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'Samurai Jack' Cartoon To Air Final Season, 12 Years Later


"Samurai Jack" is back. "Samurai Jack" was a popular animated series that ran in the early 2000s. It won four Primetime Emmys. It built an intensely devoted fan base. And now a little more than 12 years later, a new and final season is set to premiere tonight. NPR's Stephan Bisaha reports on the original show's magic and the attempt to recapture it.

STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Sara Kipin was around 9 when "Samurai Jack" first aired. She used to sneak behind her parents' backs to watch the cartoon.

SARA KIPIN: My parents wouldn't let me watch it because it was too violent (laughter).

BISAHA: Today, Kipin is working on storyboards for "Samurai Jack's" new season, and she's just as excited as any fan to see what happens to the warrior fighting an ancient evil.

KIPIN: I can speak for everyone, we're finally ready to see what happens to Jack (laughter). I mean, it's been like over a decade, and we just wanted to make sure that he's OK (laughter).

BISAHA: Jack was tricked by his nemesis and exiled to the distant future. He spent four seasons trying to return to the past. While there's plenty of action along the way, the show is also noteworthy for its quietness.


BISAHA: Many episodes start with little more than the title character's wooden sandals for minutes.

SCOTT WILLS: As slow as it can be at times, it's all about setting up the mood. And then when the action kicks in, it's insane.


BISAHA: Scott Wills was the show's original art director and is returning in the same role for the new season. His team took advantage of new technology at the time to remove the thick black lines that were usually drawn around cartoon characters. Instead, "Samurai Jack's" figures were made up of only colors and shapes.

WILLS: Once we took the outline off, it took on a whole different look. The characters really sat in the environment better, and it gave it a completely unique look that it didn't have before - any show had until then.

THIEN PHAM: You have a feel that this art belongs with this story.

BISAHA: Thien Pham is a Vietnamese-American cartoonist. His own graphic novel "Sumo" takes inspiration from "Samurai Jack." Pham acknowledges that most of the TV show's creators were white, but he doesn't see that as a problem. He likens it to cooking.

PHAM: There could be somebody that is an amazing Japanese chef that is not Japanese that is not creating the food because people are telling them they can't do it. If you want to create art that is based on culture that's not yours, you just have to have the respect for that culture and just not make it a caricature.

BISAHA: Despite the acclaim, "Samurai Jack" ended in 2004 without answering its central question - will the Samurai return to the past and vanquish the evil that exiled him? The new season brings with it another question - can it recapture the old magic, especially considering that it's lost one of its main attractions, says art director Scott Wills. It's no longer hand drawn but all done digitally.

WILLS: Unfortunately. I mean, there's good things about it. But I love hand-painted shows because there's a certain sort of charm and a look to them.

BISAHA: But Wills thinks his team was able to capture the old show's look and maybe even set an example for how to do a revival right.

WILLS: I hope people see it, and say this is how animation should be. It shouldn't be generic. It could actually be something beautiful and timeless and something with heart and mood.


PHIL LAMARR: (As Samurai Jack) Fifty years have passed, but I do not age.

How much longer can you keep this up?

Time has lost its affect on me.

BISAHA: The new season will wrap up the story with 10 final episodes and may even answer the question, can Samurai Jack and his creators successfully reclaim the past? Stephan Bisaha, NPR News.


WILL.I.AM: (Singing) Samurai Jack. Got to get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephan Bisaha
Stephan Bisaha is a former NPR Kroc Fellow. Along with producing Weekend Edition, Stephan has reported on national stories for Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as other NPR programs. He provided data analysis for an investigation into the Department of Veteran Affairs and reported on topics ranging from Emojis to mattresses.