarm of bug-bots. Here, Tartakovsky shows us all that this is how you kick off an action series.
13. JACK AND THE SMACKBACK
Season two, episode 16, showed Jack getting captured and thrown into an arena-style setting, giving nods to the movies “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome“ and “Gladiator.” It also parodies wrestling smack-talk pretty well, as Jack must defeat every massive baddie who steps into the arena without using a sword. He’s entered the “Dome of Doom” and he’s prepared to leave a champion as audiences watch him dismantle his opponents.
This is one of the rare episodes of Samurai Jack that sort of feels like filler for the sake of an homage to a few of Tartakovsky’s favorite movies. “Jack and the Smackback” features almost non-stop action, showing Jack as a skilled warrior, even while vulnerable without his sword, and giving fans an action-packed episode. We also get a glimpse of some hilarious and unique character designs, from Gordo the Gruesome (a Macho Man Randy Savage parody), Sumoto, The Aqualizer, Reptor, Mr. Roboto, Ganeesh, Torto, Miotis and The Claw.
12. JACK TALES
As far as the legend of Jack is concerned, no other episode quite displays the hero’s characteristics and moral values quite like “Jack Tales.” “Jack Tales” is the second episode of the show’s second season and tells of three different stories involving Samurai Jack. In the first one, Jack encounters a pair of magic worms who will grant one wish if he could solve their riddle. The second story shows Jack’s encounter with a cannibalistic family. The third and final story shows Jack rescuing a fairy from an evil gargoyle.
All of these tales have one thing in common: they all show Jack failing in some way. That’s not to say that Jack doesn’t end up succeeding, but the episode ultimately portrays the samurai as a noble man with humble and generous traits. As far as the entire series goes, “Jack Tales” is one of the episodes that best displays Jack’s characteristics as an honorable fighter.
11. JACK REMEMBERS THE PAST
In the 19th episode of Samurai Jack, our hero finds his old childhood home and has flashbacks of the past. The episode begins with Jack being chased around while riding a giant insect. He gets lost and somehow finds his old home, which is now destroyed, and decides to peak around. Tears fill his eyes as the episode slowly turns into a tale of a young Jack from before he was a samurai and was simply a child in training.
However, the real story here is when Jack flashes back to his encounter with Ogami Ittō and his son Daigorō, who are an obvious nod to the ’70s manga “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Cub watches alongside Jack as his father takes on four samurai on a bridge, alone, and brutally defeating every warrior who stood in his way. “Jack Remembers the Past” is a brilliant ode to a solid manga, as well as a glimpse into the mysterious past of the titular fighter.
10. JACK VS. DEMONGO, THE SOUL COLLECTOR
“Jack versus Demongo, The Soul Collecter” is the 10th episode in season two of “Samurai Jack.” The episode features Demongo, Aku’s most powerful minion, on a mission to kill Jack, as the samurai somehow manages to continue avoiding Aku’s wrath. Demongo, who sort of looks like Marvel’s Dormammu, is a collector of souls and has the ability to summon any warrior or beast he’s destroyed in the past.
Needless to say, the battle between Jack and Demongo is limitless. Jack is in harm’s way with Demongo, as his sword doesn’t seem to do much of anything to the foe. “Jack versus Demongo, The Soul Collecter” is one of those rare glimpses at Jack’s mortality and shows he’s not as powerful and unconquerable as we once thought. Still, Jack has handled hordes of enemies before, and as cool as Demongo is as a villain, his reign ends once he’s introduced to Jack’s noble spirit.
9. JACK AND THE SPARTANS
An essential nerd favorite, “Jack and the Spartans” is an homage of Frank Miller’s “300.” The entry is episode 12 of season two and shows Jack helping 300 Spartan warriors fight off an army of robots. Jack joins their battle against an army of mechanical minotaur-like robots, which has been an ongoing struggle for five generations, and helps the 300 warriors finally defeat their enemies once and for all.
Those who are fans of “300” will absolutely adore this episode, as it’s riddled with nods toward its source material. This is Tartakovsky’s version of the Battle Of Thermopylae, essentially. It’s hard not to root for the Spartans to pull through in the end, especially after watching Jack aide the team with setting up traps and acting as one of their own. The episode is ultimately a charming exploration of Jack’s genuine desire and ability to help those in need. It’s also one of the best-drawn episodes to date.
8. JACK VS. AKU
“Jack vs. Aku” is what should’ve been the ultimate and final fight between hero and villain, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a showdown between Jack and Aku injected with humorous undertones and a solid ending that doesn’t disappoint both fans of the series, as well as those who’ve been wanting a proper conclusion to Jack’s tale. “Jack vs. Aku” is episode nine from season four of the series.
In this episode, Aku challenges Jack to a battle that’s fair in all forms and strictly one-on-one. Aku’s idea was to settle things once and for all, after playing off the fact Aku has watched Jack escape his wrath week after week. Jack accepts the battle with no help from weapons, minions, armies or superpowers, under the condition that Aku fights in his human form and absolutely cannot shape-shift. The battle between Aku and Jack is a tight, tension-building martial arts showcase, but eventually ends with Aku cowardly transforming into a bat in order to escape defeat.
7. JACK AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE
“Jack and the Haunted House” is episode nine of “Samurai Jack’s” third season. It’s as close to a horror episode of “Samurai Jack” as we’ll ever see. The plot follows Jack as he helps a little girl find her lost doll in the woods, then eventually coming across an old Japanese-style home. Oh, did we mention that it’s a possessed house? Jack enters the house and is harassed by memories from the prior inhabitants of the house.
While the episode seems pretty tame for a horror-inspired plot, the peak comes with its final battle. “Jack and the Haunted House” features one of the more visually stunning fights Jack has ever been a part of, as the animation flickers between shades of black and white in a way that stuns viewers. The final scene looks something like that of an ink blot with minimal dark, yet dazzling, silhouettes of an evil figure attempting to take control of and defeat Samurai Jack.
6. JACK VERSUS MAD JACK
In the first season of “Samurai Jack,” episode eight, Jack fought his evil counterpart. As big of a trope as a hero finding a darker version of himself before having to defeat it is, “Samurai Jack” takes the effort to make the battle have a lasting effect. The beginning of the episode shows Jack battling with a crew of bounty hunters while attempting to find peace and time to rest. Unfortunately, Jack doesn’t get to enjoy any peace, as more bounty hunters find his location and set off to defeat Jack.
This angers Jack, and we see an emotion of the samurai we haven’t seen before: anger. Jack’s anger eventually personifies and Mad Jack is born. The two square off and find out, naturally, that they’re evenly skilled fighters. After angrily fighting each other to the point that a forest fire erupts from the sparks caused by their swords clashing, Jack finds his only attempt at peace with Mad Jack is to calm his own inner rage. Since this episode, we’ve hardly seen Jack in a hostile emotional state.
5. JACK AND THE SCOTSMAN
“Samurai Jack” has its share of supporting characters, but nothing really feels as great as Jack’s relationship with the Scotsman. “Jack and the Scotsman” is episode 11 of the show’s first season, and shows Jack teaming up with an unlikely hero named the Scotsman. Voiced by John DiMaggio, the Scotsman is a burly man with a machine gun leg, a cat head belt buckle, a thunderous voice and a massive sword. He’s essentially the opposite of Jack.
But that’s what makes the Scotsman such a great character. Jack is mostly zen throughout “Samurai Jack” and his meeting with the Scotsman is a breath of fresh air. Scotsman is logical, loud and intimidating, while Jack is a reserved, peaceful improviser. In the Scotsman’s first appearance in “Jack and the Scotsman,” we’re introduced to the differences between the two characters, but we’re soon given our favorite duo to exist in the series.
4. TALE OF X9
In episode 15 of the fourth season of “Samurai Jack,” writers Bryan Andrews and Genndy Tartakovsky cleverly made up a noir-style story arc to tie into Jack’s universe. The episode stars a robot named X9 who was programmed with a handful of other X-named robots to eliminate targets for Aku. X9, however, was programmed to develop emotions, understand and learn. The audience is watching as X9 tells the tale of his birth and how Aku blackmails him into killing Jack.
This story is dark and depressing. X9 narrates the episode and fills the audience in with his backstory, detailing how he fell in love with a dog named Lulu who gave him peace and allowed him to retire from being an assassin. Aku kidnaps the dog, so in exchange, X9 kills Jack, but what actually happens at the end of the episode is total silence, and probably the saddest scene in all of “Samurai Jack.”
3. JACK AND THE ULTRA-ROBOTS
“Jack and the Ultra-Robots” is episode 18 in the second season of “Samurai Jack.” It’s one of the most memorable episodes in the series, showing off Aku’s newest minions, the Ultra-robots, and the epic battle Jack must engage in with them. It’s also one of the most violent episodes made, as Jack casually walks through piles of dead robots covered in oil (the show’s way of depicting blood) and various robot limbs, in addition to a bloody battle with the Ultra-robots themselves.
Each of the eight Ultra-robots was created after a different style of Jack’s fighting ability. They’re made of adamantium metal and Jack’s sword is useless against them. They’re also disguised as normal wooden barrels, which might sound odd on paper, but looks amazing visually during their big fight with Jack. Jack struggles a lot in this episode, both physically and emotionally. His dilemma and efforts show us yet again just how human he is.
2. JACK AND THE THREE BLIND ARCHERS
Jack and the Three Blind Archers perfectly displays why “Samurai Jack” is more than just a children’s show. In season one, episode seven, Jack encounters a magical wishing well he’d like to use in the hopes of returning back to the past. However, it’s guarded by three blind archers who fire arrows at Jack at machine-gun speeds. They have sensitive hearing and fire rapidly toward any sound they encounter, making them a new type of foe for Jack to conquer.
What better way for Jack to defeat the archers than to become blind himself? In this episode, Jack proves to be an intelligent fighter as he improvises his way toward defeating the three blind archers by blinding himself. The last part of the episode is also fairly silent, with hardly any sound from Jack or the archers whatsoever, making the visuals in this episode especially more striking and beautiful. This is definitely one of the more legendary episodes from the series.
1. SAMURAI VS. NINJA
Episode 14 in season four of “Samurai Jack” shows Jack fighting a ninja who has been sent by Aku. It’s a pretty standard plot, with nothing really significant happening aside from Jack fighting another villain. So then why does it deserve the top spot on this list, you may ask? That’s because what really makes this episode stick is its final battle scene, which has the two warriors blending in with the cartoon’s background colors. After the sun sets in a water tower, Jack finds he can blend into the background of light colors and that the ninja can blend into the darkness.
About as soon as this realization is made, a monochromatic fight scene takes place and it toys with the audience’s eyeballs for a solid four minutes. It’s a long scene, for sure, with Jack and the ninja consistently going in and out of view between light and darkness. Written by Bryan Andrews and Brian Larsen, the direction from Tartakovsky really stands out as a unique entry in the series.
Are you hyped for the new season of Samurai Jack? Be sure to tell us in the comments which episodes are your favorites!
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