The premiere screening of Season 5 of Samurai Jack began with a live performance by Tyler Bates, who composed the music for the new season. Like the show itself, it was alternately dark, stylish, crushingly loud, teasingly light, jazzy, hard-driving, hilarious, terrifying, and fun. Bates brought an eight-piece ensemble to play selections from the show and, in addition to as many as four people playing taiko drums, the multi-instrumentalists also moved between standup bass, flute, bowed electric guitar, bullhorn, a synthesized string section, and two full drum kits.
Samurai Jack — if the three new episodes screened for a packed 1,600-seat house are any indication — hasn’t lost a step in the 12 years it’s been away. Nor has the move to Adult Swim from its original home at Cartoon Network changed the core of the show. Yes, there is now blood. Yes, there are rivers full of moaning corpses. Yes, there is a robot assassin who talks like Sammy Davis Jr., an entertainer who died before much of Jack‘s audience was born. But, explained Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky, after experimenting with a much gorier version of the show (“Initially we were chopping heads”), they realized, “This doesn’t feel right.” The first time Jack takes a life, they opted for a “stylish, designed blood flow” rather than a more realistic splatter.
Once Tartakovsky made the decision to return to Samurai Jack, “all it took was one email and one phone call.” Adult Swim executive Mike Lazzo called the next day. “How much? How many? That’s all he said.” Within two weeks, they were in production.
The original incarnation of the show was borne out of a sense of frustration. “Most animated TV shows are talking; it’s just constant talking. I wanted more,” said Tartakovsky. “And I wanted it to be visceral. I wanted it to feel like a ’70s movie, like French Connection or something.” But the idea goes back even further. “I’ve been having the same dream since I was 10: The Earth is destroyed. Mutants come alive. I’ve got my samurai sword. I go next door to the girl I have a crush on. I grab her — she’s survived, of course. And we travel the world fighting mutants.”
Tartakovsky had always intended to come back and properly end the series. But after four seasons, the team was a little burned-out. They took a break, and by the time they might have been ready to return, they were already working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The final story has been in the creator’s head for the past eight years: “It hasn’t changed,” he said. But changes at the network — and his eventual hiring by Sony Pictures Animation — prevented him from coming back. “I didn’t want to beg anyone to do it. I really wanted them to ask me.”
In that time, there had been multiple attempts at making a live-action version, all of which met with failure. “We’d work on a script, the script’s terrible, it doesn’t go anywhere, it dies. Somebody else get the idea to do it. Same thing.” Tartakovsky said studios would always strip away the parts of Jack that were integral to its success: “Everybody wants to make Jack their own thing rather than what it should be.”
One thing that may leave fans disappointed: When asked directly if Jack has a real name and if he’ll ever say it, Tartakovsky gave a hard “No.” Which doesn’t rule out somebody else saying his name, but it’s best not to hold your breath.
He is very confident, though, that fans will be satisfied with the final episodes. “I’ve never done this and I don’t want to give it away, but what we’re doing is something I’ve never done, and I want to do it so special that everybody’s going to be bawling at the end.” So get those hankies ready, because it doesn’t sound like there will be any sequels or spinoffs after this. Tartakovsky noted, “The ending is an amazing ending, and it should be done.”
The final season of ‘Samurai Jack’ premieres Saturday, March 11, at 11 p.m. on Adult Swim.
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