Once a cult hit, always a cult hit, a point proven by the continuing popularity of Genndy Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack, returning for the fifth season this March, some thirteen years after the fourth.
The animated show features Phil LaMarr voicing the title character, who is cast from ancient Japan into an apocalyptic future by shape-shifting demon Aku (originally voiced by the late Mako, replaced by Greg Baldwin). There, he takes the name Jack and continues his battle, desperately seeking a means of reeturning to his own time. The new season takes place fifty years after season four, and the journey of the ageless Jack will absolultely come to a close. In the following conversation, Tartakovsky details how it all came together and what it's all about.
Why return to Samurai Jack?
I finished Hotel Transylvania 2, and after I did all the press and it came out, I just started looking for other work. Everything was going slow and I've always been thinking about it, especially because we've been trying to make a Samurai Jack movie for the last, probably, eight years, and it was never coming together the right way. So I was literally sitting in the bathroom and I decided, you know what, let's see what happens if I just put it out there, if anybody wants to make it. And so I sent the email about it, I got it right back and then I got on the phone with Mike Lazzo, who owns Adult Swim, we talked and in two weeks we started.
Is this going to be the final season; is the character wrapping everything up?
Yes, it's the final journey; whatever happens at the end is going to happen.One of the reasons I'm doing this is that for the past ten to fifteen years, when I speak at school or do press, the first question always is, "Samurai Jack — are you going to finish the story?" And so I decided that before that interest goes away, I should just do it. We're doing ten episodes and it's one story.
Do you feel like you were able to at least get everything you needed in these ten?
For sure. In developing a movie, I actually wanted to finish it somehow. I had all these different ideas, and I kept trying to make those ideas work no matter what version we were doing, because I felt like they were strong. And so in the TV show, I probably had three movies, so it was a perfect vehicle to really tell the story the right way. I think that's why it all worked out, because if you believe in destiny, which I do, and fate and stuff, it's the best vehicle for the story and for Jack to finish.
Were there any challenges or changes in how the show is going to look?
Luckily we got pretty much everybody back who did the original show. But the hardest thing is us, because we're so ambitious and our ideas are so big, they're so hard to do in television. TV is all about schedule and budget, and you're always fighting that. We've got these ideas and they're hard to execute and they're creative, which is exciting. And that's really the challenge; we can only work so many hours. I was thirty when I did Jack. I'm forty-six and those late nights are brutal now, where before I'd be, like, no problem.
There's a lot of contrasts in your story both culturally as well as the timeline. Are we going to see a broader role for Jack or are things narrowing on his final journey?
It's his journey, but it's pretty epic. Not just emotionally, but the journey that he takes. And there's this overall theme that's more complex and underneath that's contemporary that I think people can pick up on if they really analyze it. I think it's a lot deeper then anything I've ever done.
Has the conclusion of the show changed from what you imagined fourteen years ago?
No, there's a story I wanted to tell, probably after I finished. It's something that I wanted to do in animation, actually, for a long time. It's super challenging, but if we get it right, it's going to leave people in tears.